COVID in New Mexico: Further Discussion

By Lance Chilton

On July 1, New Mexico is due to “open up again,” discarding most aspects of the protective and restrictive actions begun 477 days earlier when Governor Michelle Luján Grisham declared the coronavirus to be a public health emergency.  To use an analogy rather inappropriate to New Mexico’s drought-stricken landscape, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since March 11, 2020. 

As of this writing, more than 4,300 New Mexicans, more than 600,000 Americans, and more than 3.8 million people around the world have died of COVID-19. Almost everyone has heard of COVID-19, though many of us can’t remember what the acronym stands for: CO for “corona” (the virus looks as if it’s wearing a crown of thorns, followed by VI (for “virus,” those sub-microscopic semi-living microbes like HIV, influenza, and Ebola that cause so much trouble), followed by D for “disease” and 19, for 2019, the year the virus burst on the scene. (Or it might have been earlier than December 31, 2019, when the first case was reported in Wuhan, China.)

Starting March 11, 2020, I began keeping a journal to record my own and others’ reactions to the evolving pandemic, little aware at the time that I would still be doing it 16 months later. I also thought at the time that I would try to keep up with all of the scientific literature on this new threat, but it wouldn’t take long for me to realize that that would soon become impossible.  According to Pubmed, the National Library of Medicine’s excellent index to the medical literature, 101,769 scientific articles have been published to date about COVID-19, covering all aspects of the disease and its prevention and treatment.

New Mexico has been lauded nationally as a model in both prevention of spread of the disease and in getting vaccines out to its people. I credit that to our governor’s listening to the experts within and outside state government, and to those experts paying attention both to the evolving medical literature and also to the changing recommendations made by the world’s preeminent public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the CDC, as it’s called, but don’t forget the “and Prevention.”

Of course, the CDC has come in for its share of criticism during the pandemic, initially for having sent out incompletely tested coronavirus test materials, then for getting stuck in the morass of national politics, then for frequently changing guidance. But it appears to have returned to its previous apolitical role as a guide to the best in public health, something that makes me happy, as a CDC fan and as a former CDC advisory committee member.

Before COVID fades from every day/every minute discussion (we hope), I’ll explore in upcoming Blue Review issues some of the New Mexico coronavirus story and how our state government’s decisions have affected–largely positively–the outcome in this state.  Along the way, I’d like to make the point that investment in public health infrastructure is at least as important as individual medicine or in asphalt-road infrastructure. And I’d like to answer your questions as best I can, with the help of interviews with key New Mexico decision-makers.