Morning Word

Santa Fe Schools Announce Temporary Return to Remote Learning Amid COVID-19 Surge

Meow Wolf announces new CEO

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 2,932 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of new cases to 381,295; DOH has designated 320,551 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 871 cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 302 and Sandoval County with 220. Santa Fe County had 193; the 87507 ZIP code ranked 10th among ZIP codes in the state for the most new cases yesterday with 68. The state’s seven-day test positivity rate has risen to 26.2% (the target is 7.5%).

While the state’s most recent epidemiology report on Variants of Concern records a small sequencing of the highly transmissible Omicron variant and an ongoing dominance of the Delta variant, Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase last week said officials believe Omicron already accounts for approximately 50% to 60% of cases, and will rise to 100% of cases within weeks. The state is able to calculate the presence of the variant through PCR diagnostics in advance of its genomic sequencing, which has several weeks of delay and only sequences small samples.

According to the state’s most recent vaccination case report from Jan. 10, over the last four weeks (Dec. 13-Jan. 10), 60.1% of COVID-19 cases have been among those who are not vaccinated, as have 82.6% of hospitalizations and 92.4% of deaths.

The state reported 25 additional deaths yesterday, 16 of them recent, including one from Santa Fe County: a female in her 60s who had been hospitalized and had underlying conditions. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard lists a total of 211 deaths from Santa Fe County; however, SFR has pending questions regarding this figure as it appears to be an undercount of three based on our records. According to DOH, there have now been 6,045 total fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 584 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a 13% increase from the day prior, with hospital officials this week reporting on their crowded facilities and urging the public to avoid emergency rooms except for severe situations.

Currently, 89.4% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 76.2% have had two. Among that demographic, 37.6% have had a booster shot. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 67.6% of people have had at least one dose and 57.8% are fully inoculated. Among children ages 5-11, 30.7% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 16.6% are fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 86% have completed their primary series.

DOH and the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will be providing vaccines for adults and children ages 5-11 from 10 am to 6 pm every day through Jan. 16 at the Pojoaque Fire Department, County Road 179, and have capacity to administer more than 100 doses of the Pfizer and Pfizer for kids vaccines each day. Walk-ins welcome but registering will make the process faster.

DOH will not be holding its regular COVID-19 news conference this week, but will resume next week at 2 pm, Jan. 19.

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 the updated guidelines for quarantine and isolation here.

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

Santa Fe Schools Returning to Remote

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez announced yesterday that due to escalating COVID-19 cases, schools will return to remote learning on Jan. 18 (following Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday) for one week. If conditions improve, in-person learning will resume on Jan. 24. “We are seeing a significant spike in COVID cases in our community and in our schools,” Chavez said in a statement. “Student and staff health and safety are our greatest priorities and now is the time to take a pause to allow cases to settle.” In addition, Chavez said the district can no longer meet state requirements for contract tracing, nor can its provider meet the demand for surveillance testing for staff and the Test to Stay protocol for students, a modified quarantine program PED announced in early November and SFPS began in early December (schools across the country are reporting comparable problems with testing).

Chavez also noted the school’s COVID-19 dashboard would be adjusted to include cases not infectious while on campus and provided an update to the schools’ current case count: “Last week, due to a surge of cases, our dashboard numbers reported daily on cases in our schools that had been investigated, but it took several days to catch up, so numbers were not current,” he said. “SFPS ended last week with 361 cases involving students and staff, the largest ever in one week for our district, with many still being investigated. Cases could rise to near 600 this week and we have seen increased spread in classrooms.” NEA Santa Fe recently urged the district to reduce in-person learning to address chronic staffing issues and a lack of substitutes. “I don’t think we had a choice,” Chapter President Grace Mayer tells SFR. “I don’t think the superintendent had a choice at this point. And I hope the community recognizes that.”

Meow Wolf names new CEO

Meow Wolf announced yesterday it has hired former ViacomCBS executive Jose Tolosa as its new CEO. “Meow Wolf has imagination at its core,” Tolosa said in a statement. “It is not only poised to impact communities and artists, as it has already proven, but to change the way people think and experience the world around them. This unique and pivotal moment in the company’s history is an opportunity to seek sustainable, thoughtful growth, expanding our exhibitions and engaging beyond the four walls.” Tolosa joined Viacom in 2008 and held various roles over his 14-year career at the company and its successor ViacomCBS, ultimately becoming chief operating officer in early 2015 and chief transformation officer in 2017. At Meow Wolf, Toloso steps into a role previous held jointly by Jim Ward, Ali Rubinstein and Carl Christensen; Ward stepped down as CEO last year and Rubinstein and Christensen will now return to their previous positions as chief creative officer and chief financial officer, respectively. “Meow Wolf’s mission continues to be inspiring creativity through art, exploration and play so that imagination can change the world,” Rubinstein said in a statement. “2021 proved this is possible and set the stage for what is to come. We are ready to create more and inspire more, and we believe Jose will guide this effort beautifully.”

Court upholds PNM plan for San Juan Generating Station

The state Supreme Court on Monday rejected challenges to the state’s Energy Transition Act brought by New Energy Economy and Citizens for Fair Rates and the Environment. According to a news release from the court, the two organizations had challenged portions of the ETA by appealing the approval of an April 2020 Public Regulation Commission financing order allowing PNM to issue up to $361 million in bonds—to be repaid through a surcharge on PNM customers—for “energy transition costs” in abandoning its coal-fired power plant near Farmington (the ETA provides the financing framework for doing so). Among other issues, the court rejected arguments the law “infringes on the due process rights of energy customers in how it allows utilities to charge ratepayers for energy transition costs” and “unconstitutionally constrains the commission’s ability to limit a utility’s recovery of those costs.” The court declined to address a question about the commission’s authority in future ratemaking, stating in an opinion written by Justice David Thomson: “We do not believe that the Court can effectively consider the lawfulness of a potential disallowance in the absence of a relevant record.”

Numerous environmental organizations lauded the court’s decision, with Mike Eisenfeld, energy and climate program manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, describing it as “welcome news. It clears away the obstacles that were keeping support from flowing to communities like Farmington, which desperately need assistance to help in the transition to post-coal economies. That includes funding for innovative clean energy projects that will be such an important part of our rebuilding.” PNM also issued a statement saying it was “pleased this decision once again confirms the legality of the Energy Transition Act…allowing PNM to continue its progress in a just transition towards a clean energy future,” and said it was “encouraged” the decision rejected “claims from New Energy Economy intended to thwart PNM’s plans to implement the ETA.”

Listen up

On the first Saturday of the month, Slow Food Santa Fe takes over the KSFR show The Garden Journal with a guest from the Slow Food movement and a What’s on the Menu feature, in which Ellen Lampert shares tips on food-related books, podcasts and movies. For the most recent installment of “Slow Food Santa Fe Out Loud,” SFSF board members and show hosts Nina Rosenberg and Lissa Johnson talk with Mara Welton and Anna Mulè from Slow Food USA about the principals of the movement. And if you’re considering a book club for 2022, be sure to check out SFSF’s “Dinner and a Book” series; the next book for discussion is Eat Like a Fish by Bren Smith. You can also learn more about the organization from this SFR story last summer.

Stop and smell the coffee

New Mexico’s struggling piñon crop has garnered attention this year from Axios, which examined the piñon’s diminishing yields’ impact on Hispanic culture; and from Eater, which similarly looked at the nut’s role in Native American culture and industry. Now, Food 52 considers how piñon scarcity is hurting New Mexico coffee roasters, who use it in their brews. “Getting a lot of piñons is pretty difficult,” Brandon Campanella, who owns Bosque Coffee Roasters in Los Lunas with his wife, tells Food 52. He says 2020 was a good year, but the story notes the unpredictability of the crop coupled with rising temperatures from climate change could make finding sufficient piñons increasingly difficult. Using foraged nuts also comes with challenges. New Mexico Piñon Coffee Director of Marketing Drake Miller says the company faced issues with the Food and Drug Administration because “There isn’t a way for us to prove that the nuts came from any particular place or were grown in any particular way,” and ultimately made the decision to not use the actual nuts in their coffee anymore. Campanella isn’t ready to make that decision yet: “We really want to stay with New Mexico piñons,” he says. “It makes a big difference to the taste.”

Come for the art

Santa Fe emerges as the only US destination in online United Kingdom-based Suitcase magazine’s roundup of nine “art cities” to visit this year. “We’d go as far as saying that you’ve never truly discovered a destination until you’ve delved deep into its arts and culture,” the story’s authors note. “Yes, we’re all for a city break crammed with sea, sand and sun-worshipping. Yes, we’re guilty of long, lazy lunches spent scoffing half of the local taverna’s menu. But, there’s something truly magnificent about exploring a city’s history through its art.” In the case of Santa Fe, they write: “A high-desert town sitting on the northern corners of New Mexico, it’s no secret that Santa Fe draws crowds for its sprawling blue skies and toasty temperatures. But, it’s also home to a surprisingly large smattering of galleries—stroll the central plaza to see for yourself.” The story specifically recommends Georgia O’Keeffe Museum both for its art and online drawing classes, as well as the Museum of International Folk Art “for a space that spotlights craftsmanship from all around the world.” El Rey Court receives the nod for one’s stay. At any rate, Santa Fe is in good company with Vienna, Austria; Oslo, Norway; and Cairo in Egypt, to name a few. (AFAR magazine in November similarly singled out Santa Fe as its only US pick for 10 great art designations).

Warm and windy

Both temperatures and wind speed should rise today, according to the National Weather Service, which forecasts a sunny day with a high near 50 degrees and north wind 10 to 20 mph.

Thanks for reading! The Word looks forward to visiting one (maybe all?) of these incredible libraries one day.

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