At an awards ceremony for healthcare workers at an upscale hotel with a cocktail dress code on Tuesday night, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham praised their collective effort to save lives from COVID.
“We withstood the tests. We defended vaccinations. We resisted everything. No one pointed to another group and said, “Your work there”, “Your work, something else”. It was all collective,” said Lujan Grisham. “In fact, to my knowledge, we’re the only responding state in this collective that held on — even when, frankly, we were too exhausted to hold on.”
Inside the grand ballroom of the Clyde Hotel in downtown Albuquerque, Lujan Grisham’s health secretary, Dr. David Scrase, said she had very high standards and demanded the excellence of health officials.
“She not only wanted to be No. 1, but she was possessed to save lives and we were doing everything we could to save lives,” Scrase said. “I’m so grateful to the governor for setting those standards and leading us there.”
Scrase: ‘I don’t think anyone talks about mask mandates anymore’
Assistant Secretary of Health and Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Laura Parajon said Lujan Grisham comforted health officials and gave them a way forward during the uncertainty of the early days of the pandemic.
“She made it very clear to us that her mission was to protect New Mexicans,” Parajon said. “And she bravely put politics aside and did everything she could to protect the lives of New Mexicans.”
Comments from Lujan Grisham and Department of Health officials ended the awarding of 15 people for the actions they have taken to save lives during the pandemic so far.
Masks were not required at the event but were subtly encouraged (a pack of KN95s was left at each table). There was no control of the vaccination status.
The room was well ventilated throughout the event, according to a CO2 monitor that Source New Mexico brought inside.
Lujan Grisham, who said she suffered from a ‘bum knee’ which gave way minutes before her speech, is seeking to represent herself as a “health care candidate” in her bid for re-election.
In a campaign ad broadcast On Wednesday, Albuquerque endocrinologist Dr. Christina Lovato said Lujan Grisham had saved thousands of lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, capped insulin costs, ended mental health co-payments and s strove to import lower-cost drugs from Canada.
Politics don’t stop the spread
The awards ceremony took place six days after the first day of the fall semester for students in New Mexico and four days after the public education system again lifted COVID protections like centers Federal Disease Control and Prevention.
Under New Mexico public health order signed Aug. 12, school districts and charter schools are no longer required to report staff surveillance testing data through the Department of Health’s COVID Health Provider Portal; social distancing is recommended but not required; and school districts are no longer required to participate in the Test to Stay program.
Director of the DOH’s Office of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Miranda Durham, said that while vaccinations save lives, “they don’t necessarily get rid of cases.”
New Mexico has done wonders with vaccines, she said, but “we’re behind with boosters, across all age groups.”
As of August 9, 72% of eligible New Mexican adults had received a booster shot, 31% of New Mexican children had completed their primary series, and only 6% of the youngest children had received their first dose. according at DOH.
“Our children are going back to school and there is no more masking in schools,” Durham said. “It’s, I think, a really at-risk population.”
A vax-only approach leaves the most vulnerable behind
In nine tips for schools, the CDC recommends universal indoor masking in schools, early care and education programs in communities at a high “COVID-19 community level.” Regardless of grade, the CDC recommends masking in all health care settings, including school nurses’ offices.
Since Wednesday, this included Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia, Cibola, McKinley, De Baca, Roosevelt, Curry, Quay, Grant and Hidalgo counties. Together, these counties represent more than half of the state’s population.
Below CDC’s old “community transmission level” mapthe CDC reportedly recommended universal indoor masking in all New Mexico counties other than Harding.
The first day of school for the students was August 10. The New Mexico Department of Public Education said in an August 12 statement Press release he is working on an updated toolkit to align with CDC guidelines and the new health order.
No local government or school district in New Mexico has implemented its own local mask mandate.
That’s because the federal government sets the tone for state and local governments, said Kristin Urquiza, founder of Marked by COVID, a survivor advocacy network. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have set the tone for the rest of the country, she said.
“I think there’s guilt in the whole chain,” she said. “In the end, the fish rots from the head.”
Right now the tone is “COVID is over,” Urquiza said, despite the fact that we’re in a deadly wave where about 500 people in the United States die every dayaccording to the New York Times.
“Two years ago – a year ago – this would not have been acceptable,” she said. “It’s still not acceptable, and we shouldn’t normalize this number of deaths, as well as disability.”
This tone was palpable during the awards ceremony. Speakers repeatedly referred to the pandemic in the past tense, and event host Pamela Blackwell, director of government relations and communications for the New Mexico Hospital Association, said we’re entering ” a new phase of this unexplored journey”.
Scrase’s final remark in his acceptance speech was that every person who has done anything to reduce the spread of COVID has helped save lives.
But Urquiza said the CDC’s COVID guidelines continue to roll back protections to control the spread of COVID, she said. The guidance is not informed by data showing the importance of protecting the lives of people who are at higher risk of severe or fatal COVID, Urquiza said, including the elderly, immunocompromised and medically vulnerable.
The federal government’s vaccination and treatment plan excludes these communities from the equation, she said, because it is not intended to keep transmission rates low. For those people, it’s more likely that if they get COVID they’ll have more severe COVID, regardless of their vaccination status or the treatments available to them, she said.
We have the tools to take COVID out of the air in New Mexico schools, but are we using them?
People living with chronic illness also fall into the category of people at high risk for severe COVID, Urquiza said, and the Biden administration and CDC recommendations “really ignore the needs of these people.”
“Teachers, administrators, parents, school nurses are terrified of what will happen as schools reopen,” she said. “School nurses will be on the front lines of the explosion of cases they will inevitably see as a result of school districts moving further and further away from masking given these CDC guidelines.”