Morning Word

New Mexico Braces for Omicron Variant, Copes with Ongoing Delta

PRC members reveal doubts about PNM/Avangrid merger

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 1,887 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 316,089; DOH designated 267,604 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 583 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 319 and San Juan County with 163. Santa Fe County had 60. DOH reported the statewide test positivity rate at 13.6%, well above the 7.5% target.

The state also announced 12 recent deaths; there have been 5,379 total fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 643 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 10 more than the day prior.

Currently, 84.2% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 73.7% are fully vaccinated. Among that demographic, 23.3% have had a booster shot. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 64.7% of people have had at least one dose and 55.6% are fully inoculated. Among children ages 5-11, 17% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 0.7% are fully vaccinated. 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.

Health officials anticipate Omicron, stress vaccines and boosters

Speaking shortly after the first case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, New Mexico health officials confirmed during the weekly COVID-19 news conference that none has been detected here. But it’s coming. “We can’t keep Omicron from coming to our state,” acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said. “Everyone fully anticipates we’ll see it soon.” For now, however, the Delta variant remains the dominant strain in the state, and the advice to avoid contracting Delta, Omicron or any other potential variant remains the same: Get fully vaccinated. Health officials doubled down on that message yesterday, while also stressing the importance of boosters, and introduced several new data points to reinforce the importance of both. The risk of a break-through case is four times as high for people who are more than six months past completing their primary series, Scrase said, and the median age for those being hospitalized with or dying from COVID-19 is 14 years younger among those who are unvaccinated. “Getting vaccinated now can potentially buy every unvaccinated New Mexican 14 additional years of life,” Scrase said. However, the state will not be changing the definition of fully vaccinated to include booster shots, however, despite intimations this might happen; doing so would put the state out of sync with federal guidelines, Scrase said. However, Scrase said those employees currently required to be vaccinated or tested under the public health law—health care workers, school employees and state employees—will also now be required to receive booster shots.

Preview of PRC vote on merger indicates rejection

While no formal vote has yet taken place, three of the five members of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission said in its weekly open meeting yesterday that they don’t favor approving a proposed merger between PNM Resources and Avangrid. Last month, hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer urged the commission to reject the merger because in his analysis its potential harm outweighs the anticipated public benefits. Commissioners Stephen Fischmann, Cynthia Hall and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar said in the meeting that they agree with him. “There seems to be built into the merger huge opportunities for conflicts of interest through intra-company transactions with Avangrid affiliates that we’ll have a hard time regulating,” Fischmann said, raising issues about negotiations with only a small group of affected parties and agreements that support special interests. “(Their) unethical behavior makes me concerned that the structure of Avangrid and Iberdrola is antithetical to promoting the public interest.” Santa Fe area commissioner Joseph Maestas said he did not want to state his position, but then noted: “There’s a black cloud hanging over this transaction, and it cannot be ignored.” Watch the tail-end of a seven-hour meeting here to hear all the commission comments. The PRC is set to hear more from parties on the case at its Dec. 8 meeting.

Alec Baldwin gives sit-down interview on Rust shooting

The ABC network released short clips yesterday of Alec Baldwin giving his first prime-time interview following October’s fatal Rust set shooting at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe County. The interview with Baldwin, who was a producer of the film in addition to its lead actor, airs tonight as part of ABC News Special with George Stephanopoulos and in it, Baldwin claims that he didn’t pull the trigger. “The trigger wasn’t pulled. I didn’t pull the trigger. No, no, no, no, no,” Baldwin says in the promo. “I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them.”

Investigators with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department say live ammunition was present on the set in addition to the bullet that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded the film’s director. On Wednesday, the department returned a search warrant on an Albuquerque prop dealer who says he believes he may have accidentally provided live ammo that film workers thought were blanks. Sheriff’s deputies have said the gun Baldwin was using for the movie scene was a Colt .45 revolver. Normal operations of that kind of gun require its hammer to be cocked back before a pull of the trigger discharges a bullet. No charges have been filed in the shooting, though several civil lawsuits have already been filed by crew members who say the set was unsafe. Juan Rios, a spokesman for the sheriff, told the Santa Fe New Mexican the statements in the television interview don’t appear to contradict what is known about the case. “If you go back to what the Sheriff has said through the course of his comments related to the investigation, is that the firearm ‘discharged’ while Mr. Baldwin held the firearm,” Ríos wrote in an email. “The investigation is going to examine these issues of how the firearm was discharged and what actually occurred.”

Listen up

December’s arrival, the festooning of the Plaza with Christmas lights and the ubiquitous pumpkin-spice gestalt of it all signals the arrival of winter and all its ho-ho-ho holidays. Except on the Dos Spookqueños podcast where, it seems, the season is always Halloween. In need of a laugh and a fright? Check out the most recent episode from this New Mexico-based paranormal/comedy podcast, in which hosts Eric and Alex discuss...zombie sex workers (this is probably not for kiddos; some explicit language used).

Lidyard in the spotlight

In its “Lost Local News” issue, Washington Post Magazine features First Judicial District Judge Jason Lidyard, who presides over Division 5, civil and adult criminal cases in Rio Arriba County. The story, “The Judge Who Keeps People Out of Jail,” focuses on Lidyard’s approach, which involves keeping people with substance abuse issues out of the criminal justice system. “I don’t care if you’re high, so long as you show up here,” he tells one person. “And informed by childhood memories of his own father’s addiction, he categorically refuses to use jail as a sanction. ‘Only two things will get you kicked out,’ he explains. ‘If you don’t show up, or if you commit new crimes.’” Much of Lidyard’s criminal docket in Rio Arriba County includes links to substance abuse. But Lidyard eschews a typical drug-court model of using jail as a threat to court abstinence. “Rio Arriba is my petri dish,” he tells New Mexico-raised journalist Ted Alcorn, who wrote the story. “What if we could actually use the criminal justice system to better people’s lives?” Alcorn also spends time talking with folks at the Mountain Center, which provides harm-reduction tools such as needles, naloxone kits and strips to test for the presence of the synthetic opioid fentanyl from a mobile unit; state Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Española; and participants in Lidyard’s court. One, Kimber Romero, tells the Post: “If it wasn’t for this program, I’d be dead.”

The cost of visiting

Travel advice for visiting New Mexico continues, this time via a Condé Nast Traveler story on travel budgets that includes line-item accounting for three women’s vacations. In the case of New Mexico, Philadelphia-based tech consultant Nina D’Agostino, 35, breaks down the costs for her “girls trip” with three other women to Santa Fe (yes, the magazine spelled Santa Fe incorrectly in the headline). “We chose Santa Fe,” D’Agostino notes, “because we’re all interested in art and the city is a great hub for Southwestern art, style, culture, and fashion.” Indeed. The flight from JFK to the Sunport ran them $383; their Airbnb “right in town” cost $592.50 a person for four nights; day passes with cabana access at Ojo Santa Fe were a mere $185. The story continues with tallies for food—D’Agostino accomplished her goal of eating green chile at every meal (she spent $450 total on food and drink, which may or may not have included a $17 scented candle “which smells exactly like roasting green chilis”...yes, the magazine also spelled chile wrong). All told, the four-day trip came out to $1,786 just for D’Agostino, and also included expenditures at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Meow Wolf, Double Take and the El Rey Motel—$21 day passes to hang out by the pool. It was unclear (to us) if this counted as an expensive or frugal trip, but it was more than the other two documented trips to Charleston, South Carolina and Lake George, New York.

What month is it?

“Temperatures will be 10 to 25 degrees above normal today, making it feel more like October rather than December,” reads the summary of New Mexico weather on today’s update from the National Weather Service. We couldn’t have said it better. Look for another day of sunny skies in Santa Fe with a high near 60 degrees and an overnight low at about 35.

Thanks for reading! The Word thinks books make the best presents (also bubble bath) and thus appreciated the suggestions from 44 writers in LitHub’s book gift guide.

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