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Avoid a second wave: Extend NM stay-home order

My name is Yibing Li and I’m a family practice physician here in Albuquerque. So far, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s swift actions to keep people at home and to close nonessential businesses have saved a tremendous number of lives. I am grateful that she is my governor. A human life cannot be commodified and freely traded in the name of corporate economic preservation. That is why we must do everything in our power to prevent the second wave of COVID-19 infections. I’m asking she further extend the public health emergency orders – closing of nonessential businesses, stay-at-home, etc. – until at least June 15, 2020.

It would be tone-deaf of me to not mention the financial impact this pandemic has had on the average, hard-working American family. I’m a first-generation immigrant, and both of my parents were restaurant servers until I was 18 years old. The vast majority of my life has been spent paycheck to paycheck, so I have some idea of the pain that many families are facing. It’s pointless for armchair political scientists like me to lament the fact that we don’t have universal basic income (UBI) or Medicare-for-all, or that our stimulus package doesn’t look as big as Canada’s. Right now, there are economists and policymakers doing what they can to keep families whole during this pandemic.

What I can say with absolute certainty is that if cities begin reopening in the month of May, a significant second wave of infections will occur, and perfectly preventable deaths will continue to accumulate.

At this point, you are fully aware of the deadliness and infectiousness of COVID-19. You may also be aware that according to epidemiologists, immunologists and public health experts, the “endgame” for this pandemic is at least 12 months away and far from a guarantee. Vaccine development, testing and distribution will take a long time with tremendous hurdles to ensuring safety and efficacy.

We are also learning new things about COVID-19 on a daily basis; new info that tremendously impacts mortality/morbidity. For example, just in the past couple weeks, doctors across the world are noticing that COVID-19 is likely causing blood clots in otherwise healthy patients. These patients are experiencing strokes, heart attacks and pulmonary emboli at an alarming rate. As a result, some hospitals are scrambling to put together anticoagulation protocols for COVID-19 patients. The point is, we need to buy more time to allow more critical attributes of this virus to emerge so we can study them and react appropriately.

The triggering of a “second wave” of infections is likely to occur from a decision to reopen too soon, even if done gradually. This is largely due to well-documented, likely common, asymptomatic spread of the virus. I’m sure you’re familiar with this because that is part of the rationale for social distancing, staying at home and the closing of nonessential businesses.

The health care systems of this state are eager to have a plan for gradual resuming of services like elective surgeries. That makes sense. People need knee replacements and new heart valves. Health care systems need to stay open and financially solvent especially during a pandemic. However, while these nonemergent but essential medical services are starting to resume at surgical centers and outpatient clinics, it is even more vital that orders regarding stay-at-home and the closing of nonessential businesses continue to be upheld. Given the substantial risk of asymptomatic spread, we would ideally need a set of PPE for every patient encounter for every staff member, and that is a PPE burn rate that would be difficult to sustain.

The governor’s public health orders are absolutely still needed to protect medical personnel, keep hospitals from being overwhelmed and to continue saving lives. She should strongly consider extending them.

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