Morning Word

Flush with Cash, NM Lawmakers Start Session With Fight Over Masks

DOH reports 21,305 new COVID-19 cases over four days, designates Santa Fe 87507 ZIP code for free tests

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 21,305 new COVID-19 cases for the four-day period of Jan. 15-18, bringing the total number of cases to 420,192; DOH has designated 327,914 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 6,110 cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 2,867 and Sandoval County with 1,844. Santa Fe County had 1,806, with 816 in the 87507 ZIP code, which had the second highest number of new cases among ZIP codes in the state. The state’s seven-day test positivity rate rose from 27.5% to 28.5% (the target is 7.5%).

According to the state’s most recently published vaccination case report from Jan. 10, over the four-week period of Dec. 13 to Jan. 10, 60.1% of COVID-19 cases were among those who are not vaccinated, as were 82.6% of hospitalizations and 92.4% of deaths.

The state also reported 32 additional deaths, 21 of them recent, including a female in her 90s from Santa Fe County who had underlying conditions and had been a resident of the BeeHive Homes Edgewood facility. There have now been 216 deaths in Santa Fe County and 6,177 statewide. As of yesterday, 624 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a 6.5% increase from last Friday.

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, 39.4% have had a booster shot. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 68.3% of people have had at least one dose and 58.3% have completed their primary series. Among children ages 5-11, 32.6% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 21.5% have completed their primary series. In Santa Fe County, 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 86.2% have completed their primary series.

As we reported here yesterday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the health department are in the process of securing 1 million free at-home tests to be initially distributed to the 79 New Mexico ZIP codes with the highest levels of social vulnerability. SFR requested the ZIP codes from DOH and cross-referenced them with counties: The ZIP codes are spread across 23 counties, with only the Southside 87507 designated in Santa Fe County. Based on SFR’s calculations, Doña Ana County would appear to have the most ZIP codes designated to receive tests, followed by McKinley County. The Social Vulnerability Index DOH employed for the distribution uses US Census data to determine relative social vulnerability for each census tract based on socioeconomic status; household composition and disability; minority status and language; and housing and transportation. SVI measures range from 1.0 for the highest vulnerability to 0 for the lowest vulnerability. DOH’s most recent report on vaccine equity references the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention SVI rankings, from 2018, viewable on this interactive map, which indicates 87507 lies within a Census tract designated as a high level of vulnerability and has a ranking of 0.7592.

The federal government also has launched a website where people can order four free at-home tests, expected to ship within seven to 12 days of being ordered. And speaking of testing, Attorney General Hector Balderas last Friday issued a warning to beware of COVID-19 testing scams, which includes tips for spotting them and a number to call should you encounter one (this is a national problem not confined to New Mexico). You can view sanctioned testing spots through the DOH testing directory.

Lastly, the health department will host its usual weekly COVID-19 news briefing today, but will no longer stream them live on Facebook. Instead, the event, starting at 1 pm, will be solely for the media, but will be recorded and posted afterward for the public. “In an attempt to be informative, concise and respectful of everyone’s time, the DOH is choosing this new format,” Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a statement. “Our team of incredible epidemiologists will continue to provide extensive, up-to-date information on the COVID website so education will not be lost. I will still be available to answer the media’s questions and we will continue to share the answers with the public.” SFR will be attending and will have a story later this afternoon at

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.

And they’re off

ICYMI, the New Mexico Legislature launched its 30-day session yesterday, in which lawmakers will ponder the best uses for record-high $8.4 billion budget. In her State of the State speech, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham characterized the state as having at present “unimaginable financial resources at our disposal.” As a result, she said: “I believe we can fulfill, once and for all, after a hundred-and-ten years of statehood, the destiny of New Mexico as a genuine homestead of the American Dream, a place where people can grow and thrive and live in peace and prosperity, where people have the resources they need to support themselves and their families.” You can both watch and read the speech via New Mexico PBS, along with annotations from local journalists. The session is expected to focus heavily on crime, education and economic development proposals. The day included some measure of drama from the state Senate, where the Albuquerque Journal reports clashes between members over wearing masks and whether to remove Sen. Jacob Candelaria from the Senate Finance Committee. Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, proposed removing Candelaria, a former Democrat and a critic of Stewart’s. Neither issue was resolved. Candelaria tells the Journal he plans to resign from the committee and pursue discrimination litigation against Stewart; the mask mandate is expected to resurface today.

City hires personnel, company to help with audit

The City of Santa Fe yesterday announced it has hired an accounting officer and contracted a private company to help with its ongoing audit woes. The company, Piñon Ventures, is owned by the former city Audit Committee Chair Stephanie Woodruff. The city announced last month it would be late with its audit for the third year in a row. The new hire and contract are part of the city’s action plan for completing the audit and meeting a June 30 submission deadline for the State Auditor (who, needless to say, is not thrilled with the city’s constant lateness). Finance Director Mary McCoy presented that plan and an update to Finance Committee members last night. Ricky A. Bejarano started as the city’s new accounting officer this month and “is responsible for ensuring effective and efficient financial management of the City’s operations, that policies and procedures are in place to provide reasonable assurance City assets are protected, and that the City is in compliance with all relevant regulations and laws,” a news release says. Bejarano, a Certified Public Accountant, has more than 40 years of experience in financial, government and tax accounting as well as financial and state tax auditing and recently served as the vice president of Finance & Administration at Northern New Mexico College. Piñon Ventures, owned by Woodruff, was one of three consulting firms that submitted a proposal to provide a review of the city’s audit systems, processes and functions and will have a six-month contract, the amount for which SFR was unable to ascertain by press time. “With the assistance of our very qualified new Accounting Officer and expert review and advice from our consultant, we are confident we will be able be able to submit the next two fiscal year audits on a more timely basis,” McCoy said in a statement.

State doubles cannabis plant limits

The state Cannabis Control Division yesterday announced rules that double cannabis plant-count limits. “We have been listening to producers, consumers and patients who are as committed as the Cannabis Control Division is to supporting a thriving cannabis-industry in New Mexico,” CCD Director Kristen Thomson said in a statement. “Doubling the plant count for licensed producers makes sense to ensure that everyone can maximize the benefits of a thriving cannabis industry.” The rule doubles plant counts for each of the four levels of licensed producer. Those producers do not need to take any action, a news release said, the new limits are in effect. “Licensed producers don’t need to do anything except put more plants in the ground and enter them into BioTrack, our seed-to-sale tracking software,” Thomson said. “Not every producer is going to want to grow more plants. But, for those who do want to increase their plant counts, they can start doing that today.” Micro-producers, however, were not included in the rule-change because their plant limits are set by statute. Some producers, however, called out the increase as unlikely to make a difference in advance of the April start date for adult recreational sales. “Raising the plant count limits now will do nothing to help with patient supply in April when we have our first adult use sale,” New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ben Lewinger said in a statement. “Building the infrastructure to double plant count could take months to years for most operators, and plants put in the ground today won’t be ready in April.” Moreover, he said, the rule change “ignores how important sensible production limits are to launching an equitable cannabis industry that creates opportunities for homegrown New Mexico businesses to be successful…Increasing the plant count now will only help the very biggest and well-resourced producers—it won’t help medical cannabis patients and it won’t help new businesses trying to break into the industry.” The CCD has thus far issued 30 new producer licenses, 14 of which are micro-businesses, and has renewed 34 legacy medical cannabis producers. The division has received 290 applications. Read up on even more cannabis news in SFR’s most recent “Leaf Brief” newsletter.

Listen up

Throughout the pandemic, medical officials have noted the difficulty some people have faced receiving other types of medical care. On the most recent episode of the To Your Health program, La Familia Medical Center Medical Director Dr. Wendy Johnson focuses on women’s care specifically in light of January’s designation as Cervical Health Awareness month. Her guests include La Familia’s Associate Medical Director Dr. Lauren Waltersdorf; Ob/Gyn Dr. Suzanne Burlone; Susan Griggs, a certified nurse midwife and family nurse practitioner at La Familia; and Erika Benson, a certified nurse midwife and certified menopause clinician.

NM-inspired music

American Songwriter spotlights singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson and her new album Songs from the River Wind, released Jan. 14 and inspired by Gilkyson’s return to New Mexico (specifically Taos). Writer Lee Zimmerman notes Gilkyson’s move from Austin back to New Mexico (her family moved here in the late ‘60s and Gilkyson, some may remember, used to live in Santa Fe) inspired her songwriting to move from the political to the spiritual. “It is, after all, a setting she’s always had a special affinity for, and as a result, this new set of songs evokes imagery that resonates remarkably as a result,” he writes. “It’s an homage to her love of the American West and the joy of living in a land that provides sustenance and stability in an otherwise tumultuous time.” The Grammy-nominated singer comes from a musical family: Her father wrote hit songs in the 50s and 60s and her brother Tony is a member of the bands X and Lone Justice. For her latest album, Don Richmond produced the record with the Southwest band The Rifters singing backup harmonies. The CD release party is slated for March 20 at St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

NM-centric resolutions

If the resolve behind your New Year’s resolutions has already begun to flag as we hit mid-January, New Mexico Magazine’s contribution to the task of sticking with it may inspire some new plans. In “Five Ways to Keep All Your New Year’s Resolutions,” writer Maria Manuela provides specific ideas for discovering your wild side, exploring arts and culture, connecting with nature, changing your outlook and renewing your spirit. As expected, these are New Mexico-focused resolutions, which, if kept, may take you to new places such as the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park near Las Cruces; the Clearly Indigenous exhibit at Santa Fe Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; Albuquerque Herbalism for some classes; Santa Fe’s Santa Fe Salt Cave for a halotherapy session; and Monastery of Christ in the Desert near Abiquiu. If the prospect of “halotherapy” caught your intention, you’re not alone. Salt Cave owner Kim Rash says folks should come with an “open mind…Holding space for people right now is really an honor,” she says. “They can escape to this magical, dreamlike fairyland and get away from it all.” You had us at “escape.”

Fingers crossed...

The National Weather Service forecasts a 20% chance of rain today after 2 pm on an otherwise partly sunny day with a high near 44 degrees and north wind around 10 mph becoming south in the afternoon. Tonight, the odds remain the same for possible snow before 11 pm.

Thanks for reading! While The Word saw Monday’s “Wolf” moon in New Mexico, she’s still mooning over these photos from around the world, and marking her calendar for these upcoming celestial events.

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