Morning Word

Mask Mandate Stays as COVID-19 Cases Drop

NM Court officials defend pre-trial release

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 690 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 243,085; DOH has designated 211,164 of them as recovered. Bernalillo County had 220 new cases, followed by Lea County with 80 and Doña Ana County with 70. Santa Fe County had 13.

The state also announced 18 additional deaths, 16 recent, including two from Santa Fe County: two females, one in her 30s and one in her 70s, both of whom had underlying conditions and were hospitalized. There have now been 160 deaths in Santa Fe County and 4,649 statewide. As of yesterday, 375 people were hospitalized with COVID-19—23 more than the day prior.Currently, 79% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 69.2% are fully vaccinated. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 62.5% people have had at least one dose and 51.6% 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.

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

DOH: Cases dropping but transmission remains high

Amidst a slew of data in yesterday’s COVID-19 update, some good news emerged: Cases are dropping statewide and in schools, with hospitalizations also forecast to decline. However, daily deaths are likely to remain high in the coming weeks and transmission in most of the state also remains high. As such, Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase yesterday renewed the public health order, which keeps mask mandates in place for public indoor spaces. “Get back to me when we’re at least down in the range of orange,” he said during the news conference, referring to a map that shows most of the state colored red for high transmission (orange indicates substantial transmission). “That’s probably the time we’ll revisit what we want to do there.” DOH also previewed a consolidated website with data and resources on COVID-19, including a new report on vaccine equity in the state. Deputy DOH Secretary Dr. Laura Parajón says New Mexico continues to show high vaccination rates in the counties that rank the highest on the federal Social Vulnerability Index.

Data also shows a 37% drop in cases for public school staff and students last week compared with the week prior, as well as positive low test positivity rates for school staff—0.74%—according to Education Secretary-Designate Kurt Steinhaus, who reiterated the state’s intention to keep schools open for in-person learning. The state education department has launched a website where districts can register to partake in testing programs recently funded by a $63 million federal grant, and is requiring all districts and charter schools to develop enhanced COVID-safety plans by Oct. 1. Those plans will replace last year’s rule requiring school closures for those with four or more COVID-19 case rapid responses within 14 days. While yesterday’s news was more positive than it has been of late, officials urged New Mexicans to remain vigilant. “There is some data today that’s looking pretty good,” Steinhaus said, “but let’s not relax. Let’s not let up. Let’s stay focused on keeping our schools safe, so we can keep our schools open.”

Courts defend pre-trial release

New Mexico’s judicial officials yesterday released data they say shows that pretrial release is working in the state. According to a University of New Mexico study of 10,300 cases in Bernalillo County between July 2017 and March 2020, among defendants charged with felonies and released from custody pending trial, 95% were not arrested for a violent crime while on pretrial release; fewer than 1% were arrested for a first-degree felony; and four of five released felony defendants were not arrested for a crime while awaiting trial (those who were faced misdemeanors, petty misdemeanors and fourth-degree felonies charges). “All New Mexicans share a concern about crime,” Administrative Office of the Courts Director Artie Pepin said in a statement. “Objective research validates the pretrial justice improvements under way in New Mexico. Blaming judges and courts for crimes highlighted in news accounts does nothing to make anyone safer. A serious evidence-based discussion among all stakeholders is the best approach to developing ways to reduce crime in Albuquerque and other communities.” Crime in Albuquerque has faced scrutiny in recent weeks, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham deploying three dozen state police to Bernalillo County mid-August to focus specifically on violent crime in the Albuquerque area. The Albuquerque Journal reports that the governor, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina and 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez are aligned in supporting reform to the bail system, with the governor’s director of communications, Tripp Stelnicki, noting that the 5% of felons re-arrested for a violent crime on pretrial release is “not a marginal figure” and “can still be utterly devastating to a family or a community.”

Heinrich pushes college completion legislation

US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, yesterday introduced legislation that would authorize the federal Department of Education to distribute $62 billion to help college students finish their degrees. The College Completion Fund Act would allocate funding to states based on a formula using census tract poverty data “to ensure the funding reaches the under-resourced schools with students in the most need of support,” according to a news release. Moreover, states would be required to develop strategic plans to increase graduation and completion rates, with a particular focus on students from underserved and underrepresented communities, such as ones from low-income backgrounds, parenting students and student veterans. “We’ve focused for so long on how we can get students into college, but we need to focus just as much on how to help students get through college,” Heinrich said in a statement. “Completion is the key to unlocking the long-term career success that is the promise of higher education.” Heinrich unveiled the legislation last week during a virtual briefing hosted by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). The legislation also has support from The Institute for College Access & Success, Results for AmericaUnidosUS and Third Way.

Listen up

New Mexico’s opioid epidemic preceded the rest of the country’s, according to Dr. Eileen Barrett, director of Continuing Medical Education at the University of New Mexico, who co-authored a study showing that close to half of the state’s hospitals lack medication used to treat opioid addiction. KUNM recently spoke with Barrett about this deficit and its impact. “In an ideal scenario,” Barrett says, “whenever someone who has an Opioid Use Disorder wants to get treatment, they’re able to get treatment the same day.” When hospitals can’t access the medication quickly, “the consequences are that the patient can’t be treated for their Opioid Use Disorder. What that could mean for someone is they are likely to withdraw, and that withdrawal will increase their risk of leaving the hospital against advice, which then puts them in a risk to relapse into injecting or smoking behaviors. Then they’re at increased risk for overdosing, because when they go back to using that dose may likely be too much for them.”

Indigenous rising

Journalist Jenni Monet (Pueblo of Laguna), founder of the newsletter Indigenously: Decolonizing Your Newsfeed, writes about Deb Haaland’s path to become the country’s first Native Interior Secretary for the fall edition of the Sierra Club’s magazine. The complex and riveting story tracks Haaland’s legendary journey, its historical context and the profound impact on the Indigenous women who have supported her. These include Shayai Lucero, a former Miss Indian World, who watched Haaland’s March 15 confirmation hearing from her flower shop on the Laguna Pueblo, which she runs out of a converted garage that once belonged to Haaland’s sister. As the confirmation hearings played on C-span, Lucero prepared a wreath made of marigolds for the grave of a young tribal member. “The grieving she’d seen as the only florist on the reservation weighed on her.” Her mother, Cecelia, provided a play-by-play of the Senate vote and when Haaland was confirmed, Lucero saw tears in her mother’s eyes. “People in Indian Country, it just seems, we have this sense of relief,” Lucero said. “We’ve been ignored for so long.”

Fungi fun

Fall, for many of us, means a trip up the mountain to view the changing aspen trees (speaking of which, Ski Santa Fe’s fall activities launch this Saturday with chairlift rides, music, disc golf and more). For others, the season marks the best time to head into the hills to search for mushrooms. Edible New Mexico provides guidelines in its fall issue for beginner mushroom hunters this fall, a good time, the magazine says, to find “bright-orange lobster mushrooms, tasty oysters and plentiful honey mushrooms.” The advice ranges from the no-brainer, which is never eat a mushroom unless you’re 100% sure of what it is, to other less known tips, such as: make a spore print, cook them and join a local mushroom club. As it happens, the New Mexico Mycological Society hosts regular field trips, meetings and workshops. And while we’re talking ‘shrooms, a group of New Mexico State University students teamed up for NASA’s “Plant the Moon Challenge” to see what types of crops might grow well in simulated moon soil, and experimented with mushrooms, beans and green onions. Team Zia Luna found beans and onions “had a harder time growing, but the mushrooms did relatively well with a specific mix of wood chips, wheat bran and gypsum.”

Fall light

Rumor has it, next week’s high temperatures in Santa Fe could drop into the 70s. For now, the National Weather Service forecasts a sunny day with a high near 85 degrees and northeast wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading! The Word has trees on her mind, so fittingly is reading a round-up of writers’ favorite trees from literature (including a pick from National Book award winner and Santa Fe poet Arthur Sze).

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