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Not time yet for complacency about COVID-19

My cousin got right to the point.

“Don’t come here,” he warned from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

This, not because the temperatures are already hovering around 107 degrees or because four major fires are burning through thousands of acres across the state or because, well, Arizona.

No. Because our neighbor to the west is experiencing a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalization rates, higher than any time since the pandemic first slithered into that state, the worst of any state as tracked by and the state with the highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests as tracked by Johns Hopkins University.

Heather Larson helps keep things safe – wearing a mask while arranging items at Mama’s Minerals in late May. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

All this comes nearly a month since Arizona stay-at-home orders expired.

“Not many wearing masks,” my cousin said. “We rushed to open and now paying for it.”

Our neighbor to the east is also experiencing spiking rates of COVID-19, leading one Texas official to ominously declare Thursday that the state is on “the precipice of a disaster.”

Other states, too, are showing signs that a second wave is underway – and this before the effects of Black Lives Matter protests have surfaced.

New Mexico, too, has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, though on Thursday Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her administration said the rise is mainly because of an outbreak in the Otero County Prison Facility and the continuing spread across the Navajo Nation in the northwestern part of the state.

Our COVID-19 peak, they say, hit last month. Things are still going relatively well, they say.

For nearly three months most of us hunkered down, stayed stuck in our houses and shopped online, scared, sullen and sad that seeing our loved ones had to occur through Zoom or drive-by parades.

But we did it. And it shows, they say.

So yay us!

Our state is returning to a semblance of normalcy now, warily and, some would argue, inequitably. Weekly, Lujan Grisham and her team explain their reasoning, lay out their statistics, balance our lives with our livelihoods. They remind us repeatedly that reopening the state is not an invitation to resume life as we knew it circa February 2020, that we must remain vigilant of our unseen foe, stay home, maintain distance, wear a mask, wash hands, rinse, lather, repeat.

“Complacency when it feels like everything is alright is what creates more risk,” Lujan Grisham admonishes.

But not everybody is listening anymore. Or caring.

Already, many have put the virus on mute, whether through desire, defiance, confusion or ignorance.

Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of that than the mask, wearing one being one of the easiest things we are being asked to do to help slow the spread.

“My 13-year-old and I were waiting in line to get into Home Depot. About 20 of us all wearing masks,” one friend remarked. “Dude walks up not wearing a mask, saying ‘I’m not afraid of coronavirus; coronavirus should be afraid of me.'”

Another reported not seeing a single person wearing a mask during his commute through Downtown Albuquerque on Friday.

“There is some delusion-level wishful/magical thinking afoot,” he said. “If we wear masks, we can help slow transmission. Were we always a nation of knuckleheads?”

Well, perhaps.

We are a nation, after all, whose president refuses to wear a mask when cameras are present and whose plans to resume his rallies next week include a demand that attendees sign a waiver releasing his campaign of any liability should they fall ill – or dead – with COVID-19.

And it didn’t help that federal health officials, including the once ubiquitous Dr. Anthony Fauci, flip-flopped on the merits of the mask.

(Friendly reminder: Although Fauci initially expressed doubt about masks, he now says he has “no doubt” that people not masking up are increasing the risk of spreading the virus.)

Restaurants and other businesses report enduring confrontations with those who don’t ascribe to the “no shoes, no shirts, no masks, no service” rules.

“We go home in tears to our kids after a long day with most days being threatened because we have multiple signs up reminding customers to wear a mask or have requested them to wear a mask,” a Facebook post on Chile Chicken Nashville Hot Chicken read. “We aren’t trying to upset anyone. … It is not OK to threaten the safety of our team. It is never OK to threaten the safety of anyone. In a time of uncertainties, caring and kindness are needed much more now than ever.”

Every day, we read the new numbers on how many people tested positive for COVID-19 and how many died, and it feels like we’re forgetting that behind every number is a human being. The numbers decrease, and it feels like we’re forgetting that they do because we wear our masks, keep our distance, stay home, stay safe, that our caring and kindness is saving lives.

So keep wearing those masks. Keep doing what most of us are doing. It wouldn’t take much for New Mexico to become another Arizona, another Texas. That precipice of disaster is not as far away as we might like to think.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793,, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.


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