New Mexico — thanks to strong state leadership at the top — is handling the current pandemic and resulting fallout with grace and intelligence.
At every step, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has consulted doctors, scientists and other experts to make decisions based on facts. School systems are closed, people are urged to stay at home, only essential businesses are allowed to stay open, testing to find COVID-19 is being expanded and economic supports are being put in place for the eventual recovery.
These measures are giving New Mexico the necessary window of time to prevent the spread of this disease and make sure our hospital system is not overwhelmed, as is happening in New York City and happened in Italy. Lives will be saved.
But, as we all have learned, this virus is not limited to one state or one country. Borders don’t respect viruses or germs or contagion.
What New Mexico is doing right will be undermined if states around us fail to do their parts. Which brings us to, sadly, the not-so-great state of Texas, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is joining in with the president’s call to reopen the country before it is safe to do so. Earlier this week, Patrick told a Fox News audience that people over 70 — the ones at most risk of serious consequences if they contract COVID-19 — can “take care of ourselves.”
The president, reversing himself as is so often his habit, had said that he wants the country back at work. By Easter perhaps, with his vision of grateful citizens celebrating the Resurrection in crowded worship services to welcome a return to normalcy. That’s an invitation to disaster.
Patrick reiterated that message: “Let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”
Trouble is, there should be no false choices presented to the American people — whether to sacrifice lives or the country’s economy. We should have the intelligence to be patient, use known public health techniques to stop the spread of the virus, saving lives and our health care systems in the process. We also can use federal and state stimulus dollars to help people who can’t work, support small-business owners and prop up industries that employ large numbers of people.
Opening things up before the virus is contained would cause more problems down the line, both in terms of lives lost and economic consequences.
We must put public health first in this particular crisis, and that should include our neighboring states. Arizona has been lackluster in its response as well, with consequences for our neighbors on the Navajo Nation that crosses into New Mexico.
Texas already has more than 974 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths related to the virus; the governor has not proactively issued a stay-at-home order, although mayors in Dallas and Austin have filled the breach. Even conservative Lubbock has shut down nonessential businesses.
That’s because Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has decided to let local governments make decisions, mirroring somewhat the federal strategy. Some states are ordering lockdowns, closing schools and businesses, while others keep open beaches and allow the spread of coronavirus — which, sadly, means the rest of us are at risk when infected people travel to our state.
Texans are a big part of our tourism economy, with many of them owning second homes and businesses across New Mexico. Right now, we trust they will stay home, using the common sense their leaders seem to be lacking. What’s the saying? Poor New Mexico — so far from God, so close to Texas.