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Editorial: Public needs to respect COVID-19 stay-at-home rules

Braced with the cold reality that top health officials are now predicting the nation’s COVID-19 death toll could top 100,000 – if we are lucky and somewhat successful in bending the infection rate curve – President Donald Trump on Sunday reluctantly extended restrictive social distancing guidelines nationally through April 30.

It was a turnaround for Trump, who earlier had expressed hope they could be lifted by Easter.

The president is correct in saying it is important to talk about and formulate a back-to-work strategy because we can’t do this forever without destroying the economy. Money printed by the federal government can only take us so far.

But Trump’s April 12 goal was always wishful thinking in light of the growing infection and death totals – especially in hard-hit areas such as New York. If we move prematurely, before this pandemic is in check, it will do even more damage.

Fortunately, he listened to Dr. Anthony Fauci and others who said that the U.S. is facing millions of infections and that we would be “doing well” to hold the number of deaths “down to 100,000.”

That number could climb much higher, Fauci said, if we back off now and not enough is done to mitigate the crisis. Fauci called the extension of the guidelines “a wise and prudent decision,” and Trump cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million could have died had social distancing and other measures not already been put in place.

A University of Washington study published in Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal projected more than 500 COVID-19 deaths in New Mexico by July, with peak hospitalization around April 25.

The state had 281 confirmed cases Monday and four deaths.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order last week, closing nonessential businesses and limiting gatherings to five people. She followed that up with an order for many health care providers – ranging from dentists to orthopedic surgeons – to limit procedures over the next three months to cases in which not proceeding would seriously affect the health of a patient. The order is designed to preserve personal protective gear and hospital space in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 patients.

She also has imposed screening and self-quarantine of people flying into the Albuquerque International Sunport and got approval for the Department of Defense to set up a 248-bed field hospital here.

But much of this is up to us as members of the public. In announcing her stay-at-home directive, the governor acknowledged that “this is painful” but said it is “necessary to save lives.”

Unfortunately, far too many are ignoring the restrictions. Law enforcement in New Mexico has responded to hundreds of complaints of noncompliance, ranging from nonessential businesses still operating to large gatherings in parks and other places. A couple of call centers finally shut down, reluctantly, under pressure from the Governor’s Office.

“We have so many nonessential businesses open in Santa Fe,” one woman wrote in a post last week on the governor’s Facebook page.

The governor’s nonemergency hotline to which she initially referred noncompliance complaints has been instructing people to send emails to the State Police at nmsp.covid19@state.nm.us”>href=”http://nmsp.cov”>nmsp.covid19@state.nm.us or to call local law enforcement.

This is bitter medicine, given the severe economic and social havoc that closures and isolation are causing. Three-fourths of Americans are under orders to stay home. It’s not the life we are used to living, but it’s necessary. People need to pay attention and comply.

Because at the end of the day, not being able to go out and socialize isn’t nearly as painful as lying in a hospital bed desperately trying to catch your breath.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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