Column: Covering the coronavirus pandemic that has drastically changed life and work - Albuquerque Journal

Column: Covering the coronavirus pandemic that has drastically changed life and work

Two weeks into the legislative session on Jan. 29, the House chambers were empty due to a handful of state representatives testing positive for COVID-19. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — It seems impossible that March 2020 was only a year ago.

The last 12 months have stretched time like taffy, making days feel like weeks and months feel like days, and upended the lives of thousands of New Mexicans.

I remember covering Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s news conference on March 11, 2020, after the first cases of COVID-19 surfaced in New Mexico.

No one was wearing face masks or social distancing while we packed into a Capitol committee room, and I was still largely focused on what line-item vetoes the governor might have in store for a state budget bill.

We had no idea then a public health emergency issued that day by the governor’s administration would remain in place a year later.

Or that more than 3,700 New Mexicans would end up dying from a virus we had only read about in news reports from other places.

Or that our own lives would soon be turned upside down.

For me, covering the pandemic over the year has been a trying experience, one that made me wish I’d taken more science and statistics classes in college.

But I was also driven by the weight of the moment, the importance of getting facts right and the knowledge the stories we wrote will be reviewed and scrutinized for decades to come.

The pandemic truly showed how laws matter, like the 2003 Public Health Emergency Response Act that gave Lujan Grisham’s administration authority to close businesses, obtain medical equipment and seek court orders to have individuals quarantined to slow the spread of the virus.

One of the architects of that 2003 law told me the law was aimed at “exactly this kind of event,” though few supporters could have imagined an emergency order being in place for a year — or more.

And then there’s the rarely used state Riot Control Act, which Lujan Grisham invoked in May 2020 to put Gallup on lockdown for six days in an attempt to slow the coronavirus outbreak that was running rampant across northwest New Mexico, especially on tribal lands.

I may not have known the laws in those pre-pandemic days, but they are now forever etched in my memory.

But it’s also been impossible to separate the professional and the personal during the pandemic.

In working primarily from home for the first time in my adult life, I covered remote news conferences with my 2-year-old daughter on my lap, looking at books or watching videos on my phone.

I interviewed legislators and members of Congress with my 7-year-old son trying to do his homework in the same room, occasionally crying in frustration when he couldn’t figure out math problems.

And I shared my wife’s pain when her godmother died after contracting the virus.

Indeed, life during the pandemic has been such a drastic overhaul of our daily routines that it would have been almost impossible to comprehend a year ago.

Covering legislative sessions at the Roundhouse has been like visiting a ghost town, the empty corridors and committee rooms eerily quiet with the building closed to the public.

And while attending news conferences using online Zoom platform has since become routine, I remember early in the pandemic shouting at my computer screen when the governor could not hear the question I was asking (there’s no external microphone on my laptop, I learned).

The feedback from readers has also been unparalleled, for better or worse.

Without direct access to state officials, many New Mexicans emailed or called me to express their fears and frustrations, recognizing us as a direct line to state decision-makers.

Some were grateful for our reporting, while others regularly harangued me and my colleagues for our coverage and accused us of exaggerating the pandemic to sell more newspapers and get more online story clicks.

Being a reporter quickly teaches you to have thick skin, but reporting during the pandemic reminded us of the importance of having a spleen, too.

We had to regularly filter out the rumors from the facts, the urban legends from the truth. And that job proved even more important during a high-stakes election cycle that played out during the pandemic.

Now that the pandemic appears to finally be ebbing with the help of an aggressive vaccine rollout, I’m feeling hopeful about the future but unsure about how it may have subtly changed the trajectory of our lives.

And there are tough conversations to be had about health care disparities and the lingering impact on students who stopped attending school.

After a year spent in overdrive, it’s not easy to shift back to normal.

Dan Boyd is the Capitol Bureau Chief for the Journal and covers the New Mexico Legislature.

Online Memorial: Those We’ve Lost

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