The challenge of COVID-19 and the Coronavirus pandemic has been a test for all us. The persistence of the outbreak — 16 months and counting — has strained almost every individual’s emotional and physical endurance to the breaking point. But the real challenge has been much more than personal.
The definition of a pandemic is an outbreak of disease that occurs almost everywhere and threatens almost everyone. One thing we have learned from bitter COVID experience is that a patchwork of personal or family or even jurisdictional — town, county, state — protective policies is too penetrable to keep us safe.
The Trump Administration’s refusal to set a national policy to respond to the crisis has — according to almost all the experts in public health — cost America tens, if not hundreds of thousands of lives that might have been saved.
New Mexico was among the most pro-active states in taking public measures to “flatten the curve” of the outbreak, which really meant to slow down the spread of the disease. Early and aggressively-offered COVID testing not only got more people to treatment sooner, but swift implementation of face-covering and social distancing rules created a more manageable tempo of contagion which allowed hospitals — of which New Mexico has relatively few, with relatively fewer beds available than most, less impoverished states — to offer effective treatments without being overwhelmed.
And perhaps most important, these protective measures not only preserved New Mexico’s healthcare system, they kept a lot of people healthy long enough so that once they succumbed to the second or third wave of infections, the medical learning curve had developed new, or rediscovered old, treatments that saved lives that were lost only months earlier.
But New Mexico was surrounded by other states with, to put it mildly, less aggressive COVID-containment policies. Particularly the states to our east and west along the two big interstate highways, I-10 and I-40 — Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California, for examples — surged to infection rates much higher than New Mexico’s, and travelers from those undoubtedly penetrated not just state lines but protective precautions to spread the disease.
But the corridors of contagion weren’t just the interstates, and the impact of, say, Texas’ do-whatcha-wanna approach was felt at the New Mexico end of state routes, farm roads, and in the case of state line-straddling towns like Anthony, Texas and New Mexico, downtown sidewalks.
This kind of spread can’t be contained by individuals or families, but its effects certainly can be mitigated by communities acting together. Here, the experience of Anthony is simultaneously heart-breaking and uplifting.
Alicia Inez Guzmán was raised in the northern New Mexican village of Truchas, She has written about histories of place, identity, and land use in New Mexico. She brings this knowledge to her current role as education reporter at Searchlight, where she focuses on the lived experiences of New Mexico’s students and the role that equity and cultural literacy should play in the classroom and educational policymaking. The former senior editor of New Mexico Magazine, Alicia holds a Ph.D. in Visual and Cultural Studies from the University of Rochester in New York.