The worsening spread of the coronavirus is forcing Mayor Alan Webber and organizers of Santa Fe’s three major summer art markets to consider massive changes or even postponements.
In a wide-ranging interview via teleconference Monday, Webber said he had a “very constructive conversation” Friday with the leaders of the Santa Fe Indian Market, the Traditional Spanish Market and the International Folk Art Market, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to Santa Fe. The three art markets also generate income for artists, sometimes a year’s worth, as well as tax revenue for the city government, which relies heavily on tourist dollars to fund day-to-day operations.
“Obviously, there’s concern about all three of them and what will happen in July and August,” the mayor said.
While no decisions have been made, Webber said organizers are considering various plans, including “looking further down the road, postponing, combining forces around a unique Santa Fe market opportunity.”
“We’ve all begun to coordinate together looking at what we can do to potentially use technology to make sure that the artists, at a minimum, have the opportunity to still sell some of their artwork,” he said.
Discussions about the future of the three art festivals, still months away, reflect the uncertainty of the disease and are among the short- and long-term plans the city is making or participating in to deal with the global public health crisis, including identifying potential sites for field hospitals.
“The growth curve is troubling to me,” Webber said of COVID-19.
“The big concern of mayors across America is what happens when you get to the surge factor and we don’t have the [personal protective equipment] we need, we don’t have the medical resources that the federal government has been slow to distribute,” he said.
Webber said he hopes Congress will pass “an extraordinary and critical expenditure measure that will reassure people that help is on the way from Washington and that they’re going to mobilize all the resources of the federal government to respond to what is first a wave of public health crisis and then will soon become — if it hasn’t already — a social and economic aftershock to our system.”
In the meantime, Webber said there are ongoing conversations to deal with a surge in hospitalizations in New Mexico.
“Nobody is talking about MASH units,” he said, referring to temporary facilities that could provide care. “But the idea that we may need auxiliary places to put patients is very much in the conversation right now among hospitals, the Governor’s Office, [the state Department of Health], the Mayor’s Office, the county. We’re all talking about identifying options.”
Webber said “there are a number of options” under consideration, but no sites, as far as he knows, have been selected yet.
Webber, who spoke with Lillian Montoya, president and CEO of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, by phone Monday morning, said all hospitals are looking at their resources right now and assessing their capability to handle a potential increase in patients. He emphasized the need for people to follow social distancing rules and other orders designed to limit the spread of the disease, or “flatten the curve.”
“What we’re trying to construct is the public health equivalent of a firebreak when there’s a huge fire,” he said. “You need to carve a firebreak that the fire can’t leap across, and that’s what social distancing is. It’s a firebreak. The more everybody individually practices that, the better off we are.”
The city also is making plans for when the public health crisis ends. Webber said planning for the redevelopment of the midtown campus is ongoing; he has asked his directors of economic development, public works, and parks and recreation to get brick-and-mortar projects ready for construction.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a package come out of the Congress and signed by the president that is comparable to FDR’s first 100 days,” he said, referring to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression. “If we’re prepared with a lot of projects that can immediately be implemented, I think there will be a huge amount of money and energy and positive optimism to put America and put Santa Fe back to work.”
But the public, Webber reiterated, must do its part to contain the disease. “I think what we’re seeing is a learning curve on the part of all of us as we move from how we are accustomed to doing business and going through our daily chores to a whole new way of behaving and a whole new set of standards,” he said.
Webber said he had no hard data to determine whether Santa Feans are staying home or following other steps to contain the disease, though he said he’s seeing fewer people and more empty parking spots downtown. He said the police department, which is conducting an “Operation Spring Blitz” to reinforce safe driving, is reporting “more distracted drivers as opposed to less drivers overall.”
“They’ve been giving out a fairly sizable number of citations,” he said. “They actually got some pushback from people saying, ‘Don’t you have something better to do than give out traffic citations?’ Their response, I think, is really very thoughtful, which was: ‘Right now is a terrible time to have a traffic accident, an injury. You don’t want to put your car in the shop when there’s a public health emergency.’ ”