As the state of New Mexico has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, a key point of emphasis in our response has been compiling and disseminating accurate, thorough and up-to-date data about this viral infection to New Mexicans.
Every day, my first questions – and the first questions of many New Mexicans – are: How many new positive cases? Where are they? Where might they have spread the infection? This information – and indeed all of the information about COVID-19 infections in our state – is essential to our decision-making processes as we move forward into gradual reopenings to ease economic pressure and, of course, to continue fighting this virus with effective, data-driven public health policy.
We have endeavored to provide as much information about this virus over the course of the pandemic as we can. Our COVID-19 data dashboard includes information about positive cases – where they have occurred by county and even by ZIP code – and about demographic information like race, ethnicity and age. And we will continue to be as transparent as we can be given important legal restrictions about protected patient data and other considerations.
To be clear, the state does not and will not provide specific patient information to anyone – not regular citizens, not local elected officials, not tribal leaders. This is law, and patient-specific information is not to be shared. The New York Times editorial board recently penned a piece criticizing governments, including the federal administration, for stonewalling and slow-walking requests for data and other public records amid the pandemic. Some governments have changed their record-request policies or suspended them in light of the public health crisis. Our state government has not changed its policy in this regard and will not, although there are certainly case-by-case considerations when requests for information are broad and burdensome, there is an enormous workload for all state government workers given the pandemic and there is the imperative to protect patient-specific information. We will continue to meet the public’s expectations for providing data that is the public’s and in the public interest.
One important consideration is data about sovereign nations. The state of New Mexico under my administration has worked very hard to reestablish sacred government-to-government relationships with the tribes and pueblos of New Mexico. Tribal nations have been disproportionately affected by this heinous virus; my administration has been on the front foot, communicating regularly with tribal leaders about their needs and dispatching state assistance, including the New Mexico National Guard, to deliver needed supplies and provide medical support.
Our esteemed tribal partners require not only our compassion and whatever assistance can be provided in this hour of need; under the State-Tribal Collaboration Act, the state is obligated to collaborate with tribal nations on the development and effectuation of policy and programs of state agencies. That is true now even amid this pandemic, and although the state is obligated to provide and will continue to provide public information to the public when requested under the Inspection of Public Records Act, we will coordinate with tribal leaders whenever and however we can to ensure that sovereign and individual patient data is protected and the public is armed with important public information in equal measure.