COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 188 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 207,002. The health department has designated 195,954 of those cases as recovered.

Bernalillo County had 45 new cases, followed by the Torrance County Detention Facility, which had 26 cases among people being held by federal agencies, and Doña Ana County, which had 18 cases. Santa Fe County had 10 cases, five from the 87507 ZIP code, which ranked eighth in the state on Friday for the most new cases.

The state also announced seven additional deaths—four of them recent—bringing the total number of fatalities to 4,379. As of Friday, 91 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Currently, 71.9% New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 63.9% in that age group are vaccinated. Among those 12-17 years old, 44.2% have had at least one dose and 35.5% are fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, 82% are partially vaccinated and 73.3% are fully vaccinated. You can register for a vaccine here and view available vaccine events by area here.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Groups allege AG ethics violation

Late last week, five organizations filed a complaint against Attorney General Hector Balderas with the State Auditor, Ethics Commission and the disciplinary board of the New Mexico Supreme Court, alleging “questionable awarding of contracts and approval of what appear to be improper invoices” for lawyer Marcus Rael and his firm, Robles, Rael and Anaya from 2016 to the present. The complaint alleges that Balderas has awarded cases to Rael—described as a friend and former law partner—”despite lack of expertise or experience in the relevant legal specialties.” In an investigation of Balderas’ relationship with Rael, Searchlight New Mexico reports that since he took office in 2015, the AG has hired Rael or others at his firm to help represent the state in at least 19 cases—at least three times the number of cases outsourced to other private law firms. While Rael has represented the state numerous times—notably in Texas vs. New Mexico, a Supreme Court case concerning groundwater rights—in the case involving Public Service Company of New Mexico’s merger with Avangrid, Rael was hired to represent the latter’s parent company. The complaint alleges Rael then used his influence with Balderas to sign off on the deal. In the words of New Energy Economy Executive Director Mariel Nanasi: “Balderas agrees that the [merger deal] is magically in the public interest, despite his own experts’ testimony detailing why the merger is bad for New Mexicans because it doesn’t adequately protect their rights.” New Energy Economy is an intervenor in the merger. Balderas declined to speak with Searchlight, but a written statement from AG spokesman Matt Baca denies the allegations of favoritism and conflicts of interest; Rael also issued a Searchlight a statement maintaining the firm’s contracts and conduct adhered to state laws.

Gov appoints new Supreme Court justice

On Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the appointment of New Mexico Court of Appeals Justice Briana H. Zamora to the state Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created by Justice Barbara J. Vigil’s retirement. According to a news release, Zamora, 47, has served as a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals since December 2018, and previously served as a judge at the Second Judicial District Court beginning in 2013 and as a metro court judge starting in 2009. The governor selected Zamora from the list of candidates provided by the Judicial Nominating Commission after conducting interviews. “Judge Zamora is an experienced jurist of the highest caliber with the kind of incredible work ethic mandatory for those who would serve on our state’s highest court,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Her judicial experience, particularly on the appellate court, will serve her well in her new role, and New Mexicans can expect her to be a fair, trustworthy, consistent and conscientious servant of the court, the law and the people of our state.”

Biden picks Udall for ambassador

President Joe Biden on Friday announced former US Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico as his pick for Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to New Zealand and to the Independent State of Samoa. Udall served two terms in the US Senate before not seeking re-election this year, prior to which he represented the state’s 3rd Congressional District for five terms and served as the state’s attorney general for two terms in the 1990s. In a statement, Udall described himself and his wife Jill Cooper as both “humbled and honored,” saying if confirmed by the US Senate, he was looking forward to “representing the United States in this important diplomatic post,” noting that “…this position—working with one of our closest partners and allies—is integral as we work closely with New Zealand to confront the challenges facing our nations—including COVID-19, climate and China.” Others in New Mexico’s congressional delegation quickly heralded the nomination, with Democrats US Sen. Ben Ray Luján describing Udall as “a respected voice on both sides of the aisle on foreign policy,” and US Sen. Martin Heinrich saying via Twitter: “I can imagine no one better suited to represent our country and face international challenges than my longtime partner in the Senate.”

Listen up

The most recent episode of KUNM’s University Showcase program spotlights a project undertaken last November by five UNM students that profiles people’s challenges and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funded by a grant from the the American Planning Association New Mexico Chapter with additional funding from the New Mexico Resilience Alliance, the written and multimedia accounts of the students’ interviews have been compiled into a printed and digital booklet. Guests on the program include: Latin American Studies master’s student Fiore Bran AragónJames Foty, APA-NM Professional Development Officer at Groundworks Studio; Andrew Gorvetzian, a master’s student of anthropology; Abrianna Morales, a sophomore undergraduate student double-majoring in psychology and criminology; and Visiting Assistant Professor Joni Palmer from the Department of Community & Regional Planning.

NM chiles in space

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson may have made headlines last week for his trip to space, but let’s not forget New Mexico’s Hatch chiles have been at the International Space Station since June. And, according to a news release, last week scientists planted 48 Hatch chile pepper seeds as part of its Plant Habitat-04 experiment. Researchers spent two years evaluating more than two dozen pepper varieties from around the world before selecting the NuMex “Española Improved” pepper, a hybrid Hatch pepper. They will grow for approximately four months before being harvested. The New Mexico chiles performed well in testing, had the makings of a viable space crop and the added benefits of possessing lots of Vitamin C and, of course, flavor. “Growing colorful vegetables in space can have long-term benefits for physical and psychological health,” Matt Romeyn, principal investigator for PH-04, said in a statement. “We are discovering that growing plants and vegetables with colors and smells helps to improve astronauts’ well-being.” And “in order to send humans to Mars,” Romeyn says in a video about the project, “we need to spice things up.”

Zozobra puts the “national” in National Anthem

Hundreds of thousands of people will potentially watch the Sept. 3 annual burning of Zozobra, when it once again welcomes a live audiences and broadcasts on the web everywhere. And for this year’s burn, the Kiwanis Club of Santa has opened up auditions to the rest of the country to sing the opening National Anthem. Zozobra National Anthem Chairman Adan Gallegos announced the change in a news release and video, recorded in New York City. “People come to Santa Fe from all over to witness the Burning of Zozobra, so we decided to open our National Anthem auditions to the entire country,” Gallegos said in a statement. “That way, if someone is coming here from New York to see him burn, they could also have a chance to sing the National Anthem to kick off this iconic event.” To audition, record yourself singing the National Anthem and upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook or Instagram (more details here). Register on at burnzozobra.com/national-anthem to copy and paste your video link into the registration form by Aug. 13. You can buy tickets for this year’s ’80s-themed Zozobra here, and submit your gloom ahead of time here.

Fair weather

The National Weather Service continues to forecast possible storms throughout the week. Today, we have a 40% chance for precipitation via scattered showers and thunderstorms after 1pm on an otherwise mostly sunny day with a high temperature near 83 degrees and northeast wind 5 to 15 miles per hour becoming west in the afternoon. We may also see some rain this evening.

Thanks for reading! The Word is unlikely to make it to Paisley Park to see Prince’s shoe collection, but she enjoyed Rolling Stone magazine’s peek at a few of them.