Two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we all knew it. People all over the world were suddenly struck by isolation, frustration and fear. In 2020, we all hoped that stay-at-home orders, the widespread utilization of masks, and the desperate call for vaccine development would be the solutions needed to stop the overwhelming spread of infection. Little did we know that two long years later, the virus would claim the lives of over 1 million people in the United States alone, debilitating many more. Although lifted mask mandates and conversations about steps toward normalcy have kindled a sense of optimism, the transition toward endemicity demands reflection.
So, what have we learned during this unprecedented time?
First, the pandemic has taught us that we need to take a comprehensive approach to uphold the three pillars of global health security, which are to prevent, detect and respond. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took a proactive approach as she declared a statewide emergency the same day the state confirmed its first set of COVID-19 cases. She shut down schools and nonessential businesses just days later. However, despite swiftly launching a widespread testing program, it became exceedingly difficult to accurately detect the spread of COVID-19 in our state as the demand for tests critically outweighed the supply. Ensuring the rapid production of reliable diagnostics was crucial, but many underserved communities did not have access to those tests.
COVID-19 cases have been heavily concentrated in ZIP codes with a greater American Indian population and in regions where considerable socioeconomic disadvantages exist. Thus, it is imperative that we communicate the need to prioritize meaningful interventions among disenfranchised communities.
Second, public health policies seemed to ignite public outcry and political controversy. Consequently, the pandemic underscored the idea that public health must supersede politics. As cases mounted, we saw that party orientation continued to perpetuate the stark disagreement over the threat of the virus and the precautionary actions necessary to mitigate the spread of disease. Lastly, COVID-19 has reinvigorated the notion that hope and resilience lies in vaccination. The New Mexico Department of Health reports that over 3 million vaccine doses have been administered and 66.5% of all eligible New Mexicans have received two doses of the vaccine. The state must address vaccine hesitancy by promoting science education, allowing individuals to make informed decisions on scientific issues that arise in the public realm. Hopefully, it would also allow more people to accept certain response efforts that are driven by scientific data.
It is important to remember that when we encounter individuals who display the inability to recognize misinformation, we have a duty not to criticize, but to teach. A duty to bolster scientific consensus because empirical evidence holds an infinite amount of knowledge.