Morning Word

Officials Ready for Absentee Voting, Protecting Election Workers

State launches Spanish-language anti-opioid campaign

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 749 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 242,399; DOH has designated 210,738 of them as recovered. Bernalillo County had 215 new cases, followed by Lea County with 107 and Doña Ana County with 74. Santa Fe County had 15 new cases.

The state also announced 12 additional deaths; there have now been 4,631 total fatalities. As of yesterday, 352 people were hospitalized with COVID-19—32 more than the day prior.

Currently, 78.9% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 69.1% are fully vaccinated. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 62.4% people have had at least one dose and 51.4% are fully inoculated. In Santa Fe County, among those 18 years and older, 90.1% have had at least one dose and 79.7% are fully vaccinated.

Hold onto your masks: The current health order requiring face coverings in public indoor settings, set to expire today, will be extended for at least another month, according to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office.

Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase, Deputy DOH Secretary Dr. Laura Parajón and Education Secretary-Designate Dr. Kurt Steinhaus will host a COVID-19 update at 2 pm today, which will stream live on the NMDOH Facebook page.

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

Officials prep for election voting, protecting staff

Voters in the Nov. 2 election will once again have the option of depositing their absentee ballots outside polling areas. Counties must provide one drop box per 25,000 voters unless otherwise requested, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says, and distribution of those boxes has already begun. Absentee voting begins Oct. 5. The state used approximately $6 million in federal pandemic relief funds last year to install the drop boxes, seen as a way to promote social distancing amid soaring voter turn-out. Those drop boxes became the topic of contention by members of the Republican Party, and the focal point of a lawsuit brought by former President Donald Trump, which was later dropped. Last year’s volatile election, however, remains top of mind for election officials, with Toulouse Oliver telling the Albuquerque Journal she and her staff received death threats last year and she ended up leaving her home for several weeks after her personal information showed up on a website titled “Enemies of the People.” “There was about a five-week period— almost six weeks—where I had to, for lack of better term, go into hiding and take a lot of personal safety precautions,” Toulouse Oliver said. “And I didn’t have it anywhere near as bad as some of my colleagues.” Toulouse and lawmakers are now considering options to protect election workers, such as a specific criminal statute addressing threats against poll workers.

Eye on drought

With New Mexico and the West in the midst of an ongoing megadrought, the state environmental department yesterday launched a new website aimed at helping water managers for public utilities manage resources. The drought, a news release notes, has “serious repercussions for industry, agriculture, municipal utilities and our growing outdoor recreation economy,” as well as the state’s cultural traditions, such as the maintenance of acequias. Droughts, the website notes, can impact water utility operations in a variety of ways, including: loss of water pressure and supply; poor source water quality; increased customer demand due to high temperatures and dry conditions; increased costs and lowered revenues. The new website provides drought information and resources for water utilities, including emergency planning and financial resources. “The Environment Department is helping local communities increase their resiliency against the effects of drought and human-caused climate change,” Environment Secretary James Kenney said in a statement. “Our drought information StoryMap responds to real-time challenges local leaders face in making informed decisions about their water needs.” The site includes updated drought maps showing the levels of drought across the state, with several counties, including Santa Fe County, currently experiencing extreme drought.

“¡El Opio Drama!”

The state Human Services Department yesterday announced a new Spanish language campaign to combat opioid misuse in Hispanic communities: “¡El Opio Drama!” includes a six-part series of animated 30-second telenovela-style programming “aimed at bridging multi-generational gaps within Spanish speaking households.” The new initiative builds on the state’s “Dose of Reality” campaign and will also include paid advertising on Spanish language television networks such as Telemundo and Univision, websites, social media and outlets in areas with large Spanish-speaking populations. “Si, se puede. We are committed to helping New Mexico’s richly diverse Hispanic and Latino communities understand who may be at risk for unintentional overdose and how they can prevent it,” Dr. Neal Bowen, director of the Behavioral Health Services Division at the New Mexico Human Services Department, said in a statement. “We must embrace making information accessible in a culturally and visual way,” said Bowen. “No community is immune from opioid use disorder and this positive telenovela story is a powerful medium that [mirrors] the lives of real people facing this public health issue.” According to the health department, accidental drug overdoses accounted for almost 86% of drug overdose deaths between 2015 and 2019 in New Mexico, with 45% caused by prescription opioids and 33% by heroin. Nearly 40% were of Hispanic males and 18% were Hispanic females.

Listen up

Prolific author and “unruly genius” Joyce Carol Oates sets her new novel, Breathe, in New Mexico, described by the New York Times as “a fever dream of a novel, and it’s as an allegory of grief that it most sparkles.” The grief in question surrounds Michaela McManus, who has relocated to New Mexico with her husband, distinguished science historian Gerard McManus, who soon becomes ill and dies. “The couple’s temporary home state is strange and beautiful with its ‘battalions of sculpted clouds’ and ‘dark-bruised El Greco skies that drew the eye helplessly upward,’” the Associated Press writes. “The surreal quality of the place becomes a mirror of the uncharted path they are thrust upon when Gerard develops a cough and falls ill with a mysterious disease.” Report from Santa Fe host Lorene Mills talks with Oates in a recent episode about the novel’s locale, with Oates noting the challenge of coming to a place with high altitude. “For people from the East, it’s hard to breathe. We can’t catch our breath…Coming here, it’s like approaching an existential abyss of the cosmos, it’s almost like going out into space.”

NM top spots

White Sands National Monument nabbed the 15th spot on Lonely Planet’s new book, the Ultimate United States Travel Listwhich ranks the top 500 unmissable experiences in the United States. The methodology, as detailed, involved first “casting a wide net—every sight, attraction and experience across every state,” an undertaking that amassed 46,977 entries. From there, Lonely Planet “tapped into its expansive network of travel writers who rated each place they’ve visited for research and then ranked them from one to five stars. Next, it was time to pull in the travel community, including Lonely Planet staff, editors and travel bloggers, to vote on their 20 favorite spots and experiences.” Ultimately, hundreds of votes were cast. “The beauty of a book highlighting 500 experiences is that it celebrates the truly iconic while highlighting unmissable places and experiences across the country,” Lonely Planet Managing Director of Publishing Piers Pickard said. That being said, the No. 1 winner was far from obscure: the Grand Canyon, with national parks Yosemite and Yellowstone coming in 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Since we haven’t seen the book, we don’t know if any other New Mexico locales made the top 500 list, but as long as we’re looking at rankings, Taos County recently came in #6 in USA Today’s top 10 best destinations for viewing fall foliage, as well as the top 10 in World Atlas’ list of 10 most charming mountain towns in the US.

Denver glances at Santa Fe as Meow Wolf readies to launch

With Meow Wolf’s Denver installation opening on Sept. 17, the Denver Post takes a look at how Convergence Station could “boost, and change, Colorado’s tourism, art and culture.” On the one hand, the Post says, based on Santa Fe’s House of Eternal Return and Las Vegas’ Omega Mart, the newest spot could “become one of the city’s top-selling attractions and tourist magnets” and perhaps “reshape the city and state’s beleaguered arts economy.” On some other hand, writer John Wenzel muses, how “will its mix of art gallery and theme-park trappings fare with the public, or represent our city to outsiders? Many of us—including those who have visited Meow Wolf’s Santa Fe-based House of Eternal Return since its 2016 opening—have been wondering the same things.”

From an economic perspective, Convergence Station looks like a winner, the story goes on to say, again looking at Santa Fe where, apparently, “Meow Wolf has remade the economy and secured the official approval of the state.” Tourism Santa Fe Executive Director Randy Randall proposes that Denver “with its large population base, the draw, as a percentage of visitation, will be much greater from residents” and “Denver will also learn that Meow Wolf appeals to all ages, not just the younger demographic or the family…In Denver I do not see it changing the city identity, except to make it more art-centric and more complete.” Still, the Post notes a few reasons for concern, among them “employee turnover, investor revolts, lawsuits and apparent union-busting,” the latter in reference to outcry last week over what appeared to be anti-union language in a job posting for a human resources position. “My hope is that they do more to lift individual artists than to absorb them,” Denver artist Mar Williams, who joined a since-settled gender discrimination lawsuit against the company in 2019, tells the Post. “If I went somewhere with a Disney attraction, I wouldn’t see Disney as tied to the local art scene.”

It is still summer, after all

Remember yesterday? Today looks about the same: sunny, with a high near 84 degrees and east wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west in the morning.

Thanks for reading! The Word resonated with yesterday’s poem of the day by Anna Maria Hong.

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