Morning Word

Committee Pulls the Plug on NM Hydrogen Proposal

Health care advocates lobby for cash infusion to address NM nursing shortage

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 5,719 new COVID-19 cases, a nearly 28% increase from the day before, bringing the statewide total so far to 465,244; DOH has designated 334,988 of those cases as recovered. The statewide test positivity rate remained at 29.9% (the target is 7.5%). Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said this week he anticipates the surge from the Omicron variant to peak in the coming three to five days and urged caution.

Bernalillo County had 1,296 cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 999 and San Juan County with 484. Santa Fe County had 230.

According to the state’s most recent vaccination report, over the prior four weeks (between Dec. 27 and Jan. 24), 53.8% of COVID-19 cases were among those not fully vaccinated, as were 77.8% of hospitalizations and 93.3% of deaths.

The state also reported 34 additional deaths, 19 recent and 15 from more than 30 days ago, including a Santa Fe County male in his 50s who had been hospitalized and had underlying conditions. Santa Fe County has now had 225 deaths; there have been 6,391 statewide. As of yesterday, 713 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, four more than the day prior.

Currently, 91.3% percent of adults 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 77.2% have completed their primary series. Among the same demographic, 41.1% have had a booster shot. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 69.8% of people have had at least one dose and 59.3% have completed their primary series. Among children ages 5-11, 34.9% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 23.6% have completed their primary series. In Santa Fe County, 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 86.4% 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.

Hydrogen bill hits snag

The Hydrogen Hub Development Act, HB4, one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s key priorities during the 2022 session, appears to have stalled out in its first committee. After six hours of debate, the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee members voted 6-4 against forwarding the bill, which, among other facets, would create tax incentives to encourage the growth of a new hydrogen-based economy. Dozens of advocates testified in the bill’s favor, but a large contingency of environmentalists and others turned out in force in opposition. “Let’s be clear, it provides fossil fuel companies with taxpayer subsidies,” Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, said. “I don’t buy the fossil fuel hydrogen hype.” Neither, would it seem, did the committee. The bill’s future now remains unclear while its backers seem undeterred. Co-sponsor Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, told the Albuquerque Journal he was disappointed but said he thinks “we need to keep working this session to take in the input. I don’t think it’s acceptable to give up and say ‘next session’ or ‘next year.” The governor’s office intends to revive the bill before the session ends Feb. 17, spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett told the Journal in an email: “We fully expect to work with the Legislature to identify a successful path forward for this important legislation.”

Lawmakers hear plan to address nursing shortage

New Mexico’s nursing shortage preceded the COVID-19 pandemic and has reached critical proportions, with a 6,200-nurse shortage, according to a University of New Mexico 2021 study on the health care workforce. Senate Bill 50, sponsored by state Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, and supported by a coalition of nurses and educators, would appropriate $15 million for a grant program to expand college nursing programs. New Mexico Nurses Association lobbyist Linda Siegle told Senate Finance Committee members yesterday the state will need an effort that lasts several years to effectively address its nursing shortage: “There’s no other way to do it,” Siegle said, “there’s no other way out of this crisis other than growing our own nurses. Thousands of nurses are not going to move to New Mexico.” Siegle also said nursing students have declined in part due to the financial hardships some can face in completing the programs. Another bill, also sponsored by Stefanics, would appropriate $375,000 each for financial aid for nursing students and for loan repayment. An additional budget recommendation from the Legislative Finance Committee would allocate $35 million to the Higher Education Department for endowed faculty positions in nursing programs in state pubic and tribal institutions. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center President and CEO Lilian Montoya told lawmakers the pandemic had revealed “that we have so much more to do in terms in aggressively planning for workforce pipeline, both one that we grow locally and one that we’re able to attract from out of state until we can grow our own to get to that place.”

Taking a bite out of hunger

An initiative from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration would provide a desperately needed cash infusion to farm and hunger relief programs in the state. SFR takes a look at the Food, Farm and Hunger Initiative, in which the governor is requesting $24 million—nearly all of which is recurring—to support programs such as the Senior Food Boxes Program, the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program and the Summer and After-School Nutrition Support, to name a few. Experts say the pandemic only exacerbated New Mexico’s food insecurity problems: in 2020, according to New Mexico Voices for Children’s most recent data book, a quarter of children remained food insecure, lacking access to adequate, healthy food. The initiative would also include $700,000 for additional funding for Double Up Food Bucks, which allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program dollars to count twice at farmers markets. Santa Feans redeemed more than $5,000 in produce at Reunity Resources’ farm last year, an amount Director Juliana Ciano says represents a fraction of the need across the state. But the program’s success, she says, shows that “people want the dignity of choosing the food that they like, the food that they want when they want it.”

Listen up

We almost missed the boat mentioning Veganuary (a month-long challenge to go vegan), but better late than never. And it’s never too late to catch up on Animal Protection New Mexico’s “Teach Me How to Vegan” podcast, which offers not just audio tips every other week, but recipes, resource articles and product recommendations as well. January’s podcasts have focused on vegan breakfast ideas and suggestions of how to ensure one’s vegan diet has sufficient calcium.

More reasons to visit

Houstonia magazine (which, as the name indicates, is a magazine about Houston, Texas), includes both Taos Ski Valley and Ruidoso’s Ski Apache in its roundup of “trendy winter getaways.” Taos, the magazine says, is a “wonderland,” where one is bound to enjoy a “magical wintertime stay.” Plus, it says, if you stay at The Blake, you can text the front desk when you need something. In Ruidoso, in addition to skiing or possibly tubing at Ruidoso’s Winterpark, the magazine recommends visiting the Sentinel Ranch Winery at Hurd Gallery in Rinconada. Also on the travel tip, Wanderu ranks Santa Fe eighth on its roundup of “10 Stunning Vacation Destinations for Solo Travelers.” The publication recommends arriving between September and November to avoid the “blazing heat” and to take advantage of the city’s festivals, such as Santa Fe Fiesta, the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Festival and the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Ignore its recommendation for Crow Bar, which closed down, but follow the tip to eat at El Parasol “to sample Santa Fe’s trademark spicy cuisine.”

Waste not

SITE Santa Fe’s Young Curators program reveals a new exhibit from 5 to 7 pm this evening, “Everything is Beautiful,” in which young artists, ages 12 to 25, created pieces with recycled, thrifted and found materials, “inspired by the overabundance of trash and packaging in the world today.” Return to SITE on Sunday, Jan. 30, for an art-making workshop using recycled materials presented by Gen-erate (an initiative in which Santa Fe youth curate programs at SITE) student Maya Gollihugh from Capital High School, led by “Everything is Beautiful” artist Isabel Rodrigez in conjunction with the exhibit’s opening weekend. Since my youth in the Spanish Market I learned how to be resourceful and use all kinds of found objects and materials to create artworks,” Rodrigez said in a statement. “I have always loved the challenge of working with new art media, and using random bits and bobs to create something beautiful instead of just discarding it as garbage.” The workshop is open to anyone 10 years or older; RSVP here to ensure adequate materials for participants. You’ll find the opening exhibit in this week’s SFR Picks and calendar, along with other ideas for your weekend and the week ahead.

Big chill

If you’re awake before 8 am, the National Weather Service says patchy freezing fog will greet the day (also it snowed last night and city offices and facilities are on a two-hour delay). Otherwise, look for a sunny Friday with a high near 41 degrees, but wind chill values as low as -3. Saturday will start out with similar wind-chill temps, but have a high of 49 degrees and a sunny day, albeit one accompanied with potential wind gusts at 35 mph. Sunday should be clear, less windy with highs in the mid 40s.

Thanks for reading! The Word doesn’t watch Jeopardy and is shockingly bad at trivia (despite being part of SFR’s winning team one time when we competed locally). All this to say, the New York Times profile of record-setting Jeopardy contestant Amy Schneider really was a great read.

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