Morning Word

NM Health Officials Report close to 5,000 New COVID-19 Cases, 45 Deaths Over Holiday Period

New broadband advisor updates lawmakers on connectivity progress

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 4,991 new COVID-19 cases for the five-day period of Nov. 25-29, bringing the total number of cases to 313,139; DOH designated 266,169 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 1,450 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 789 and San Juan County with 404. Santa Fe County had 250.

The state also announced 45 new deaths, 40 of them recent, including a male in his 70s from Santa Fe County who had been hospitalized and had underlying conditions; a second death from Santa Fe County from more than 30 days ago also was reported: a female in her 80s. Santa Fe County has now had 183 deaths; there have been 5,355 statewide. As of yesterday, 572 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a decline of 76 people since last Wednesday’s report.

To assist New Mexico hospitals, one 20-person medical team from the US Navy is being sent to San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington; two teams also are being sent to Michigan, at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “As COVID-19 hospitalization rates continue to shift across the country, decreasing in certain areas while increasing in others, we unfortunately find new communities and healthcare facilities overburdened and in need of federal, military assistance,” Lt. Gen. John R. Evans, Jr., ARNORTH commander said in a statement. “The Department of Defense was again called upon by FEMA to support New Mexico and the state of Michigan as they, along with the military and the entire nation, continue to fight this pandemic.”

Currently, 85.7% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 74.4% are fully vaccinated. Among that age group, 22.6% have had a booster shot—a 7.6% increase since the vaccine dashboard’s last update. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 64.6% of people have had at least one dose and 55.5% are fully inoculated. Among children ages 5-11, 16.1% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. In Santa Fe County, 97.1% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 84.3% are fully vaccinated.

New Mexicans can register for a COVID-19 vaccine here, schedule a COVID-19 vaccine booster here and view a public calendar for vaccine availability here. Parents can add dependents to their vaccine profiles here.

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

NM plugs away at broadband plans

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the gaps in broadband coverage across New Mexico—some estimates say as many as 34% of households here lack access to high-speed internet, particularly in rural areas. Matt Schmit, incoming broadband advisor to the new state Office of Broadband Access and Expansion, told lawmakers yesterday federal stimulus and infrastructure bills offer the state a rare opportunity to access the funding needed to provide broadband across the state—a venture with a price tag that could range from $1 billion to $5 billion. Schmit and representatives from the state’s Department of Information Technology presented updates on broadband projects, including funding sources and 2021 legislation. Lawmakers on the Transportation Infrastructure Revenue Subcommittee, however, expressed skepticism about the undertaking, noting years of unrealized plans to provide broadband across the state, along with the logistical and legal challenges of doing so. Committee Chairwoman Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, also noted bridging the state’s connectivity gaps is “is a very heavy lift” but said she is “hopeful that you all can not only carry this lift, but you can also consult with us and see us as partners as well,” regarding funding and legislation and not rely solely on the federal government. “Because to me, broadband and connectivity, it is a human right. It shouldn’t just be a few people who have access to really good quality broadband: It should be every single person here in New Mexico, because it is access; it is information; it is something good.”

State reduces Workers Comp costs

New Mexico’s Office of Superintendent of Insurance announced yesterday it has approved a 5.5% decrease in loss costs for Workers’ Compensation for policies renewing or issued on or after Jan. 1, 2022. According to a news release, the reduction follows the seventh straight year of decreased loss costs and the continuing decrease in claim frequency. “After two years of employers facing challenges related to COVID, it was important for us to approve these cost reductions,” Superintendent of Insurance Russell Toal said in a statement. “These lower rates will help a large number of employers save money, which they can use to reinvest in their businesses.” Loss costs are used by insurance carriers to set Workers’ Compensation rates, and comprise the portion of the total rate that is used to pay the claims and claims adjustment expenses of the injured workers covered by Workers Compensation insurance. Average rate changes vary by industry, according to the OSI.

Santa Fe jail lockdown doesn’t keep out drugs

Santa Fe County jail hasn’t allowed visitors—except for lawyers—since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, drugs such as Suboxone, meth and fentanyl have been making their way into the facility, and have been found present in several fatal overdoses and deaths over the last few months. Case in point: Adrian Hern, 42, died on Aug. 7 while on medical watch; two days prior to his death, he had tested positive for methamphetamine, Suboxone and other opioids. Where did he get the drugs? Hard to say. SFR requested public records regarding any investigation into that very question, but it remains unclear if any took place. What is known is that a month before Hern’s death, guard Seth Christopher Flores was arrested and charged with smuggling Suboxone into the facility (those charges were dismissed by a judge after prosecutors failed to comply with a time limit and have since been refiled.) A county spokeswoman tells SFR no major changes are on the way to address illegal drugs at the jail, despite its population reportedly having co-occurring substance abuse and behavioral rates above the national average. Substance abuse counselor Jeffrey Holland tells SFR many of his clients are reporting high drug use in jails across the state. “They say the jails are totally flooded with Suboxone and dope and they don’t feel that there’s any way that it’s going to stop any time soon,” he says. “It’s almost like the Wild West and until you at least try and do something, nothing’s going to change.”

Listen up

In her book, Cleary Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass, author and scholar Letitia Chambers examines the work and evolution of Native glass artistry, a genre born from the confluence of the contemporary Native arts and studio glass movements. Chambers and artist Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), the subject of the book Virgil Ortiz: reVOlution by Charles S. King and a contributing artist to Clearly Indigenous, will be at Collected Works Bookstore at 6 pm this evening to discuss both books, but you can also stream the event live by registering here. Chambers also curated an exhibit of the same name on display at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture through June 16, 2022; read even more about the work in “Glass is the Memory of Light,” in the fall edition of El Palacio magazine.

Take it outside

New Mexico makes its way into two recent stories connecting travel and women. Condé Nast Travel’s “Women Who Travel” section includes a story on the value of travel to recover from a breakup, in which Leah Castillo sets out on a two-month journey through the American Southwest to try to recover from the end of a relationship. Travel, therapist Kathleen Hendrik Ebbitt says, “can be really great after a breakup” because “it can stimulate your brain and encourage new connections within your cerebral matter.” This helps because “after a breakup, you’re going through withdrawal—the dopamine, the oxytocin, the serotonin, all those hormones that love produces for you are no longer there.” For Castillo, the “breakthrough” moment in her travels went down in the middle of a thunderstorm in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. “I was having a pretty rough day, stuck in my thoughts, and I got caught in this intense storm—thunder was shaking my car, lightning was striking every two seconds, but I was stuck and all I could do was watch,” she tells Condé Nast. “When the storm finally passed, I stepped outside. The air was electric from the lightning and there was the most insane blanket of stars that I’ve ever seen in my life. I felt lucky to just be standing there, alive and healthy, and to be able to travel to see things. And I thought, Yeah, I’m going to be okay.”

The Smithsonian Magazine also highlights 10 best books about travel this year, including Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women, in which author Annabel Abbs “follows in the footsteps of women who boldly reclaimed wild landscapes for themselves.” Abbs writes, of the book’s conceit, “For the purposes of this book, I have defined a walking woman as one who walked for pleasure, not drudgery, and who was able to make something of her walking rather than simply doing it of necessity.” The eight women with whom she walks includes Georgia O’Keeffe, who did her share of walking around New Mexico, specifically Abiquiu.

That’s the spirit

Chances are if you’ve lived in Santa Fe for any length of time (10 minutes? 500 years?), you have friends who drink whiskey. But do they drink Big Nose Kate Whiskey? And have you ever read a sillier string of sentences? Big Nose Kate, reportedly, was the nickname for Mary Katherine Cummings, a figure in the West’s late 1800s history who used to hang around with Wyatt Earp and her beau Doc Holliday (and she was nosy, not necessarily large-nosed). A new locally-distilled spirit takes its name and spirit from Cummings. SFR spoke with Portland-based distiller Mel Heim about the spirit (wholesales begin in early December and Altar Spirits, which opens this winter in the Railyard, will have active sales there as well; you can also order online). Heim says Big Nose Kate “isn’t a gendered whiskey” but, rather, her attempt to “highlight women in the space. Women are there, but they aren’t shown. There are hundreds and hundreds of female distillers now compared to when I started. It’s empowering to just own it.” Cheers to that. And, as long as we’re celebrating good whiskey news, award-winning local distillery Santa Fe Spirits announced just before the holiday, it is now able to ship several of its products to 41 states. Check them out here.

Sunny days

Remember yesterday? Today will be similar, the National Weather Service says, with a sunny sky, a high near 60 degrees and north wind 15 to 20 mph becoming southwest 5 to 10 mph in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading! Though beyond weary of the pandemic,The Word has enjoyed reading The Journal of the Plague Years, and is now listening to its recent melancholy playlist.

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