Morning Word

Hospitals’ Capacity Strained as Officials Issue Public Health Order

AG announces $60 mil settlement with Kroger

Public health order for at-capacity hospitals

A spike in respiratory virus cases among children and other hospitalizations led the New Mexico Department of Health to issue a public health order yesterday requiring all hospitals to reactivate and participate in a “hub and spoke” model of resource management. The department said in a news release that the emergency order is necessary because “hospitals and emergency rooms are operating above their licensed capacity” and health care providers are experiencing “an unsustainable strain.” The model allows regional transport of patients from smaller “spoke” facilities to larger “hub” ones to ensure appropriate care and conserve resources. New Mexico saw a significant increase in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, during October and November, in addition to an increase in cases associated with COVID-19, influenza and other respiratory illnesses. The whole nation, in fact, is “experiencing an early, elevated onset” of the illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency’s Influenza Surveillance Report indicates New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee currently have the highest rates of influenza in the country. Young children are especially susceptible to RSV, with children under the age of 2 at increased risk of severe disease and hospitalization. The health department recommends residents get up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations as well as staying home when experiencing symptoms and only seeking emergency room care in severe circumstances. “In light of the increasing numbers of children being hospitalized with RSV, and the number of children presenting to the Emergency Departments statewide,” Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer at Christus St. Vincent, said in a statement, “it is really important at this time to take these precautions recommended by the New Mexico Department of Health, especially not exposing our children to others that are currently experiencing respiratory symptoms.”

Kroger settles with AG over opioids

Attorney General Hector Balderas announced yesterday his office had reached a settlement with Kroger for $58.5 million in a case seeking to hold pharmacies accountable for their role in the over-distribution of opioids. Within 90 days, the cash will be divided between state and local governments to fund opioid abatement efforts. Kroger was one of three pharmacy defendants to appear in court against the AG in September, though the announcement says the parties began working on the terms of a settlement while the trial was underway. “We achieved a great result for New Mexico by taking Kroger to court, and this settlement sends a clear message that pharmacies operating in New Mexico must take an active role in protecting the communities they serve,” said Balderas in a statement. Balderas plans to announce other settlements with pharmacy operators Albertsons, CVS and Walmart in the coming weeks and is also expecting a ruling soon following a two-month trial against Walgreens that wrapped in October. In March, the AG secured $200 million from Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson over their roles in opioid addiction and misuse in the state. Luis Robles, an attorney representing the AG in the cases, told the Albuquerque Journal another trail is set to begin in a lawsuit against several opioid manufacturers. Legislators expect to take up the issue of the best uses of the settlement cash in the upcoming session.

IAIA follows the sun

The Institute of American Indian Arts will install additional solar panels and an electric vehicle charging station on the campus south of the Santa Fe city limits thanks to a Tribal College Initiative Grant of $344,895. US Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Patricia Dominguez visited IAIA on Wednesday to highlight the grant. Other projects funded in the past at the school include construction of its library and technology center and the completion of a multipurpose fitness and performing arts center—a total of $2.8 million to the school for 15 projects since 2001. “This administration is very interested in reducing the carbon footprint. [This project] has climate change impacts and it also saves money. It’s more than a silver lining,” said Dominguez. IAIA President Robert Martin said the campus has benefited greatly from the federal program. “Every one of our buildings here, either the capital improvements that we have made or the construction or the equipment, we have some USDA Rural Development funding that has been supportive,” he said at an event to accept the award. The school already has three rooftop solar arrays and one ground array and plans to install rooftop arrays on all its suitable buildings over time.

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported Dec.1New cases: 768; 647,344 total cases. The most recent report on geographic trends shows a close to 27% decrease in reported cases over the prior seven-day period compared to the week of Nov. 21Deaths: DOH says it will update COVID-19 fatalities on Dec. 5; Santa Fe County has had 367 total deaths; 8,702 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 249; Patients on ventilators: nine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Dec. 1 “community levels” map, which uses a combination of hospital and case rate metrics to calculate COVID-19 risk for the prior seven-day period, shows three counties categorized as “orange”—high risk—for COVID-19, versus eight last week. They are: McKinley, San Juan and Valencia. Santa Fe County remains “green,” identifying lower risk. Ten counties are “yellow,” with medium risk. 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. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.

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

Listen up

In honor of the impending holidays, take a live virtual tour of the Museum of International Folks Art’s nativity sets from around the world collected by Alexander and Susan Girard every Monday at 1 pm through Jan 3. But first, give a listen to the latest episode of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs’ Encounter Culture podcast, “Discovering Delight with Rachel Preston: Celebrating the Girard Wing’s 40th Anniversary at the Museum of International Folk Art.” Preston discusses the exhibition in detail with host and El Palacio Editor Charlotte Jusinski, including Preston’s own memories of awakening to its wonders. “I never really realized that Girard was telling that you are walking into a play and that every time they pull back the curtain, every step that you take, there was going to be something new that would unfold. So, he sort of draws you through the space in this incredible way,” she says.

Star-destroying power

Ground-based telescopes including New Mexico’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array helped astronomers earlier this year witness a “powerful ‘tidal disruption event’ as a distant supermassive black hole ripped apart a star to produce a jet of light moving close to the speed of light,” writes Forbes this week. The authors of two papers published (here and here) in Nature and Nature Astronomy call the Feb. 11 event—only the fourth of its kind ever observed—AT2022cmc. Its “incredible brightness” allowed for the observations from 12.4 billion light-years away also seen by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in California—which first detected it—as well as the NASA-funded Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) survey in Hawaii and the ESO Very Large Telescope in Chile. “As the star disintegrates its matter falls into the black hole’s disk, which slightly expands. What can occasionally be seen next are powerful luminous jets of matter traveling close to the speed of light,” writes Forbes Senior Contributor Jamie Carter.

Drive to give

‘Tis the season for traditions of all kinds, including the Santa Fe Fire Department’s longstanding contributions to the Northern New Mexico Toy Drive. Drag performer Marie Antoinette Du Barry (aka Paul Valdez) lends a hand with the annual effort as well this year with display of a handcrafted and fabulous fairy tale dress alongside the Giving Tree Forest in the DeVargas Center. The forest lays out Christmas gift requests from local disadvantaged youths. Shoppers who fulfill the requests may take unwrapped gifts to any of the partnering drop-off locations (find a full list of locations here, where you can also donate directly). Du Barry, who is is working on a book called The Marquis Incognito: The Story of the Little Cinderboy of New Mexico, tells SFR the gift project is one that’s close to the heart. “It goes back to kindness—it’s not an obligation, but I feel like I must leave a legacy of kindness. I’ve felt like it’s a spiritual, sacred calling, a value my grandmother taught me,” Du Barry says. “My dad was a forest firefighter, that’s why I have an affinity for firefighters. And when he was dying a couple years ago, he said he didn’t want flowers. ‘Don’t waste the money,’ he said, ‘just have everybody bring toys to the toy drive.’ He even helped after his death. I don’t care if they remember my name; maybe that there was just this weirdo queen who was trying to help.”

Winds of winter

The National Weather Service forecasts a high of 50 today in Santa Fe. Gusty westerly winds peaking at 55 to 75 mph are expected over northeast New Mexico through this afternoon, especially along the east slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and motorists should be aware of the potential for hazardous crosswinds along Interstate 25.

Thanks for reading! The (Substitute) Word went into a bit of a space rabbit hole and watched this video of the International Space Station passing over the snow-capped mountains of New Mexico several times yesterday.

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