NM announces end to COVID-19 public health emergency
As the three-year anniversary of COVID-19 in New Mexico approaches, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday said she was renewing an executive order declaring a public health emergency for the last time; the order will be allowed to expire on March 31. “While we’re still seeing COVID cases, our preparedness and collaborative work have helped turn a once-in-a-century public health emergency into a manageable situation,” the governor said in a statement. “We are working diligently across state agencies to make sure New Mexicans continue to be supported as federal COVID programs wind down.” Lujan Grisham first declared a public health emergency on March 11, 2020, when the first cases were announced here. Those first cases—all travel related—set off multiple years of orders addressing stay-at-home restrictions, masking, business capacity and vaccines. As of Friday, the state had recorded more than 669,000 cases (see below for more data). “I urge all New Mexicans, and particularly those who are older or who have compromised immune systems, to get vaccinated or get their booster shots if they have not done so already,” the governor said on Friday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 97% of New Mexico residents have received at least a primary series. The federal health emergency declaration ends May 9, with Medicaid continuing to cover all COVID-19 vaccinations and testing without a co-pay or cost sharing through Sept. 30, 2024. The nonprofit Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation offers an extensive breakdown on the implications of the end of the federal health emergency.
The City of Santa Fe will hold a COVID-19 memorial at noon today on the Plaza to “remember all who have passed away, fallen ill or who continue to suffer from the impact of COVID-19, as well as to honor essential workers.” A news release says: “Santa Feans are urged to participate in the memorial by observing a moment of silence at 12 pm, and by adding their voices or noise to a moment of appreciation for essential workers at 12:01 pm (ringing bells at houses of worship, honking car horns, rounds of applause etc).”
Senate passes firearm, family leave bills
On Friday, the state Senate passed on a 24-16 party-line vote (with Republicans voting against the bill) House Bill 9, which would require gun owners to keep firearms safely stored away from children. The amended bill now returns to the House for concurrence. “I look forward to signing this important legislation following the concurrence by the House,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Holding gun owners accountable for failing to safely store their firearms is common-sense. We lose nearly three children in New Mexico every month as a result of gun violence—it’s imperative to take every step we can to keep that from happening going forward.” Also known as “Bennie’s Bill,” the legislation honors an Albuquerque middle school student who was fatally shot in 2021 by a classmate using his father’s improperly stored gun. “Bennie Hargrove was tragically taken from his family far too soon as a result of an unsecured firearm. House Bill 9 will help protect New Mexico families from tragedies like this by keeping guns out of the reach of minors,” sponsor Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, said in a statement. “I am so grateful to see this bill advance through the Senate…and look forward to getting it to the governor’s desk.” The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee yesterday also passed two other gun-related bills—one that would create a waiting period before purchase and another that would add selling illegal firearms into the state’s Unfair Practices Act.
On Saturday, the state Senate passed on a 23-15 vote Senate Bill 11: the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, legislation that would set up a new program through the Department of Workforce Solutions to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for employees to care for a new child, a family member with a serious health condition or to recover from a serious health condition themselves. “This policy will not only provide much-needed support to working families, it will also bring significant benefits to our state’s economy,” co-sponsor state Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said in a statement. If passed into law, the act would be phased in over a period of years. The Department of Workforce Solutions would have until July of 2024 to create the necessary rules and build the infrastructure for the program; employer and employee contributions begin in January 2025, and employees would first be eligible to take leave (if they’ve paid into the fund for at least six of the previous 12 months) in January of 2026. The bill now heads to the House.
City solar program returns
The City of Santa Fe announced on Friday it has relaunched its Solarize Santa Fe program, along with partners Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity, Santa Fe YouthWorks and the Coalition of Sustainable Communities New Mexico. The program, which initially launched last year, aims to increase equitable access to rooftop solar. According to the city, of the 39 contracts signed during the program’s pilot, 10 had income-qualifying households. Solarize Santa Fe 2.0 will also incorporate energy efficiency support and green job training, with the New Mexico Gas Company providing weatherization measures for participating, income-qualified households, and solar installers Positive Energy Solar and Sol Luna Solar taking on apprentices from Santa Fe Youthworks’ YouthBuild program. “This program is built with a triple bottom line approach,” Mayor Alan Webber said in a statement. “It protects the environment with clean energy. It supports the economy by stimulating the green jobs, and it leads with equity by making sure everyone can afford solar energy.” Sign up online before April 17 to receive solar system quotes and special pricing.
All creatures great and small
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology terminated privileges for a researcher using laboratory mice following allegations about the treatment of the animals. Those allegations came into public view via a recent letter to New Mexico Tech President Stephen Wells from Stop Animal Exploitation Now! Executive Director Michael A. Budkie. That letter describes the incidents of neglect and lack of care that led to the banning of a principal investigator and the end of a federally funded cancer research project. Among other actions required to restore the school’s “credibility,” Budkie’s letter lists returning the federal funding and terminating any remaining staff that had been involved with the neglect. Mikell Coleman, the university’s director of research compliance, tells the Albuquerque Journal the school’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee “take animal welfare seriously. The conduct was discovered and reported, thoroughly investigated, and subsequently adjudicated. The corrective actions taken were the most severe actions the IACUC and the New Mexico Tech Research Office had the authority to take.”
COVID-19 by the numbers
Reported March 3: New cases: 225; 669,890 total cases. Deaths: one; Santa Fe County has had 398 total deaths; 9,048 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 85. Patients on ventilators: six
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Feb. 23 “community levels” map shows one county, McKinley, has turned yellow, indicating medium levels; the rest of the state has green—low levels. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.
Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via COVIDTests.gov; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; 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.
No time like the present to catch up with the Bands of Enchantment series. The most recent episode of the series’ second season, filmed in the downtown Albuquerque Rail Yards, features Santa Fe’s favorite bluesman Alex Maryol, with esteemed musicians Andy Primm on drums and Justin McLauchlin on bass. Felix y Los Gatos brings their self-described “green chile gumbo” following Maryol’s set. The series brings artists from across the globe to perform in a single venue, filming before a live audience for the first time since the series launched.
A trip to trippy Santa Fe
Could a visit to Santa Fe change someone into a different person for the duration of said visit? We don’t know, but that’s the opening question The Denver Post asks in its story on our “trippy” town. Yes, trippy: “Less than six hours by car from Denver, Santa Fe is close enough for a weekend away or for spring break without a long flight,” the Post tells its Denver readers. “Yet this small city is like a world away from the Front Range in terms of the vibe and activities. From art to a transformational retreat, there are many mind-altering—or trippy—options to consider on your next excursion to Santa Fe.” Among those options: Meow Wolf, obviously, with shout-outs for the new(ish) rooms by Squidlicker, Jacob Fisher and Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo). On the other side of the spectrum, the Post recommends visits to the Inn at Loretto; the Museum of International Folk Art; and various art venues in the Railyard. Sky Railway, a murder mystery train ride, La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site and at Ten Thousand Waves also receive recommendations for what sounds like a very busy vacation.
Up, up and away
Santa Fe may be trippy, but Albuquerque is...cheap. So says the UK’s Sunday Times, which includes Albuquerque in its roundup of the top 10 cheapest cities to visit in the US (number 10), describing it as one of the Southwest’s most “underrated (and affordable) cities.” Route 66, aka “The Mother Road promises plenty of old-school Americana—think neon signs and [colorful] diners—as well as one-off shops and hip coffee houses loved by the city’s large student population,” the Times writes. Plus: Albuquerque has “serious artistic credentials” and is a “springboard for hikes in New Mexico’s stirring high desert.” The Travel also includes Albuquerque on its list of 10 “outdoor activities and excursions for thrill-seekers.” The thrill, in this case, comes via the hot air balloon company Rainbow Ryders, which offers balloon rides all year round, with The Travel opining that “spring break is the perfect time to breathe in the fresh air of the clouds and view the desert landscape of New Mexico” (not to mention the thrill of a hot air balloon ride in 50 mph spring winds). And as long as we’re pondering spring break travel to New Mexico, Travel Dudes includes New Mexico on its assemblage of the best national parks to visit in April, specifically White Sands National Park, where “wildflowers typically begin to bloom in mid-April, including sand verbena, Hartweg’s sundrops, White Sands mustard, and yuccas. Although the white sands look magnificent against a blue sky, the wildflowers add unique touches of color.”
Make hay while the sun shines
The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly sunny day with a high temperature near 60 degrees and north wind 5 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Yup: spring weather—along with critical fire weather.