Morning Word

Vaccine Incentives Aimed at Hitting Goal

State aid available for those who didn’t qualify for fed payments

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials Friday reported 130 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 204,044. The health department has designated 191,682 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 35 new cases, followed by San Juan County with 32 and Santa Fe County with 10, five from the Southside 87507 ZIP code, which ranked sixth in the state Friday for most new cases.

The state also announced two additional deaths; there have now been 4,297 fatalities. New Mexico is closing in on its goal of reaching 60% vaccination by June 17, with 40,810 doses to go as of Friday, when officials said 66.8% of New Mexicans have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 57.6% are fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, 75.2% have had at least one dose and 65.2% are fully inoculated.

People who complete their COVID-19 booster shots between today and June 17 are eligible for a $100 incentive payment under a program announced Sunday. Plus, the Vax 2 the Max sweepstakes is ongoing.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here. If you’ve had experiences with COVID-19, we would like to hear from you.

More aid for those who missed federal stimulus

New Mexico officials expect to open applications this week for a second round of cash payments to people who were ineligible for federal stimulus funds, including elderly residents claimed as dependents by caretakers. The Human Services Department says the application window for the $5 million program opens at 9 am today here via the Human Services Department’s Yes Portal and closes June 25. In order to qualify for the relief, a taxpayer must not have qualified for federal stimulus programs. In addition, they must be a New Mexico resident and have a New Mexico driver’s license number, individual taxpayer identification number or Social Security number. The Associated Press reports the first round of such funding in December distributed checks to about 15,000 people, excluding around half of those who applied. “This is an important effort to help people in our community who were overlooked by the federal stimulus programs, and who we know need the extra money to help feed and house their families,” said Angela Medrano, deputy secretary for the department. Payments will be issued by the end of July.

Hard for the money

The embattled Department of Workforce Solutions will see 110 new workers in an effort to keep up with the demands of jobless New Mexicans, according to a Friday announcement of actions Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says are aimed at stabilizing the agency. Since the start of the pandemic, it has paid out $3.8 billion in benefits, yet has struggled with basic services such as answering calls. Former state lawmaker Bill McCamley resigned as department head in mid-April, and now Ricky Serna is acting secretary. Serna says the department connected with about 40% percent of the people who attempted to reach it in March. The governor’s administration also says it plans to pursue recovery of as much as $250 million in benefits paid in error due to a mix of fraud and human error, and that Attorney General Hector Balderas will help crack down on false claims.

Two fires not far away

The Rincon Fire started by lightning Friday near Hamilton Mesa in the Pecos Wilderness Area of the Santa Fe National Forest probably did not get much bigger than its first 200 acres estimated over the weekend, but the same stormy weather that kept fire behavior moderate also prevented helicopters from conducting nighttime aerial surveillance to get an initial accurate measurement, according to a report Sunday. For now, forest officials say the fire burning in steep, rocky terrain at 11,000 feet of elevation presents safety challenges to firefighters along with a heavy fuel load. Smoke from the Rincon Fire is visible within a 100-mile radius. Visit to zoom into the Santa Fe area to see the latest smoke information. The Poso Fire also continues near El Rito and is about 1,450 acres as of Sunday’s report, and is 18% contained.

Listen up

Among joyful returns to in-person activities, add NDI to the list. The nonprofit has kept kids dancing through the pandemic with internet classes, but if right now, like us, you were aching for a dancing kid dressed like a ladybug with matching tutu or want a glimpse at what lockdown classes looked like, check the finale of the NDI 2021 Virtual Gala. Programs are kicking off now that include Summer Institutes in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, with morning and afternoon sessions in-person with the option of “Zooming in” for dancers who still want to be online.

This train

While the last year meant the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad had to slow down like everything else, the publicly owned historic attraction is back under steam this summer and already has recovered to pre-pandemic booking levels. The 64-mile railroad that crosses the state line 11 times was constructed in 1883 and carried timber, coal and freight along with passengers until the commercial operator abandoned the line in 1970. The states of New Mexico and Colorado have owned it ever since, and operators provide trips today out of Chama and Antonito using a fleet of historic engines, one of which was recently rescued from retirement in a city park and brought back to life.

Take it outside

Outdoor education could begin to have more prominence in the post-pandemic era given its fresh air circulation and its effect on helping students achieve. In the wake of new legislative funding, the nonprofit Environmental Education of New Mexico is looking for 15 education fellows to attend a leadership retreat this summer on the topic. Advocates are also pushing the state to allocate more of its $1.5 billion in pandemic relief toward such programs. An SFR story this spring explored how proponents cite both advantageous conditions that help prevent airborne transmissions and longstanding benefits described in the research that point to improved engagement and academic achievement.

It’s (still) getting hot in here

The National Weather Service landing page for New Mexico this morning has the headline “Hot Hot Hot!” So, it might go without saying that record-breaking heat is on tap today for much of New Mexico. This includes Santa Fe, where temps are predicted to top out at 94, and Albuquerque, which could see triple digits. Tips from the health department for dealing with heat stress include drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol and sugar.

Thanks for reading! When life gets hectic, The (Substitute) Word tries to slow down and think like a turtle. But after seeing this Twitter thread about turtle anatomy, the thoughts are much deeper.

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