Morning Word

NM Legislature’s 30-Day Session Starts Today; Budget, Crime and Education on the Agenda

DOH: One million COVID-19 tests arriving in NM

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials on Friday reported 5,212 new COVID-19 cases, just 35 fewer than the record-breaking number of cases the day prior. There have now been 398,939 total cases; DOH has designated 323,199 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 1,366 cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 636 and San Juan County with 444. Santa Fe County had 399. The state’s seven-day test positivity rate rose from 27.4% to 27.5% (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 36 additional deaths on Friday, 27 of them recent, including two from Santa Fe County: a female in her 60s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions; and a male in his 100s who had underlying conditions. The state also reported the death of a Sandoval County female under the age of 10 who had been hospitalized and had underlying conditions. There have now been 6,145 total fatalities. As of Friday, 586 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a 4% decrease from the prior day. DOH is expected to provide a four-day update on cases, deaths and hospitalizations this afternoon.

Public health and hospital officials have repeatedly stressed of late the strain the current surge has placed on New Mexico hospitals. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the specific demands on rural hospitals across the US, including in Gallup, where some patients are turned away after having driven hours for care. “You’re not going to get a bed unless you need a ventilator, or you have a gunshot wound,” William Porter, deputy director of operations at Team Rubicon, which sends volunteer military veterans to disaster areas, says.

Currently, 89.9% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 76.4% have had two. Among that demographic, 39.3% have had a booster shot. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 68.2% of people have had at least one dose and 58.3% are fully inoculated. Among children ages 5-11, 32.5% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 21.4% are fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 86.2% have completed their primary series.

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.

NM Legislature kicks off today

New Mexico’s 55th Legislature opens at noon today, a 30-day session with a financial focus, but plenty of other big-issue bills scheduled for debate. On Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued her legislative agenda, which includes raises for teachers and expanding the state’s Opportunity Scholarship to cover tuition costs for all higher-ed students. A criminal justice package incorporates bills to create a new fund for law enforcement recruitment; increased penalties for violent offenders; and a “rebuttable presumption” aimed at detaining violent criminals in advance of their trials. The governor wants lawmakers to approve several economic development initiatives, such as a controversial proposal to create a hydrogen hub; an expansion of the Buy New Mexico initiative; and the creation of a state media academy to train people for the film industry. She also is backing legislation to create clean fuel standards; put the state’s 2050 net zero goals in statute; and to put a proposed Land of Enchantment bond for conservation and preservation efforts before voters. Other bills would fund a new veterans’ home, strengthen rural health care and undertake voters’ rights initiatives. “This is a critical opportunity to strategically and responsibly invest in transformative programs that support New Mexicans in building stronger, brighter futures,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “This agenda supports a thriving New Mexico, one where we choose to proactively invest in families, communities, workers and businesses.” The governor will also deliver her State of the State address today (see “Listen up” below).

The Roundhouse will be open to the public, but proof of up-to-date vaccinations (including a booster if eligible) will be required for admittance. People with qualified and documented medical conditions, disabilities or religious convictions will be able to enter with proof of a negative PCR test. All firearms are prohibited and there will be metal detectors at the Capitol’s entrance. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement last week all House committee meetings will be virtual, but floor sessions will continue to take place in person, with members who test positive for COVID-19 or experience symptoms of COVID-19 under a mandatory quarantine or self-isolation order able to participate virtually, as will those who are high risk, or live with someone who is high risk or not eligible for vaccination. The Senate is likely to make similar accommodations, Senate Floor Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, told the Albuquerque Journal. You can watch virtual proceedings here and track legislation here. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government sent its recommendations to lawmakers last week for optimum transparency.

Gov: Millions of COVID-19 tests on their way

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the state is in the process of purchasing 1 million at-home COVID-19 antigen tests, with 400,000 already secured and the rest on their way this week. According to a news release, in the next week, with the support of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the National Guard, home test kits will be distributed to emergency managers across 26 counties to the 79 ZIP codes with the highest Social Vulnerability Index, along with tribal communities. SFR has a pending request with DOH for the list of the 79 ZIP codes receiving the first batch of tests. The state’s most recent Vaccine Equity Report, however, provides some hints on page 39, which displays vaccination rates for some of the ZIP codes with the highest SVI (Santa Fe’s Southside 87507 among them). After the initial allocation of tests, distribution will expand based on available supply to include a pro-rata distribution to counties across the entire state. “Part of learning to live with COVID as we go forward is putting the tools to fight the virus into our home, and home testing is one of the tools that in the long run will enable us to manage this pandemic,” Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a statement. In addition, the Biden administration’s mail-order home-testing program starts tomorrow.

SFCC starts semester online

Santa Fe Community College’s spring semester begins today but, in a shift announced Friday, most classes will start remotely and continue online at least through the end of the month. Citing the state’s rising COVID-19 cases and overloaded hospitals, SFCC President Becky Rowley said “if circumstances approve,” in-person learning will resume on Jan. 31. Rowley noted some departments that won’t be required to switch to remote-only, such as those at the fitness center, La Familia Medical Center Dental Clinic and KSFR radio. “As we all strive for a return to a more regular routine, I recognize that these adjustments may seem sudden, disappointing, and perhaps difficult,” Rowley wrote. In November, SFCC announced a vaccine mandate for faculty, staff and students. Faculty and staff were required to be fully vaccinated or to have received an exemption by Jan. 6. Students taking in-person classes were required to have at least their first shot by today.

Listen up

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will deliver her 2022 State of the State address today live and remotely streamed from the governor’s office. You can watch on the governor’s website, Facebook page and YouTube account; the address also will live-stream on PBS station KNME. The start time of the governor’s speech is dependent upon the Legislature’s opening day procedures, but the governor’s office says it will likely begin in the 1 pm hour. According to a news release, the address will be delivered remotely due to New Mexico’s increased COVID-19 cases (prior to the pandemic, the governor delivered the State of the State in House chambers, with the Legislature, guests and media in attendance).

Immersive Hopper

Dennis Hopper died in California in 2010, but he had asked to be and was buried in Taos, New Mexico, “his heart home,” his wife said. Shortly before his death, then Gov. Bill Richardson declared May 17—Hopper’s birthday—as Dennis Hopper Day to acknowledge Hopper’s long relationship with the state. He came to New Mexico in the late 1960s, having discovered Taos while scouting for his film Easy Rider. In a 2014 remembrance, his daughter Marin Hopper recounts her father’s reverence for Taos, where he would eventually purchase Mabel Dodge Luhan’s house. Now, The Hopper Art Trust has signed an agreement with the Louder Than Pop arts and entertainment company to create an “immersive” Dennis Hopper experience featuring a 30,000-square-foot space with “experiential designs, full-scale physical sets, 3D projection mapping, sound and lighting, an Ambi-Sonic guided headphone tour with soundtrack and video, and still footage.” The exhibit reportedly includes a collection of Hopper’s never-before-seen personal items discovered at his Taos properties, the El Cortez Theater, as well as items from The Hopper Art Trust. The exhibit reportedly will start next year and tour New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, London and Paris, “with a possibility to expand to other cities.” We’re thinking it should probably plan a stop in New Mexico.

NM librarian receives national recognition

Last week, the American Library Association named Tammi Moe, Gallup’s director of libraries and museums, one of 10 national winners in its 2022 I Love My Librarian Awards. Each winner receives $5,000 and will be honored at a virtual award ceremony this month. According to a news release, judges chose Moe from among more than 1,300 nominations across the country. “Tammi’s leadership is kind, supportive, engaged, and thoughtful,” one of her nominators wrote. “She has dissolved the walls of the library, creating a community platform for healing and cultural understanding through shared experiences.” The ALA recognized Moe for “expanding the Octavia Fellin Public Library’s community engagement initiatives” and broadening “the library’s programming and service reach beyond the library’s walls in order to reach its majority-indigenous American population.” The library’s programs, the award notice says, “have addressed a wide range of historically sensitive topics for the community, notably the involuntary sterilization of indigenous women and the incarceration and murder of indigenous activists.” As such, another of her nominators writes: “Confronting our historical and current, very real issues is exactly what [Tammi] has inaugurated, in an unbelievably effective series of instructive installations, displays, and programs. The public library has become a center for deeply probing our own history, our own conflicts, and our own individual and collective roles in those conflicts.”

A place in the sun

Today should be sunny and slightly warmer than yesterday, with a high near 53 degrees and west wind 10 to 15 mph. According to the National Weather Service, our next (slight) chance for snow arrives tomorrow night.

Thanks for reading! The Word is really digging Dmitry Kokh’s photographs of polar bears.

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