ICYMI: New York Times: How New Mexico Is Beating the Virus
“It has two things missing elsewhere: political leadership and a strong health system.”
Today, the opinion section of the New York Times featured an article on the impressive leadership of DGA Vice Chair New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during the coronavirus pandemic. The former state health secretary has achieved something “elusive”: a widespread testing regime in the top ten states per capita.
Gov. Lujan Grisham acted early against the coronavirus, declaring a health emergency on March 11, two days before the president. She also created the nation’s first drive through testing site – which was put together so quickly it was sketched out on a paper napkin. The state has conducted over 65,000 tests so far, outdoing large states like Texas per capita.
Gov. Lujan Grisham’s stellar leadership has expanded beyond her state – two national laboratories located in New Mexico are now part of the race for a coronavirus vaccine. And Gov. Lujan Grisham is also working with the federal government on a contact tracing pilot program.
Read the New York Times opinion piece below:
New York Times: How New Mexico Is Beating the Virus
On March 13, the same day that a reluctant President Trump admitted that the coronavirus pandemic was a national emergency, a storied New Mexico hospital established the nation’s first drive-through testing for the virus.
One of the nation’s poorest states, with a small population flung across 122,000 square miles, New Mexico quickly accomplished what for the United States as a whole seems elusive: widespread testing for the deadliest pandemic in a century.
For all its haunting, natural beauty, New Mexico is a land of grit. Led by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state swiftly shuttered much of its economy, not waiting on the federal government. It also tapped two secret weapons: sophisticated medical knowledge, a legacy from its role as a hub of aerospace research, and the scientific power of the nuclear weapons laboratories that occupy the state’s high desert plateaus.
Two recent developments made a difference, though. Though the oil and gas boom has gone bust, while it lasted it helped fill the state’s coffers, providing something of a fiscal cushion. The second is Governor Lujan Grisham. Before serving as governor (and before that, a U.S. representative), she had been the state’s health secretary.
As the state’s top health official, she dealt with the sort of problems that make the coronavirus so calamitous: underserved rural populations, urban pueblos and rural reservations dependent on government help, rampant poverty and poor public health. During her stint, she focused on suicide prevention, building new laboratories and facilities and tackling infectious diseases.
When Covid-19 attacked, Ms. Lujan Grisham sprang into action. She declared a statewide health emergency on March 11, when just four people in her state had tested positive — and two days before the president.
By early March, as Mr. Trump downplayed the crisis, Lovelace’s top doctor and engineer sketched out exactly how they would provide drive-through testing — on a pair of napkins. On March 11, Ms. Lujan Grisham’s administration said it would provide the test kits, from a stash of supplies in a state lab, if the hospitals provided the labor. Two days later, Lovelace opened for business in one of its parking lots, testing 200 people on the first day and then 800 the next day. The next day, Presbyterian took the baton. Soon the testing spread across the state.
Meanwhile, the governor was doing battle with the president. During a March 16 teleconference between the president and governors and Mr. Trump, he told them to get their own ventilators. “Try getting it yourselves,” he said. An angry Governor Lujan Grisham shot back, “If one state doesn’t get the resources and materials they need, the entire nation continues to be at risk.”
She also warned that entire Native American tribes were at risk of being wiped out; New Mexico is home to an array of Pueblo, Apache and Navajo people.
Shortly after, she ordered businesses shuttered, and encouraged people to stay home. Public schools were required to adopt distance learning. She resisted pressure from churches to reopen, and ordered every New Mexican to wear a mask in public. Though they haven’t been universally popular, her actions have paid dividends.
The state is also harnessing the scientific power of two national nuclear laboratories to process still more coronavirus tests.
With a little more than 3,200 cases, New Mexico’s infection rate is on par with similarly sized states like Nebraska and Kansas. But with over 65,000 tests so far — outstripping richer Texas on a per capita basis — the death rate has remained lower than neighboring Colorado or nearby Nevada. A total of 112 people have died in New Mexico, according to state data.
At a briefing last week in Santa Fe, Ms. Lujan Grisham did something that still has eluded Mr. Trump: She showed compassion. Even as her administration announced that the state would have enough hospital beds, and was considering steps to open up the economy, she began by mourning the dead.
“I do want people to know that we mourn with you,” she said. “It’s incredibly hurtful to know we lose anyone in this state to this unfair, invisible, deadly threat.”
Then, as other states told businesses to open with little data, she refused to lift the stay-at-home order. Her stellar performance during the crisis has raised her as a possible vice presidential running mate alongside Joe Biden.
Maybe. New Mexico is always full of grit, secrets and, yes, even secret weapons.