New Mexico ventures onto a tightrope this weekend. As we edge into the first phase of reopening, we must balance our economic and health needs while inching across the canyon that spans from now to full vaccination for the novel coronavirus, likely in mid to late 2021.
The only way we can make it across this chasm is for every New Mexican to adopt additional COVID-19 safe practices (CSPs). Every New Mexican. The virus has no political ideology and doesn’t respect city limits, county lines, state or national borders. Its only goal is survival, and its strategy for that survival is to infect as many people as possible worldwide.
Our only recourse is united action uninfluenced by political loyalties.
Left unopposed by careful social distancing, each COVID-19 infected person will infect, on average, three others. That means a single person begins a chain that infects over 1.7 million people after 66 days.
New Mexicans have done a great job complying with stay-at-home orders, and that has driven our spread rate down to 1.15. That means one COVID-positive person would infect only six people in 66 days — a huge difference that means our hospital systems have not been overwhelmed.
As we start to reopen, though, COVID-19 spread is predicted to increase, which will increase the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. We need to continue the safety drill most of us know by now: Stay home, wash hands, cough into a tissue (or elbow), keep surfaces clean, and when sick, avoid others and get tested. But with reopening, that will not be enough. We all need to wear face coverings to protect each other (masks protect others from you, not you from them). We need to stay strictly 6 feet or more apart.
There will be more testing as well. Much more. We need to fight this virus much harder now as we venture back into society. There is much more individual responsibility during this reopening phase than there was when we all just stayed home.
A political divide has emerged between those whose top priority is reopening the economy and those whose top priority is saving lives. The good news is that adopting COVID-19 Safe Practices supports the goals of both:
- If reopening the economy is your top priority, and you want to keep it open, you can achieve that goal with the CSPs you’re doing now, plus wearing a mask in public and keeping a 6 foot distance from others.
- If protecting the health and safety of your family and all of New Mexico is job one, you can achieve that goal with the CSPs you’re doing now, plus wearing a mask in public and keeping that 6 foot distance from others.
I support both groups fully. But let’s go slowly and deliberately, thoughtfully reviewing the data from one step before we move to the next. And let’s remember that because this deadly virus has no politics, we should resist the temptation to think that our methods for fighting it should have politics. Wearing a face covering and keeping our distance are two new evidence-based ways we fight this virus together and express our concern for both our economy and each other’s health and safety.
David Scrase, M.D., is secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department.
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