The virus’ wake-up call for New Mexico

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Nearly seven months into a mostly successful fight with COVID-19, New Mexicans are having to digest the unwelcome news that the virus isn’t going anywhere.

In fact, it seems to have discovered its second wind.

Twice in as many days this week the number of daily infections has shattered New Mexico’s single-day record. And as we did in March and April, suddenly we’re hearing that COVID-19 might overwhelm our state’s health care system if we’re not careful. Hospitalizations have jumped 74% since Oct. 1 and some intensive care units in Albuquerque are already full.

Gatherings of more than five people will be illegal starting today and establishments that sell alcohol must close at 10 p.m., according to a new public health order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that extends through Nov. 13.

In addition, New Mexico will require travelers coming from high-risk states to quarantine for 14 days instead of allowing them to avoid the isolation if they test negative, as was the previous practice.

“I cannot be more clear: The moment to turn the tide has to be right now, immediately, or else we face accelerating significant illnesses and needless deaths for hundreds of New Mexicans,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said in a press release. “The state will be forced to hunker back down. The health and economic consequences caused by the continued out-of-control spread of the virus will be devastating.”

This moment feels surreal.

Like many New Mexicans I suspect, since March I’ve adjusted to pandemic life, wearing my mask when venturing out and socially distancing when I do. I’ve been mostly untouched by this plague, no one close to me has tested positive, so I realize how fortunate I am.

As often happens when new habits become second nature and catastrophe doesn’t upend daily life, the desire for normalcy has taken over, pushing the virus from front-of-mind awareness as I’ve focused on other news. Like the bruising, historic presidential election only weeks away. 

The past several days the virus has sent all of us a wake-up call, and a reminder. 

Earlier this year, when we all were beginning to learn about the virus and how it behaves, federal and state health officials warned a second wave in the fall and winter might be worse as COVID-19 and the flu hit the population simultaneously. 

I don’t know if we’re in that second wave. I’m not knowledgeable enough to render a verdict. But I am heeding those warnings again.  

I’m sure in the days ahead a lot of us will do our own internal accounting on how best to respond to the virus. And I’m hoping, as I did earlier this year, which feels like a lifetime ago, that we all stay vigilant for each other’s sake. 

Good luck to each and every one of us.

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