New Mexico is “conquering COVID” — bold words, and welcome ones this week from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
If 60 percent of state residents who are eligible for COVID-19 shots can be vaccinated by the end of June, Lujan Grisham is promising the state can reopen fully. Providing she’s right, the new normal is right around the corner.
Currently, nearly 42 percent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, one of the best percentages in the country. To reach the governor’s goal, another 18 percent need to receive shots between now and June 30.
Any reopening does not mean the end of all COVID-19-safe practices. The virus remains, with variants mutating, and even more people have to be vaccinated — perhaps as many as 75 percent to 80 percent — for the protection of herd immunity.
However, the complicated county-by-county rating system — turquoise, green, yellow, red — will be retired at that point. Capacity limits will be gone, with businesses able to operate freely, though it’s likely masks, hand-washing and social distancing still will be recommended.
As early as Friday, new guidelines in the color-coded system put most of the state at green and turquoise, which means some spectators can attend the state high school basketball tournament.
Already, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask outdoors, except perhaps in crowds. That has been welcomed in Santa Fe — users of the Arroyo Chamiso Trail on Wednesday were shedding masks. Just days before, almost 100 percent of walkers, bikers and joggers either had a mask on or had one ready in case they met other people.
The coming changes are welcome, as it’s been a difficult year. Many have wondered why New Mexico continued its restrictions as other states opened up. The answer is the same as it’s always been: The goal is to avoid overwhelming the health care system. Our state has more elderly people and more people with underlying conditions, two major predictors when it comes to hospitalizations.
What happened in various locales throughout the pandemic — Italy, New York City, California and now India — has to be avoided in New Mexico.
India’s nightmare is particularly terrifying. That is why, while we celebrate nine weeks to potential opening, we urge all of New Mexico to remain cautious. More people have to be vaccinated, and that includes skeptics, the homebound, hard-to-reach rural residents and teenagers who are just now eligible for shots.
Vaccinations are the way out, but only if we continue to embrace a smart, sensible reopening.
To all who worked on rolling out vaccinations — from public health workers to private health care providers and pharmacies, to members of the National Guard to retired doctors and nurses who volunteered — we owe you our sincere thanks.
This rollout is a success because so many people have worked together for the common good. That’s a model we can apply to all of society’s problems going forward. As a result, New Mexico could be ready to open — safely — soon.
Vaccines will become available more easily at private physicians’ offices going forward. Home visits to provide vaccines are happening. Mass vaccination sites are operating. Vaccination clinics are being conducted at high schools for students 16 and older. Walk-in clinics without appointments can be set up in neighborhoods and areas with fewer resources.
It’s a moment for joy. But also a time for vigilance.