The reopening of the United States has hit pause.
The COVID-19 pandemic, despite efforts of deniers to pretend all is well, is out of control. Thanks to a grievous, almost incomprehensible lack of federal leadership from the White House, the U.S. leads the world in cases and deaths from this virus.
Our numbers: 2.4 million-plus cases and almost 125,000 deaths. And rising.
Those numbers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are vastly understated. It’s worse than the numbers show, perhaps 10 times higher.
The pause has hit New Mexico, where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said last week that our state would not be moving to the second phase of reopening. Even here, in a place where science has led decisions, the transmission rate is rising. It can’t help New Mexico’s rate of infection to be sandwiched near states such as Arizona and Texas, where lousy leadership at the state level has led to the pandemic roaring out of control.
Lujan Grisham says New Mexico has a week to improve numbers so she can continue the phased reopening.
Everyone wants a return to life as usual. But normal during the pandemic is not the normal of a few months ago. That’s the reality too many Americans — especially the president — have failed to confront.
Today’s normal means wearing a face covering in public, maintaining a 6-foot distance from others, continuing smart hygiene practices and, for the most part, staying home.
Normal does not mean having graduation parties, dining out in large groups or shopping daily or taking group hikes without face coverings. The new normal is better than the strict restrictions of the early days of the pandemic, with schools shuttered and churches and businesses closed, but it is still not the freedom to come and go that people so desire.
But here’s the deal.
By staying home and being smart about mingling, New Mexicans will win the freedom we crave sooner, rather than later.
By opening up too quickly and abandoning mask-wearing and distancing, we condemn ourselves to months of restrictions — and to many more cases of the coronavirus, with resulting harm and deaths. If the disease transmission rate in New Mexico does not fall, schools may not open. The goal is 1.05 or lower, and the current rate is 1.12.
It’s time to be tough — on ourselves, and perhaps, on one another.
That means disciplining ourselves to a March or April mindset — staying home and limiting unnecessary movement. The state’s success in the first months of this crisis was largely due to an all-for-one commitment to distance and smart, reasonable behavior.
It also means avoiding those who choose not to follow these guidelines. Those who don’t wear masks (and there are many among us; it’s not all tourists from Texas and Arizona) are, in essence, public health hazards to steer clear of like any tornado or forest fire or flood.
As Lujan Grisham said at her update last week — people must take this seriously.
Many of our readers are ready to shut down the roads to New Mexico because of pandemics gone wild in nearby states. It’s encouraging to see the city will step up its oversight of mask-wearing, complete with public-awareness campaigns for visitors. And, yes, issue warnings and tickets if need be.
Lives hang in the balance, including those damaged because our economy is shattered.
In Texas, with its rush to open, Gov. Greg Abbott called a halt last week — he’s even closing the bars. Arizona remains out of control.
New Mexico, meanwhile, can stand out as a model of smart governance and a devotion to the common good — combining science and commitment to keep people safe while slowing the virus’s spread.
If we do that, New Mexico stands a far better chance of limiting the damage to its businesses and its lifestyle, to say nothing of its health.
If we don’t, we end up like our neighbors. And who wants that?