Happy Days are Here Again? The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself?

By Lance Chilton

“I am incredibly proud of New Mexico,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “We stepped up. We looked out for one another. We sacrificed, and we saved lives. And now we’re all ready for a safe and fun summer. Lord knows, New Mexicans have earned it. Please, get your shot if you haven’t already – don’t risk these dangerous new variants that present incredible risk to unvaccinated and even young people. Go to vaccineNM.org and help protect yourself and your family.”

Mayor Tim Keller said: “The last fifteen months have provided so many challenges, but time and time again I’ve seen our community tackle them head-on. Thank you for all you’ve done to get us to where we are today. Thank you for getting vaccinated, for volunteering your time, and helping out neighbors in need.”

The governor’s comments were made in a statement about reopening New Mexico at full capacity as of July 1.  A stalwart defender of the public’s health, even when some of the public did not want to be protected, Lujan Grisham has appeared to follow the advice of experts at the Centers for Disease Control and in her administration’s Department of Health (Dr. Tracie Collins) and Human Services Department (Dr. David Scrase).  Dr. Collins will return to the University of New Mexico at the end of July, having overseen her huge department and its successful and constantly evolving response to the pandemic. Dr. Scrase will fill in until Dr. Collins is replaced.  Mayor Keller has supported the state’s good decisions within his jurisdiction.

The most recent DOH statistics indicate fewer than 100 new infections per day and “just” three COVID-related deaths on the first day of July. New Mexico’s achievements in quelling the pandemic are all the more remarkable when its outsized consequences for Native Americans within the state are considered. In a podcast from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for American Indian Health, its director Dr. Allison Barlow noted that Native American communities experienced the highest rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths — as much as ten times the national rate. Lockdowns and closure of schools resulted in great trauma in Native communities. Dr. Barlow blamed an underfunded health system, which she specified was no fault of the Indian Health Service, and high levels of risky underlying conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and substance use, people living in poverty, in overcrowded homes, with no water -– all consequences of historic trauma. But Dr. Barlow also pointed to a remarkable success: Throughout Indian country, vaccine rates are high -– 70 to 85% in eligible ages. As she noted, “When we work together as communities, we can beat COVID.” 

Much of the rest of New Mexico is also manifesting its willingness to work together to beat COVID and get back to the “normal” pre-COVID life. The same areas of the state that have resisted mask wearing and social distancing (and have tended to vote for Republicans) have seen lower vaccination rates and higher recent disease attack rates. Perhaps, to paraphrase FDR, “the only thing we have to fear is politicizing a common enemy.”

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