Morning Word

DOH: Santa Fe County Has Highest COVID-19 Case Rates in the State

Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Fighters Head Into Fire Weather as Black Fire grows

Santa Fe’s COVID-19 case rate highest in the state

According to the health department’s weekly epidemiology report on geographical trends, for the most recent seven-day period of May 16 through May 22, Santa Fe County had the highest case rate per 100,000 population in the state: 45.9. Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties followed close behind with case rates per 100,000 population of 39.9 and 39.4, respectively. The report marks case rates per 100,000 between 32.636 to 45.921 as high with a brick-colored designation. Sandoval, De Baca and Grant counties also are in the high range. During the same time period, the state recorded 3,549 new cases, a 43% increase from the seven-day total a week prior. Santa Fe County would appear to have had 429 cases in the last week or so (DOH no longer reports county-level cases, but reports them cumulatively each week), compared with 279 the week prior. In response to recent questions from SFR regarding rising case rates—specifically, on May 16, the state reported a three-day weekend total 45% higher than the week prior—a DOH spokeswoman sent a statement noting New Mexico, “like the rest of the country, is experiencing an increase of COVID-19 cases,” but “hospitalizations and deaths…remain stable at this time.”According to the state’s weekly report on hospitalizations, Taos County had the highest per 100,000 population rate of hospital admissions for COVID-19 between May 16-22: 9.5, followed by Santa Fe and San Miguel counties with 4.6. As SFR reported on April 29, the health department has discontinued reporting breakthrough cases in its weekly vaccination report pending “updated methods to account for confounding variables (or unmeasured factors) that impact this analysis, such as age, number of comorbidities, and immunosuppression factors.” According to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “community levels” tracking system—which uses case rates along with two hospital metrics in combination to determine the state of the virus on a county level—all of New Mexico’s counties remain green, or low, except for Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Grant counties, which are yellow, for medium (that report updates tomorrow).

Cooler, wetter weather helps on fire as warm, dry weather returns

Cooler weather, a little precipitation and higher humidity levels aided firefighters on the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire over the last few days, fire managers reported last night. Due to cloud cover, however, they were unable to deploy night infrared flight over the fire to provide updated acreage Monday night and anticipated they would be unable to do so again last night, leaving the reported acreage at 311,148 acres and 42% containment. Public Information Officer Celeste Prescott said updated acreage would be available when the cloud cover dissipates, but fire managers were not expecting significant growth. That will likely change in the coming days as the weather warms, dries out and humidity levels drop. According to fire behavior analyst Stewart Turner, starting today, the fire will likely “generate more smoke in the air because things are going to dry out and become available to burn,” with critical fire weather returning Thursday into Friday “where we’ll probably see more growth.” Close to 3,000 personnel are currently working on the fire. At the same time, as SFR reports, the Black Fire in the Gila has been growing and requiring some of those firefighting resources. In just 11 days, the Black Fire has consumed 154,911 acres in the Gila and is the fourth largest fire in state history. At 11% containment, the Black Fire is all but guaranteed to surpass the 2011 Las Conchas Fire, the third largest, that burned over 156,000 acres.

Montoya lawyers await sentencing, plan appeal

Lawyers for Estevan Montoya, recently found guilty for the murder last summer of basketball star Fedonta “JB” White, plan to appeal once their client has been sentenced. Attorney Dan Marlowe expects a high sentence from First Judicial District Judge T. Glenn Ellington: “I think the judge is going to max him out if he can,” Marlowe tells SFR. “This judge is totally, totally, politically motivated. At least it appears that way.” Because Montoya was found guilty as a serious youthful offender—he was 16 at the time of the murder—Ellington has full discretion at sentencing—anywhere from zero years to the maximum sentence of life in prison. The District Attorney’s Office is expected to ask for the maximum punishment, but Chief Deputy DA Jennifer Padgett Macias says the state is still reviewing the case. The sentencing comes at a time when criminal justice reform advocates have been calling for relaxed punishments for those convicted of crimes committed as juveniles. Currently, approximately 75 people in New Mexico are serving sentences longer than 15 years for crimes committed when they were under 18. Denali Wilson, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, says these kinds of sentences disproportionately impact communities of color. Throughout the state, 88% of those serving lengthy adult sentences for crimes committed as children are youths of color.

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported May 24:

New cases: 542; 531,309 total cases

Deaths: 16; At last count, Santa Fe County had 292 total deaths; there have been 7,700 total fatalities statewide. Hospitalizations: 103; Patients on ventilators: nine

Resources: Vaccine registrationBooster registration Free at-home rapid antigen testsSelf-report a positive COVID-19 test result to the health department; COVID-19 treatment info: oral treatments Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+); and monoclonal antibody treatments. Toolkit for immunocompromised individuals. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

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

Listen up

On the most recent episode of Pet Chat, hosts Murad Kirdar, public relations officer of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, and Bobbi Heller, executive director of Felines and Friends, talk with Karen Cain, founder of the Street Homeless Animal Project (SHAP) about the challenges unhoused people with pets face in Santa Fe, including a lack of emergency and long-term shelters that allow pets. To engage with the show, email the hosts at

Surrounded by fire

Hannah Nordhaus writes about her ancestral home in Las Vegas, New Mexico in a story for National Geographic titled: “Their house has stood for 130 years. A new wildfire era may change that.” Nordhaus’ grandfather bought the land in the 1890s intending to log it: “But then he traveled up the steep river-canyon and saw the ancient ponderosa pines and the lush meadows that climbed toward a granite-faced mountain called Hermits Peak. He decided to build a house there instead,” she writes. For Nordhaus, who lives in Boulder, Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon is the fifth wildfire she’s encountered in the same number of months, the first being the Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes, but spared hers due to the wind direction. Nordhaus writes of the inevitability of fire in the drought-plagued Southwest, of seeing the photos of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire’s aftermath on her family’s land, where the houses were, once again, spared: “Some of the huge ponderosas—the ones my great-grandfather saved from the mill 130 years ago—were untouched, while others had burned to their crowns. Still others were blackened only at the base. Perhaps those will survive. Perhaps we’ll be among them this summer, or next. And perhaps they will be fuel for the next fire, which will, inevitably, roar down the canyon—soon, maybe, or perhaps in another decade or generation.”

A pricey two days

Utah’s Deseret News publishes an essay, “Roughing it Deluxe,” by journalist and best-selling author Stephen Fried about Vermejo Park Ranch, Ted Turner’s luxury New Mexico property, which, at more than 550,000 acres is “the largest single piece of privately owned land in the United States.” It’s also become, Fried writes, one of the most expensive places to stay overnight. “We’re going not only because I’m curious to see the place,” Fried writes, “I also have an intense fascination with the phenomenon of ‘roughing it deluxe’ and its role in the development of the American West—beginning with the generations after the Civil War, when the West became the ‘new America’ that people from the North and the South could still romanticize in a way they had once viewed the original colonies.” Fried’s essay explores the history of luxury travel in the West and some of its earliest participants, while documenting his own visit to Vermejo Park Ranch—which includes rifle shooting and fishing—and explaining the ranch’s history. The trip ends, he says, with tipping: “They recommend that you tip 10[%] to 20% on top of your bill—which is the equivalent of me ‘recommending’ that all my books should be immediate bestsellers. You can tip in cash, you can tip on your card, you can tip and let it be split in the pool of all staff, or tip individuals. I almost call my accountant for advice on how to proceed.” The bill, by the way: $4,805.19 for two days (but it’s free to read the essay, which is really enjoyable).

Warming up

Santa Fe should be sunny today with a high temperature near 72 degrees and north wind 10 to 15 mph becoming west in the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service, which forecasts a return to the 80s starting tomorrow.

Thanks for reading! Margaret Atwood didn’t mention the new burn-proof version of The Handmaid’s Tale during her talk last weekend at the Santa Fe Literary Festival, but if anyone bids and wins, The Word would love to see it.

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