Morning Word

US VP Harris: NM a “Safe Haven” for Abortion Rights

NM health department ends self-reporting for COVID-19 home tests

VP Harris visits NM in support of governor, abortion rights

US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Albuquerque yesterday to discuss reproductive health care and support Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the final two weeks of her re-election campaign against Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti. “I have known your governor for years,” Harris said in her opening remarks at the University of New Mexico. “I have seen her when the cameras are on and when the cameras are off and she is always fighting for the people of New Mexico.” Harris and the governor discussed abortion rights for approximately 40 minutes with UNM Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Chair Dr. Eve Espey. “Laws that are being proposed would punish women who dare to exercise self determination and make decisions about what they know to be in their best self interest,” Harris said, “because apparently there are some—I call them extremists—so-called leaders who have decided they’re in a better position than she is to make decisions about what’s in her best interest. How dare they.” Harris called New Mexico a “safe haven” for women seeking abortions, telling Lujan Grisham: “I want to recognize your leadership and the leadership here in New Mexico. This is a safe haven for the surrounding states.”

Shortly after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June, Lujan Grisham signed an executive order aimed at protecting health care providers. In September, she signed another executive order pledging $10 million for a new abortion clinic in the southern part of the state. Ronchetti has said he supports voters weighing in on abortion through a constitutional amendment, although the national press has pointed out Ronchetti has tried to soften his stance on the issue. His campaign recently objected to a television ad highlighting Ronchetti’s support for the Supreme Court’s decision, but local television stations rejected the request to pull the ad. Harris’ visit also follows President Joe Biden’s announcement last week that he would seek to have Congress codify abortion rights in its next term, should Democrats hold onto enough seats following the Nov. 8 election. Harris, who officiated the governor’s wedding last May, also spoke yesterday at a private fundraiser in Albuquerque.

NM, Texas and Colorado reach agreement in Rio Grande dispute

The near decade-long battle over the Rio Grande may be edging toward a resolution. Yesterday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced New Mexico, Texas and Colorado have reached an agreement, which, if finalized, will resolve the dispute. The catch, however, is the US government wants to go to court because its lawyers say the settlement—the conditions of which have not been disclosed—doesn’t resolve all the outstanding issues. The fight over the Rio Grande stems from Texas’s 2013 lawsuit against New Mexico and Colorado over water distribution under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact—specifically between Elephant Butte Dam and Hudspeth County. The states have until Nov. 14 to submit a motion requesting US Circuit Judge Michael Melloy—who is serving as special master in the case—approve the agreement, and the federal government will then have until Jan. 6, 2023 to to object in advance of a Jan. 24, 2023 hearing. “Extreme drought and erratic climate events necessitate that states must work together to protect the Rio Grande, which is the lifeblood of our New Mexico farmers and communities,” Balderas said in a statement. “I’m very disappointed that the US is exerting federal overreach and standing in the way of the States’ historic water agreement.”

DOH ends COVID-19 home test self-reporting

The state health department has discontinued the online self-reporting tool on its website for COVID-19 rapid home tests. SFR inquired about the self-reporting link earlier this week when it stopped working. Instead, DOH says it encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app; according to the department, approximately 760,000 New Mexicans are already using the app. The self-reported data, the state says, represents what it believes to be a small fraction of the total positive COVID-19 home tests in the state. Moreover, self-reported positive tests don’t meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of a confirmed case and therefore are not submitted to the CDC, nor are they accounted for in the state’s weekly COVID-19 reports. The NM Notify app “automatically creates contact tracing,” Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a statement. “The state plans to continue the use of the NM Notify app going forward as we believe it has great potential for managing the spread of COVID-19 as well as any future outbreaks.” The department says it intends to monitor: COVID-19 geographic and demographic trends; wastewater surveillance; hospitalization reports; ventilation usage; and mortality rates, “which are more effective benchmarks at this phase of the pandemic.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported Oct. 25: New cases: 418; 625,654 total cases; Deaths: one; Santa Fe County has had 357 total deaths; there have been 8,622 fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 123. Patients on ventilators: five. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Oct. 20 “community levels” map, which uses a combination of hospital and case rate metrics to calculate COVID-19 risk for the prior seven-day period, downgraded seven New Mexico counties to “yellow,” or medium risk levels, mostly in the northeast region of the state (Union, Harding, Mora, San Miguel, Guadalupe and De Baca counties), as well as McKinley County in the northwest. The rest of New Mexico’s counties continue to have green, aka low, levels. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.

Resources: CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; Curative testing sites; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. 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

The state Department of Cultural Affairs’ Encounter Culture podcast returns for its third season, with an in-depth look at Los Luceros, New Mexico’s “newest” historical site—new as in it has only been open to the public since 2019; the site dates to at least the 1400s. Podcast host and El Palacio Editor Charlotte Jusinski talks with Los Luceros Site Manager Carly Stewart and Instructional Coordinator Rebecca Ward about the events that shaped the site, which include “family disputes, floods, insurgencies and millionaire melodramas.”

Hit the gas

Restaurant owners around the country are worried about moves to phase out the use of natural-gas appliances—both the financial implications as well as the impact on the cuisine. So says The Hill, which lays out the landscape for those concerns, including 60 cities in California that are already taking steps to transition to non-gas appliances—for both environmental and health reasons. Tom Hutchinson, co-owner of La Posta de Mesilla and Hacienda de Mesilla in Las Cruces, is among the restaurant owners expressing concern in the story, not only because of the cost to restaurant owners and impact on the food itself, but also because of the pressure doing so would put on the electric grid, he says. “I don’t think the grid’s in place, the electric power is in place, to be able to make the conversion,” for all restaurants in the state, he tells The Hill. While New Mexico doesn’t have any pending proposals to phase out gas appliances, it also doesn’t have pre-emptive laws against doing so (21 other states have put such legislation in place). New Mexico Restaurant Association CEO Carol Wight tells SFR she has concerns New Mexico could follow California’s lead given New Mexico Democrat US Sen. Martin Heinrich’s focus on electrification. “My fear is...with a senator that’s pretty dead set on this, and a governor that is all renewable all the time. I just don’t know how we get there,” she said.

Aim for the stars

Obviously the top priority when traveling to outer-space is safety. But for Virgin Galactic, safety doesn’t preclude couture accoutrements. That’s a pretty loose paraphrase of Fast Company’s recent story on how Virgin Galactic is “pioneering consumer space travel,” in part by providing a “design-driven experience for a new generation of private astronauts.” And not a cheap one. While the company purportedly hopes prices will shrink as its fleet expands, right now the privilege of leaving Earth costs $450,000. That experience starts at Spaceport America in Las Cruces where, Virgin Galactic Creative Director Tom Westray says, the spaceport’s “almost otherworldly” aesthetic “really sets the tone for the rest of your adventure.” Westray’s interest in balancing form and function in harmonious co-existence includes bespoke-designed spacesuits (created with Under Armour); cabin seats matched to the astronauts’ body types; and the chance to buy an “Astronaut Edition” Range Rover. The spaceship itself includes photo and video cameras documenting everyone’s experiences, with “photos and videos…provided to astronauts after they return to Earth, ready for sharing on social media,” Fast Company notes. Of course, the actual spaceship has plenty of design features to optimize all aspects of the experience. “We know people are trusting us with their dreams,” Westray tells the magazine. “We welcome that as a huge responsibility, and also a huge privilege.”

Catch the sun

Today should be sunny, with a high temperature near 59 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, with northeast wind 10 to 15 mph becoming south in the morning. Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts: Tomorrow should bring colder temperatures and possible precipitation.

Thanks for reading! The Word is on the hunt for a Halloween costume and has thus far ruled out ones inspired by fashion, serial killers and “Stranger Things.”

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