Until this fall, New Mexico was doing an exceptional job of containing the coronavirus — so much so that our state received national attention.

Current trends are extremely concerning, and it’s clear New Mexicans need to double down to stop the spread of coronavirus and regain lost ground. New Mexico’s previous track record of keeping coronavirus at bay was due to the commitment of New Mexicans to follow safety guidelines and the leadership of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. We are forever grateful to health care workers who put their lives on the line daily to treat and save those of us who become ill.

What you don’t see are the unsung heroes among us — government employees — that turn the governor’s leadership into action. The response to this crisis is being managed by a passionate and dedicated public health workforce. You may not realize the full impact of their contributions in addressing the pandemic virtually nonstop since the beginning of the outbreak.

Since New Mexico’s public health infrastructure has been decimated by funding cuts over the years, resulting in severe understaffing and a lack of necessary equipment and other resources, the response is nothing short of miraculous.

New Mexico Department of Health employees have been the backbone of the pandemic response. They have been involved in standing up and maintaining testing sites; tracing contacts; investigating and monitoring cases; staffing hotlines; studying the impact of coronavirus on children; educating the public about the importance of childhood and adult vaccinations; establishing shelters for people who test positive with nowhere else to go; collecting, analyzing and interpreting surveillance, hospitalization and medication data; ensuring that testing kits and other equipment and supplies are ordered and distributed; and coordinating the deployment of volunteers where they’re most needed.

Other major players from the Health Department include the staff at the scientific laboratory who analyze thousands of tests and the Division of Health Improvement, which assures the safety of health facilities around the state.

There are numerous other government agencies with dedicated state and federal employees who also support the pandemic response. The New Mexico Environment Department conducts rapid responses when businesses have a positive virus case, ensuring isolation and quarantine of exposed employees as well as deep cleaning.

The Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management plays a central role in responding to entities that threaten the security of our state, including biological threats such as the coronavirus. The state Emergency Operations Center coordinates the distribution of food, water, equipment and supplies (with the help of a variety of state and federal agencies), while simultaneously monitoring other threats such as wildland fires, disruptive weather events and large public gatherings like protests.

Local government employees, such as city and county emergency managers, also play a crucial role in the community response, including the distribution of personal protective equipment and communications among local entities.

For months now and for months to come, in addition to keeping up with their regular jobs as public servants, many of these folks have been and will continue to work on New Mexico’s response to the pandemic. They are understandably exhausted.

If you know any of these individuals, please thank them for keeping you safe whether you were aware of it or not. I implore you to continue to follow public health guidelines: Wear a mask in public; social distance; isolate if you’re sick; wash your hands frequently; and avoid gatherings. This is the most important thing you can do for our public servants, health care workers, yourself, your loved ones and all New Mexicans. All of our lives depend on it.

Judith Gabriele is former deputy bureau chief, Public Health Division, New Mexico Department of Health.

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