Morning Word

Gov Mandates Vaccines or COVID-19 Tests for State Workers

NM education secretary announces departure, Lensic announces vaccine policy and US Sen. Luján pushes social media on disinformation

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico’s health officials yesterday reported 401 new COVID-19 cases. There have now been a total of 210,085 cases; the health department has designated 196,786 of those cases as recovered.

Bernalillo County had 96 cases, followed by San Juan County with 51 and Eddy County with 45. Santa Fe County had 12 new cases.

The state also announced one additional death, from more than 30 days ago: a male in his 80s from Bernalillo County. Hospitalizations continue to rise, with 140 people hospitalized yesterday with COVID-19—seven more than the day prior—and nearly 43% more than one week ago.

Currently, 72.6% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 64.5% are fully vaccinated. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 47.4% have had at least one dose and 37.7% have been fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, among those 18 years and older, 82.9% have had at least one dose and 74.2% are fully inoculated.

The state also announced yesterday a second round of $100 vaccine incentives beginning Monday: Any New Mexican receiving a first or second dose of Moderna or Pfizer, or a dose of the single-shot J&J vaccine is eligible, but must register an email, phone number or home address at New Mexicans can also call 1-855-600-3453 for assistance with registering. Officials say the state’s first round of incentives in June led to a 333% increase in single-shot vaccines and a 26% overall boost in completed vaccinations. President Joe Biden yesterday called upon states to offer $100 incentives (although specifically to people who get fully vaccinated), and mentioned New Mexico, Ohio and Colorado’s incentive programs.

Lastly, DOH yesterday also announced four more prize winners in its Vax 2 the Max Sweepstakes, one from each public health region of the state, with each winning $250,000: Trinnie Martinez of Española; Roslyn Pursley from Albuquerque; Rita Plattor from Artesia; and Cheri Hamilton from Las Cruces. One more $1 million Friday drawing, with four regional $250,000 winners each, will occur on July 30 and a grand prize drawing of $5 million is scheduled for early August.

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

Gov mandates vaccines or testing for state workers

Starting Monday, Aug. 2, all New Mexico state workers will need to be either fully vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test at least once every two weeks, following an executive order Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed yesterday. The order acknowledges the state’s rising cases due to the Delta variant, which health officials said Wednesday now accounts for 75% to 80% of cases here, and says cases are expected to rise further in the coming fall and winter months. The order arrived shortly before President Joe Biden announced a similar mandate for federal employees, with the state of California and City of New York having already rolled out comparable requirements for their employees.According to a news release from the governor’s office, Lujan Grisham also is considering vaccine mandates as a condition of employment in “certain high-risk settings” under her executive authority. “Right now, it’s very simple: Get a vaccine, or else you will be tested,” the governor said in a statement. “There will be no quarter for this virus within state government offices. I will not tolerate any unnecessary risk within the workforce under my authority. And I strongly encourage other New Mexico government agencies and private sector employers to consider doing the same.” The statement goes on to say the governor has “absolutely zero appetite for another unnecessary surge of infections, hospitalizations and death. This isn’t a debate. The vaccines are safe, and they work. Misinformation to the contrary will lead to illness and death—not to mention full hospitals and economic disruption.” The governor’s statement also encourages other government agencies and the private sector to consider comparable policies. In Santa Fe, the Lensic Performing Arts Center announced yesterday it is doing just that (see story below).

NM Education secretary leaving

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, who took on the position in August 2019, will step down at the end of next month “to address family health issues,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced yesterday. “To have had the chance to work with so many outstanding and dedicated students, educators, parents and administrators has been a remarkable experience,” Stewart said in a statement. “I entered this job with optimism about New Mexico’s ability to meaningfully transform public education, and I leave it with certainty that sustaining the investments we have made in children and school communities will indeed produce that transformation.” Kurt A. Steinhaus, who recently retired as superintendent of Los Alamos Public Schools, will replace Stewart. Steinhaus was one of two new cabinet secretaries announced yesterday: The governor also appointed Rio Rancho Police Department Deputy Chief Jason Bowie, 49, as the state’s new secretary for the Department of Public Safety. “These are not easy jobs,” the governor said. “A pandemic doesn’t make them any easier. New Mexicans expect a lot from their leaders. I do, too. I’m grateful to Jason and Kurt for their willingness to serve, I’m excited about their passion for solving problems and thinking outside the box, and I am very much looking forward to working with them on the issues that matter to New Mexicans.”

Stapleton fallout continues

Albuquerque Public School yesterday announced 12 employees have been put on leave in connection with the investigation of State Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, (including Stapleton). APS’ outside counsel, Luis Robles, said investigators are looking into whether other employees played roles in the alleged racketeering and kickback schemes outlined in search warrants executed by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office Wednesday, which would amount to close to $1 million having being paid to either Stapleton or her interests through a questionable district vendor. Robles also told the Santa Fe New Mexican the US Attorney’s Office earlier this week issued a federal grand jury subpoena to APS. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham yesterday said Stapleton should resign from the Legislature should she be arrested or indicted; Stapleton’s attorney Ahmad Assed in a written statement to the Albuquerque Journal said she “continues to weigh all options, placing the interest of her constituents and the citizens of the state of New Mexico at the forefront of all considerations.” Democratic caucus leaders in the state House are reportedly meeting tomorrow to discuss Stapleton’s role going forward.

Luján requests social media data on non-English disinformation

US Sen. Ben Ray Luján continues pressing social media companies regarding the spread of misinformation on their platforms. Last week Luján and fellow US Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced the Health Misinformation Act, which aims to hold social media companies accountable for the rapid spread of misinformation on their platforms. Now Luján and Klobuchar, US Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-CA, along with 10 other US senators and 13 US representatives, are sending letters to executives at Facebook, YouTube, Nextdoor and Twitter regarding Spanish-language disinformation. Luján discussed these efforts with CBS news yesterday. The letters call “for greater scrutiny on primary spreaders of vaccine disinformation and requests clear and concrete statistics regarding campaign efficacy and the number of full-time and contract level employees devoted to non-English content moderation.” Luján’s office points to research finding that Facebook flagged approximately 70% of English language misinformation, but only did so for 30% of Spanish language content. The letters also request the companies provide specific information on which top five languages for content that users within the US encounter on the sites, as well as processes and resources in place to evaluate such content, among other information. Last April, Luján chaired a hearing for the US Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband called “Shot of Truth: Communicating Trusted Vaccine Information.”

Listen up

AMP Concerts’ annual Santa Fe Salutes show returns tonight with a musical tribute to some of the many musical icons lost in 2020, such as John Prine, Neil Peart, Little Richard, Eddie Van Halen, Rick Ocasek, Bill Withers, Chick Corea and more. A wide range of Santa Fe’s musicians will pay tribute in a free three-hour show that kicks off at 7 pm in the Railyard. The show will also include a tribute to a legendary photographer, Santa Fe’s own Baron Wolman.

Lensic to require vaccines or tests results for audiences

Starting Aug. 24, the Lensic Performing Arts Center will require anyone attending events—patrons, artists, staff, volunteers and backstage crew—provide proof of full vaccination or the results of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours to gain admittance. According to a news release, Lensic staff is finalizing the policies and procedures and will announce a full set of guidelines in early August. “With continued developments in the virus and its variants, we feel this is the best way to protect our patrons and artists, support the numerous performing arts groups that use the Lensic and do what’s right for the community that makes the Lensic what it is,” Executive Director Joel Aalberts said in a statement, pointing to comparable polices in other venues, such as Radio City Music Hall and the Los Angeles Opera. Audience members with previously purchased tickets who can’t or won’t follow the new guidelines will be able to request a full ticket refund up to 48 hours prior to their scheduled performance.

All the world’s a stage

The weekend provides plenty of opportunities for Shakespeare lovers. Santa Fe Classic Theater kicks off the first weekend of its summer Shakespeare in the Botanical Garden series, with Thursday through Sunday performances of As You Like It through Aug. 22 (purchase tickets here). Performances begin at 6:45 pm, but head out early as gates open at 5:15 pm for picnicking. And the Santa Fe Opera premiers A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Benjamin Britten’s opera based on the Bard’s work, at 8:30 pm, Saturday, July 31, with limited tickets available to performances (and simulcasts) through Aug. 25 (you can also catch it for free through the Opera in the Park series Aug. 8). Director Netia Jones discusses the opera here, saying she explored the site-specific elements of creating this opera in New Mexico, leaning heavily on New Mexico as “the center of astronomy and cosmology.” The sky, she says “is so emphatic, the sky is so big…and the summer night sky is a really strong feature of life in New Mexico…and that’s the central thought for the design of this Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Planting the future

Congress should make it easier to farm hemp, New Mexico hemp farmer Doug Fine writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. Fine says he’s been taking climate change seriously since 2013, when a bear fleeing a nearby wildfire scaled his goat-corral fence and killed most of his herd. Since then, he’s been “consciously sequestering carbon” by—among other activities—planting hemp, joining the 21,496 hemp farmers he says “are buying humanity some time.” Congress restored hemp to full legality in 2018, but set its THC limit at 0.3%, which Fine characterizes as “arbitrary as well as unworkable,” the latter for various farming-related reasons. Fine goes on to say “hemp is about the last crop a wise society would restrict in any way,” noting that before being outlawed in the 1930s, it had been cultivated “as an essential crop all the way back to the founders,” with George Washington growing hemp at Mount Vernon and George HW Bush opening a parachute made of hemp when he escaped his burning bomber in World War II. Bottom line, Fine says, help encourage Congress to adopt the 1% “definition” of hemp currently supported by advocacy groups the National Farmer’s Union and the Farm Bureau, and give a call to your congressional delegation as well.

Wet weekend ahead

No rain in the forecast today, according to the National Weather Service, just a mostly sunny day with a high near 84 degrees and north winds of 5 to 10 mph becoming south in the afternoon. Soggy skies likely to return this weekend, with a 50% chance of storms on Saturday and an 80% chance on Sunday, when high temperatures may only reach the high 70s.

Thanks for reading! If you haven’t seen it yet, The Word suggests bookmarking this video of folks at the watch party in Seward Olympia reacting when 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby wins a gold medal as the first Alaskan to compete in Olympic swimming.

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