Morning Word

NM Health Secretary: “We Have to Keep Up the Fight”

State aims to help fill thousands of jobs in health care, education, tourism industries

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 838 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 256,947. DOH has designated 227,898 of those cases as recovered.Bernalillo County had 214 new cases, followed by San Juan County with 71 and Sandoval County with 65. Santa Fe County had 22 new cases. Currently, transmission remains high across most counties, with only De Baca and Los Alamos counties in the “significant” versus “high” category for transmission.

The state also announced 10 additional deaths, nine of them recent; there have now 4,840 fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 336 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Currently, 80.4% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 71.1% are fully vaccinated. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 64.4% people have had at least one dose and 61.5% are fully inoculated. In Santa Fe County, among those 18 years and older, 91.3% have had at least one dose and 81.3% are fully vaccinated.

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

Health officials report troubling pandemic signs

New Mexico’s COVID-19 cases have plateaued and hospitals remain overly full, health officials said yesterday during a weekly pandemic update. “It’s pretty much a flat line,” Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said about the current case curve, “and that’s a big problem for New Mexico.” The state’s test positivity rate also has exceeded the state target of 7.5%—it’s at 7.9%—with Scrase noting that when the state is above that threshold, “we don’t really feel confidant we have a handle on all the cases here in New Mexico.” Hospitals continue teetering between contingency and crisis care standards, with very low bed availability. For instance, as of Tuesday morning, there were only 17 ICU beds and 67 regular beds available statewide, Scrase said. “The fact that this is going on at this level has become incredibly stressful,” Scrase said. “Our hospital personnel are incredibly exhausted, discouraged and frustrated, frankly, that they are now managing a pandemic and working extra shifts and endangering their own health for what has become a preventable illness.”That “preventability” hinges on vaccination, with health officials continuing to stress the protections provided by COVID-19 vaccines, as 77% of cases, 85.7% of hospitals and 91.5% of deaths over the last month here have been among the unvaccinated. As the pandemic wears on (today is day 576), Scrase acknowledged prior predictions about the “end” of the pandemic had thus far not materialized. “Had it not been for the Delta virus mutation, we might be in a completely different place right now,” he said, “but the trouble is the virus is fighting us, it mutates, it evades either treatments or vaccines or other things over time and so we have to keep up the fight.” Yesterday’s update also previewed upcoming federal decisions about vaccines for children aged 5-11, along with boosters for the Moderna and J & J vaccines.

NM focuses on restaffing

While New Mexico has seen a decline in the number of residents receiving unemployment benefits, its unemployment rate remains above the US average—7.2% in August versus a national rate of 5.2%; Santa Fe’s unemployment rate comes in closer to the national rate at 5.9%—and thousands of jobs remain open across the state. Acting Workforce Solutions Secretary Ricky Serna delivered a statistic update on the state’s employment picture during yesterday’s weekly COVID-19 update, underscoring a lack of direct correlation between the number of people receiving unemployment benefits and the state’s unemployment right now (due to the expiration of federal benefits in August and September). That said, Serna broke down which industries had experienced the greatest decline in claimants between August and October, with the largest sector, arts and design, declining 86.8%, followed by education and training at 78.9%. The state continues to see thousands of job openings across the state—particularly in health care where there are currently more than 13,000 available positions—and to focus on its Ready New Mexico initiative, which provides training and other job matching services. After health care, education services has the most open positions: 7,875. The state also shows thousands of available jobs in professional services, retail and food services. Overall, Serna said, Workforce Solutions is monitoring job-related trends, not just geographically, but also demographically, looking for data “that might suggest we need to provide additional services,” he says. DWS also is working with other state agencies, such as the Tourism Department in its job-filling efforts. “It has been a major priority to really focus on helping tourism and hospitality related employers,” he says.

No such thing as a free lunch

State lawmakers on the Legislative Education Study Committee had lunch courtesy Comcast on Tuesday: enchiladas, roast beef sandwiches, steak salads and more, the Associated Press reports. Legal? Yes, New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Melanie Majors tells the AP. “And then the public needs to ask ‘Why are they doing that?’” she notes. New Mexico Ethics Watch Executive Director Kathleen Sabo says it stands to reason that entities springing for legislators’ lunches likely want something. “It’s just human nature,” she says. “If somebody gives you something…you’re going to react more favorably to them.” Comcast recently bid on an internet contract for a New Mexico school district, though legislators don’t directly award contracts, a point made by state Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, who says the sponsored lunches—a timeworn practice—have no influence on her. Former Republican state Rep. Jim Dines, though, says he never accepted anything from lobbyists during his time in office. “The appearance of impropriety is always there when you accept something free,” he notes, and “only the legislator themselves know whether or not they’re being influenced.” Sabo, a former legislative aide, estimates it would cost approximately $50,000 to feed the unpaid legislators lunch and has been looking for the last two years to find a sponsor for a bill she wrote that would do just that.

Listen up

October is not just the best month for foliage and candy: It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the most recent episode of the weekly To Your Health podcast, host Dr. Wendy Johnson, chief medical officer for La Familia Medical Center, focuses on breast cancer with several experts providing information and dispelling fears. Guests include Julie Voss, a vice president for the Susan G. Komen Foundation; Dr. Margaret Gallegos, a radiologist at Santa Fe Imaging; Dr. Susan A. Seedman, a breast surgical oncologist at Presbyterian Cancer Care; and Dr. Erin J Bouquin.

Native American superhero film underway

The state Film Office announced earlier this week that the short film, Rude Girl, is filming this month in Albuquerque. The movie tells the story of a half Native American and half white teenager dealing with identity issues who visits her Grandpa Lee in the spiritual world only to realize she is a superhero. According to a news release, the film—directed, written and produced by Joshua Zunie—received support from the 2020 Senator John Pinto Native Filmmakers Memorial Program. “As a Native American from Zuni, and influenced by his tribe’s storytelling tradition, Joshua Zunie is part of the movement to push stories of Native culture onto the screen in an authentic way, including ensuring that Native cast and crew are integrated throughout the project,” Film Office Director Amber Dodson said in a statement. “Rude Girl pioneers and presents a heroic story about a current day Native American woman in the genre and universe of superheroes,” Zunie (Bad Boys for Life, The Kid, Better Call Saul, From Dusk Till Dawn) said in a statement. The production will employ approximately 40 New Mexico crew members, five principal actors and five New Mexico background and extras, and stars Shawnee Pourier (Seeds), David Midthunder (West World, Longmire) and Joshua Horton (Army of the Dead, Better Call Saul, Day Break), among others.

Communing with O’Keeffe

The Paris Review speaks with artist Josephine Halvorson, the first artist-in-residence at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, who spent time there, as well as at O’Keeffe’s two homes, Ghost Ranch and nearby Abiquiú, during the summer of 2019 and last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. An exhibit of Halvorson’s work opened at the museum on Oct. 1 and runs through March 28, 2022 as part of the museum’s Contemporary Voices series. Halvorson tells the Paris Review there was a specific weather-beaten tree stump at Ghost Ranch where she would go when taking a break from her own work and find a clear view of Cerro Pedernal, which appears in many of O’Keeffe’s paintings and where her ashes were scatted. The paintings Halvorson created as a result of the residency, as the museum describes it, “respond to natural features found in the landscape and also connect the viewer with domestic snapshots of O’Keeffe’s homes,” including many of her belongings. “It was through the sense of quiet and closeness that I connected with her things,” Halvorson tells the magazine. “The museum registrar would open a cabinet or put the group of keys out on the table for me. No one who visited me was permitted to come into the house, so it was really just me there alone, working every day from dawn till dusk.”

Beautiful day in the neighborhood

Clear and mostly sunny skies return to Santa Fe today, the National Weather Service says, with a high near 75 degrees and north wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading! Because she’s not much of a gambler, The Word didn’t place any bets on who would win the 2021 Noble Prize in Literature this morning (it was novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah). But she did ace this very silly game testing her knowledge of prize winners in the past.

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