Morning Word

State Education Department Revises Schools’ Quarantine Rules, Says More COVID-19 Tests on the Way

“Rust” armorer files suit against ammo supplier

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 6,919 new COVID-19 cases. However, DOH announced that yesterday’s case total included approximately 1,000 COVID-19 cases that were received after an electronic lab reporting disruption on Jan. 11. That disruption, according to a DOH news release, “resulted in an artificially low number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Tuesday’s daily case count press release.” In addition, 2,540 new cases were reported by one laboratory, and include cases that were recently tested over the past 12 days. The cases reported yesterday bring the total number of new cases to 388,215; DOH has designated 321,089 of those cases as recovered.

Keeping in mind the overall expanded case counts as noted above, Bernalillo County had 2,005 cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 1,012 and Chaves County with 844. Santa Fe County had 488, 201 from the 87507 ZIP code, which ranked sixth in the state among ZIP codes for the most new cases. The state’s seven-day test positivity rate rose from 26.2% to 27.4% (the target is 7.5%).

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 also reported 28 additional deaths yesterday, 18 of them recent, including one from Santa Fe County: a female in her 70s who had been hospitalized and had underlying conditions. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard lists a total of 212 deaths from Santa Fe County; however, SFR continues to have pending questions with the health department regarding this figure as it appears to be an undercount of three based on our records. According to DOH, there have now been 6,073 total fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 569 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 15 fewer than the day prior.

Currently, 89.5% 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, 37.8% 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, 30.8% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 20% 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.

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.

PED adjusts COVID-19 rules for schools

The Public Education Department yesterday issued revised quarantine and isolation rules for schools that align with those released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 27, and adopted by the state health department on Jan. 6. In a nutshell, the revised guidelines halve quarantines from 10 days to five for students and staff who have been exposed to COVID-19, and reduce self-isolation from 10 days to five for those who have tested positive. The updated guidance also now requires booster shots for school staff members to avoid quarantining if identified as a close contact (previously, educators were not required to quarantine if they had completed the primary series of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines).

A memo sent to school district heads on Jan. 11 from PED Deputy Secretary Katarina Sandoval and Safe and Healthy Schools Director Gregory Frostad also states the health department has sufficient rapid antigen tests to maintain schools’ Test to Stay programs, a modified quarantine program PED announced in early November and Santa Fe Public Schools began in early December. SFPF Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez, who announced on Jan. 11 that SFPS will return to remote learning for one week starting Jan. 18 amid a surge of cases, also noted SFPS’s provider had been unable to provide enough tests for its Test to Stay program or staff surveillance. Schools across the country are reporting comparable problems with testing, with President Joe Biden yesterday announcing the federal government will increase the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month. PED’s memo to school district leaders acknowledges rapid PCR tests for symptomatic staff and students have been in short supply but says a “major shipment” is coming into the state this week. “School-based infections are still relatively low, and we are cautiously optimistic that most schools can continue safe in-person learning with these modifications,” Public Education Secretary-Designate Kurt Steinhaus said in a statement. “We remain committed to keeping students and school staff safe and healthy while maximizing opportunities for in-person learning.”

Rust armorer sues ammo supplier

Former Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed is suing ammunition supplier Seth Kenney and his company PDQ Arm and Prop for violating the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, introducing dangerous products onto a movie set, strict product liability and false label representations. The lawsuit, filed yesterday by Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys Jason Bowles and Todd J. Bullion in New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court, issues from the Oct. 21 shooting on the film set at Bonanza Creek Ranch where Alec Baldwin fired a shot that struck and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza. Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigators subsequently recovered live ammunition from the set. The new suit alleges Kenney supplied a box of ammunition to the movie set that was labeled “dummies,” but actually contained seven live rounds mixed in with 43 dummies. Kenney previously provided the Los Angeles Times a statement that his company had not provided live ammunition to the Rust set, but could not be reached for comment yesterday. The lawsuit claims Kenney acquired the live rounds from Gutierrez-Reed’s father, Thell Reed, a well known Hollywood armorer, on a different film set. “The Rust production was a ‘low budget’ film,” the lawsuit says. “It had a rushed and chaotic atmosphere at times, culminating the day before the tragedy with the abrupt and unexpected resignations of members of the camera crew on October 20. All the while, the props and armorer departments were expected to teach each other and do more with less. The introduction of live rounds onto the set, which no one anticipated, combined with the rushed and chaotic atmosphere, created a perfect storm for a safety incident.”

Council approves new city manager

The Santa Fe City Council last night approved John Blair as the new city manager on a 8-1 vote, with new District 3 City Councilor Lee Garcia casting the only dissenting vote, saying he would have liked to see more candidates and calling the process “rushed.” Blair accepted the position without a contract and will be paid $172,500. “It’s frequently the case that contracts for the city manager are a way to provide certain assurances that the individual will get a severance package or the right to revert to a job in city government,” Mayor Alan Webber said, “but Mr. Blair said he does not need it.” Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth praised Blair’s decision to take the position without a contract, saying it showed his trust in both the mayor and the council to treat him fairly. Blair replaces Jarel LaPan Hill, who took the position in January 2020 and stepped down as of yesterday. Blair previously served as deputy superintendent at the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, and also has held positions as deputy secretary of state and chief of staff to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. “I recognize the role of the job as sort of the [chief administrative officer] of the city government, and my responsibility ultimately for me is really to serve the people of Santa Fe,” Blair said at last night’s council meeting. “A significant part of that is serving the mayor and serving all the city councilors in terms of their needs and their agendas and how we collectively can work to move the city forward.”

Listen up

Today’s 8 am broadcast of KUNM’s “Let’s Talk New Mexico” will focus on the critical shortages hospitals are facing as they grapple with a surge of COVID-19 cases, already crowded facilities and staffing shortages. Hospital officials, advocates and nurses will weigh in on the crisis, but the show also wants to hear from you, whether you’re a health care worker or someone who has been impacted by the health care crisis. Email LetsTalk@kunm.org, tweet with the hashtag #LetsTalkNM or call in live during the show to (505) 277-5866. Listen online or at 89.9 FM.

NEA issues NM arts awards

This week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced $33.2 million in awards for the fiscal year 2022, amounting to 1,498 awards across the country. In New Mexico, 24 arts organization received a total of $530,000, including nine in Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Opera received $75,000 to support its new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with pre-performance talks and a two-day symposium with the creative team exploring the opera’s themes. Axle Projects received $10,000 to support its mobile photographic portrait project E Pluribus Unum. In addition, Indigenous Ways received $30,000 for its Indigenous Healing Festival; Parallel Studios received $20,000 for the Currents New Media Festival; the Coe Center (Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts) received $20,000 to support an exhibition of large-scale art works by artist Cara Romero; the Santa Fe Art Institute received $15,000 to support its artist thematic residency program; the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival received $35,000 for its annual festival; Santa Fe Desert Chorale received $20,000 for its summer festival; and the Santa Fe Film Institute received $20,000 to support the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, the Indigenous Film Program and associated public programming. You can search for/read more about individual grants here.

Hit the road

Apparently January is as good a time as any to ponder road trips and camping. Travel and Leisure magazine rounds up 14 “awesome retro motor lodges in the US,” should one heed “the call of the open road.” That list includes Motel Safari in Tucumcari, described by the magazine as “the mother ship of Mother Road kitsch.” The motel’s camel-topped road sign makes it hard to miss, and “pays homage to the 22 Tunis-imported camels used in Edward Fitzgerald Beale’s 1850s expeditions to survey and build a wagon road across the rugged southwest wilderness.” If your road trip involves an RV, you may wish to check out Campspot’s first-ever Campspot awards, announced yesterday. Among the categories, Angel Fire RV resort came in as the number one top overall campground in the US. Campspot, which describes itself as “the leading online marketplace for RV resorts, family campgrounds, cabins, glamping options and more,” also issued awards for the most popular campgrounds; and the top campground picks for families, views, first-timers and design, as well as a section for best camping. Angel Fire emerged as the only New Mexico campground to rank in any of the categories. “Angel Fire is a quaint, mountain village nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico,” the site reads. “This resort offers a luxury RV experience with views unlike any other. Enjoy a variety of activities, fine dining and top tier amenities. This community has a big heart and loads of passion, and is thrilled to welcome you to the outdoor-loving family!”

A warmish January day ahead

The National Weather Service forecasts a sunny day with a high near 53 degrees and west wind 10 to 15 mph. We still have a slight chance for snow Friday night…stay tuned!

Thanks for reading! The Word strongly suspects watching a video of a goldfish learning to drive will be the high point of her week.

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