NM leaders reflect on COVID-19 response - Albuquerque Journal

NM leaders reflect on COVID-19 response

After a new, unknown coronavirus began its spread through New Mexico and the world last year, Dr. David Scrase spoke with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about an early projected virus death toll of 500 New Mexicans.

“Is this possible?” he recalled her asking, referring to projections from researchers at the University of Washington. “I said that would be an unbelievable best-case scenario.”

Despite the 187,720 COVID-19 cases to date and 3,845 virus-related deaths a year later, Scrase said Thursday he had thought it would be worse. Scrase, a physician who serves as Cabinet secretary for the state Department of Human Services, became the governor’s top medical adviser on COVID-19.

“I started with the assumption that 14% of the population would be infected at a minimum because that’s what we see with influenza almost every year, and here’s a virus that’s way more infectious and way more deadly.”

Gathering on Zoom — the new COVID-19-safe way to hold meetings and press conferences — Scrase and other state Cabinet secretaries on Thursday marked one year into a pandemic that has taken both lives and livelihoods.

So far, they agreed, the way forward looks promising.

Actually, only 8.9% of New Mexicans have contracted the disease so far, Scrase said. Businesses shuttered to stop the virus spread are reopening, and, “for every one new case of COVID, we are vaccinating 50 people.”

“Everybody sees a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s no longer an oncoming train,” Scrase said.

Among those responding to the crisis were the leaders of the state Children, Youth and Families Department, the Aging and Long Term Services Department, and the Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

Dr. Tracie Collins was dean of the University of New Mexico College of Population Health until she was appointed to head the Department of Health in December.

She and others discussed their darkest days during the pandemic, such as when Collins learned last March 25 that her cousin, Pastor Ronnie Hampton, had died of COVID-19 in Louisiana.

Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, secretary of the Aging and Long Term Services Department, recalled the “panic” state officials experienced early on.

“There were a lot of things we didn’t necessarily know and we had to build systems as we were making decisions.” She recalled listening to families who, to stop the spread of the virus, could no longer visit their loved ones at nursing homes and long-term care facilities hard hit by COVID-19.

“Some of the stories you would hear would bring you to tears,” Hotrum-Lopez said. She had to convince them that protecting their loved one was more important than “that personal visit.”

Collins recalled watching the state’s response from afar at UNM and empathizing with her predecessor Kathy Kunkel, who was in the “trenches” fighting the virus for months before retiring last fall as DOH Cabinet secretary.

“I kept thinking to myself, ‘Oh, that poor woman, I can only imagine how much stress she must be under.’ ”

Brian Blalock, of CYFD, remembered having to stop in-person meetings between parents and their children in CYFD custody, but praised his staff for helping continue such visits remotely.

Blalock was also involved with the emergency response to families affected by the virus, which included the New Mexico National Guard.

“The emergency operations infrastructure that we have built, I think has made New Mexico stronger,” he said.

“I honestly think, right now, our shelter team could build a medical shelter on Mars if that’s what the governor needed us to do. The new structures and new technology is now set up in a way where we’re in a much better position to respond to urgent need.”

Elizabeth Groginsky, secretary of the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, said New Mexicans have all experienced the “toxic stress” of living with the COVID-19 threat.

“Life may never be the same as it was prior to the pandemic and the new normal will most certainly look different.” She added: “Our children and our families desperately need our continued help as we navigate toward what is hopefully the end of this pandemic.”

Home » News » New Mexico News » NM leaders reflect on COVID-19 response

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.