Morning Word

Health Officials Say NM’s Record-Breaking Omicron Surge Could End by February and Underscore Boosters, Tests, Better Masks

Gov calls on National Guard, state workers, to help in classrooms

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported another record-breaking 5,735 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 425,920; DOH has designated 328,438 of those cases as recovered. The statewide test positivity rate declined slightly from 28.5% to 28.3% (the target is 7.5%).

Bernalillo County had 1,658 cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 840 and Sandoval County with 367. Santa Fe County had 221 new cases.

The state’s most recent vaccination report shows over the four-week period between Dec. 20 and Jan. 17, 57% of cases were among those not fully vaccinated, as were 80.7% of hospitalizations and 93.8% of deaths.

The state also reported 28 additional deaths, 17 recent and 11 from more than 30 days ago, including a Santa Fe County man in his 60s who had been hospitalized and had underlying conditions. Santa Fe County has now had 217 deaths and there have been 6,205 statewide. As of yesterday, 626 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, comparable to the prior day.

Currently, 89.9% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 76.5% have had two. Among that demographic, 39.5% 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, 32.8% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 21.6% 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.

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 order free at-home COVID-19 tests here and access the DOH testing directory here.

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

DOH: Omicron surge likely to peak by Feb. 2

Santa Fe city and county emergency managers are in the process of drafting a plan to distribute approximately 21,000 COVID-19 tests to hard-hit communities in the city’s 87507 ZIP code. The health department earlier this week announced distribution of the free kits to 79 ZIP codes that lay in tracts designated as having high levels of social vulnerability, based on federal data. Brian Williams, the city’s director of Emergency Management and Safety, tells SFR the plan is still in draft form, but will include coordinated outreach to unhoused people, homebound residents and others on the Southside through partnerships with the city’s mobile integrated health unit, Fire Department and nonprofit partners. “Obviously what we’re hoping to do is identify people who are COVID-positive and get them quarantined so they’re not spreading it around and hopefully address the fact they might need medical care,” Williams said. The free tests to vulnerable populations comes as the state’s public health guidance turns to an emphasis on testing, along with vaccination and masks.

In a weekly afternoon COVID-19 briefing, Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said he hopes to see an uptick in booster shots, pointing to data regarding the booster shots’ effectiveness in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. The state’s hospitals remain, he said, “in serious duress,” and are currently triaging the limited supplies of monoclonal antibodies and oral treatments used as COVID-19 therapeutics. Scrase said modelers believe the state’s caseload will peak between Jan. 27 and Feb. 2, but it remains too soon to predict the Omicron surge’s impact on hospitalizations and deaths. In the meantime, Scrase also emphasized a shift to increased home antigen testing for asymptomatic people, and encouraged everyone to “treat yourself to a better quality mask.” The Biden administration yesterday announced a plan to distribute 400 N95 masks through pharmacies and health clinics; Scrase said the state also had ordered 1 million high-quality masks that “will bridge the gap for our state between now and when the federal supply comes out…and then provide a protective safety layer above it in order to help us to cover those most vulnerable people in our population.”

Gov calls on National Guard, state workers to help schools

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham yesterday unveiled a new initiative to staff classrooms in which National Guard members and state employees will volunteer as substitute teachers in classrooms and child care facilities. The governor announced the enterprise at Santa Fe High School, which—like the rest of the SFPS—is in remote learning this week largely due to staffing shortages. “Our schools are a critical source of stability for our kids—we know they learn better in the classroom and thrive among their peers,” the governor said in a statement. According to the governor’s office, approximately 60 school districts and charter schools have moved into remote learning since winter break, and 75 child care centers have partially or completely closed due to staffing shortages since the start of the year. “We’ve heard from multiple districts that a lack of substitute teachers is among the most critical staffing issues right now, and they’ve asked for the state’s support,” Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said in a statement. The governor said she hopes to deploy 500 voluntary substitutes into the classrooms, with Guard members receiving their standard active duty pay and state workers receiving paid leave. Volunteers will have to meet the standard requirements for substitute teachers and child care workers, including background checks and an online substitute teaching workshop.

NM scholar named first Native woman Smithsonian director

The National Museum of the American Indian yesterday announced Cynthia Chavez Lamar (San Felipe Pueblo) has been named its new director starting Feb. 14—the first Native woman to be named as a Smithsonian museum director. According to a news release, Chavez Lamar will oversee the museum’s three facilities: the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in Lower Manhattan and the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland. She has been with the museum since 2014, currently serving as its acting associate director for collections and operations (and served earlier in her career as an intern and then an associate curator). Chavez Lamar’s research interests focus on Southwest Native art and “the methodologies and practices involved in collaborating with Indigenous communities.” From 2006 to 2007, she was the director of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque and was the director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe from 2007 to 2014. “Dr. Chavez Lamar is at the forefront of a growing wave of Native American career museum professionals,” Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian said in a statement. “They have played an important role in changing how museums think about their obligations to Native communities and to all communities.” Chavez Lamar said in a statement is excited to begin her tenure as director: “Together, we will leverage the museum’s reputation to support shared initiatives with partners in the US and around the world to amplify Indigenous knowledge and perspectives all in the interest of further informing the American public and international audiences of the beauty, tenacity and richness of Indigenous cultures, arts and histories.”

Listen up

If you haven’t ventured out to see pianist David Geist’s Cabaret, tonight is the night, starting at 7 pm, upstairs at Osteria D’Assisi. But if you’re not quite ready to be in public, you can catch Geist performing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in this recent TikTok, and some more traditional Broadway fare on his YouTube page.

Meow Wolf union alleges unfair labor practices

Last month, Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf Workers Collective filed charges of unfair labor practices against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, and went public with its allegations in an Instagram post this week. In the post, the union—which represents 142 employees of Meow Wolf’s Santa Fe location—identifies alleged grievances such as the company changing holiday and time-off policies without consulting the union; a requirement for new hires to sign documentation that circumvents the MWWC altogether; and the company’s refusal to provide critical information for the negotiation process. Communication Workers of America organizer Milagro Padilla, who helped form MWWC and has worked with the union since the beginning, tells SFR “[Unfair labor practice complaints] happen pretty frequently in campaigns, but I don’t want to downplay that [unfair labor practices] happen when a union believes an employer has broken the law. Management at Meow Wolf knows or should know that what they’re doing isn’t just illegal, it’s immoral.” The New Republic magazine takes the measure of Meow Wolf’s trajectory from “trippy art collective” to unionized workforce. “The union is asking that Meow Wolf underpin its innovative, bohemian aura with strong protections and higher wages for its employees,” the magazine writes. “Like many people in creative fields, they were once encouraged to see themselves as iconoclast outsiders, laboring for free or close to nothing out of love for their art, but a dose of start-up culture and a major infusion of cash changed everything. Now they want to be seen as workers; for their value to be recognized the same way their company’s is.”

Spice of life

New Mexico ranks second in the country when it comes to buying hot sauce via Instacart. At least according to Instacart, which has just released a detailed report on customers’ hot-sauce buying patterns. According to the company, customers bought a lot of hot sauce between December 2020 and November 2021: 444,854 gallons, in fact, enough to “fill 18,536 kiddie pools” (probably a bad idea). Drilling down, New Mexico customers purchase 4.4 ounces of hot sauce per customer, second in the country only to...North Dakota, which purchases 5.4 ounces per customer. The report also identified, using its purchase data, the top-selling hot sauces in the country. Huy Fong’s Sriracha is the top hot sauce in 31 states including nearly the entire western region, followed by Frank’s RedHot in 14 states located primarily in the Midwest and Northeast. New Mexico, however, was an outlier, choosing home-grown Bueno. Disclosure: We were unable to ascertain if Instacart thinks red and green chile is a hot sauce or if people are ordering Bueno salsas or what. Yes, we tried to figure it out. No we didn’t try that hard. At any rate, presumably, the end-game of this report is to sell more hot sauce and, while there’s no reason to take this study too seriously, New Mexico should really try to beat out North Dakota next year. Finally, hot sauce is always in season, but Jan. 22 apparently heralds National Hot Sauce Day (not a federal holiday).

The big chill

While the odds were low for snow yesterday, snow, nonetheless, emerged, albeit briefly. Was it a lot of snow? No, it was not. Was it better than nothing? Sure, why not. As for today, the National Weather Service forecasts partly sunny skies becoming fully sunny with a high near 39 degrees and southeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming northwest in the afternoon. Another chance for snow beckons tomorrow night.

Thanks for reading! The Word’s obsession with ambient sounds has been rewarded by the mother lode (“haunted dungeon” is a perfect fit this morning).

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