In the 10 days leading up to the governor’s positive test, at least 5,730 New Mexicans also tested positive, according to state Department of Health data. (Photo from March 2022 courtesy of the Office of the Governor)
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday morning tested positive for COVID-19.
The New Mexico chapter of the survivors’ group Marked by COVID the next day wished Lujan Grisham a speedy recovery and said her infection “underscores the uncontrolled high community spread of the virus in New Mexico and the fact that no one is safe from this potentially deadly and disabling disease.”
The group wrote Lujan Grisham and her acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase a letter calling for the return of public health measures like masking that are proven to slow the spread of the virus. As of Monday, the Governor’s Office had not replied to the letter, according to her Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett.
“The governor is vaccinated and boosted, with access to high quality health care and the ability to self-isolate and work remotely,” Marked by COVID wrote. “As decision-makers continue to roll back mitigation measures and urge a ‘return to normal,’ they must remember their experience is far from typical for the average New Mexican.”
In the 10 days leading up to the governor’s positive test, at least 5,730 New Mexicans also tested positive, according to state Department of Health data. Official case statistics are likely a significant undercount, and the true number could be many times higher, according to DOH.
Many of those people are not going to be able to stay home from work to isolate themselves because there is no Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard for COVID in any workplace in the U.S.
And many might not have an established relationship with a medical provider, including about 215,000 New Mexicans who are uninsured and often work frontline jobs, which put them at higher risk of catching the virus, according to Health Action New Mexico.
That means they might be less likely to get testing or antiviral medication that can shorten and lessen illness, and potentially decrease her chances of long-COVID effects. Without such access, they are at a higher risk of severe illness and death.
The governor’s statement announcing her infection points out that she is fully vaccinated and boosted, and taking Paxlovid to reduce her risk of severe illness. She encouraged New Mexicans to get the shot.
As of Monday, the governor was still isolating and dealing with congestion and a scratchy throat, Meyers Sackett said.
She said the governor “is very grateful for the robust protections offered to her and others by vaccines and boosters, and for the ready availability of additional effective treatment like Paxlovid.”
“The governor testing positive is also an opportunity to remind New Mexicans of the efficacy and availability of early antiviral treatment, which is available whether or not someone has a primary care provider due to the Test to Treat program,” Meyers Sackett said in a written statement.
She said New Mexicans who test positive for COVID-19 can find providers, Test-to-Treat clinics and nearby pharmacies at this website. She said doing so provides “easy and effective treatment that is also free of cost to all New Mexicans.”
The first thing Hunter Marshall, a registered nurse in Albuquerque, thought when they heard the news was that the governor has access to Paxlovid, and she can use it safely because she has a provider to consult with about whether she is taking any medications that interact with Paxlovid.
“Those who are systematically disadvantaged both in our state and throughout the country will continue to be the ones that bear the highest cost of COVID,” Marshall said. “The burden will fall on them the most heavily, as it always has.”
Marshall runs into many people who — even if they are lucky enough to have access to testing resources and are aware they have COVID — don’t know how to go about getting Paxlovid.
Even if someone nominally has access to Paxlovid or other antivirals, there is still not much known about whether they prevent long COVID, Marshall said.
Asked to comment on the letter, DOH Spokesperson Jodi McGinnis Porter did not address Marked by COVID’s request to reinstate universal masking.
“Fortunately, we are in a completely different place in the COVID-19 pandemic than we were in March of 2020,” McGinnis Porter said. “Today, thanks to vaccines and boosters, tests (PRC and home tests), widely available masks, oral treatments and education, we have a lot of tools at our fingertips to safeguard ourselves and loved ones to help prevent serious illness and death from the virus – and our death and hospitalization numbers bear that out.”
But there are metrics that matter aside from death and hospitalizations, such as long-term disability, Marshall said. And controlling the spread of COVID in the first place is critically important to preventing Long COVID, Marked by COVID wrote.
It’s nice for a public figure to tell the public to get vaccinated, get boosted, and get an antiviral therapeutic, Marshall said, “but for a variety of reasons, that isn’t an option for everybody, and it’s incumbent upon the state to provide as many opportunities and as many options for people to keep themselves safe.”
Survivors group asks to bring back protections
Marshall said they are saddened that the desire to return to some sort of “normal” has meant abandoning evidence-based harm reduction measures like masking when transmission is high, at the expense of some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Marked by COVID implored Lujan Grisham and Scrase to immediately reinstate indoor mask requirements, provide free high-quality masks in public places, and develop and implement clear, data-informed benchmarks for reintroduction of mitigation measures like testing, masking and contact tracing.
Masking is essential to providing freedom of movement to the most vulnerable, Marked by COVID wrote, including seniors, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, those with long Covid, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants and people with low incomes.
2021 COVID mortality rates in N.M.
(per 100,000 population):
It would allow those groups to participate in society and access essential services, they wrote, including seeing a doctor, going to a hospital, picking up prescriptions, getting groceries or renewing a vehicle registration.
These “should not be activities only available to the rich,” who know if they fall sick they have access to fast treatment, paid time off, ample space for isolation, delivery services, child care, and housing, Marked by COVID wrote.
“Many New Mexicans have been shut out of public life because they might not survive a COVID infection,” they wrote. “Many of us are avoiding necessary medical care, and being forced to drastically limit our social, volunteer and professional lives.”
New Mexico and the U.S. as a whole still have an underfunded and understaffed public health system, Marshall said, which limits our ability to have a good sense of the amount of COVID transmitted in the community at any given time and leaves many people on their own when it comes to navigating the risk of catching the virus.
“We understand that the White House is erroneously promoting a victory over COVID-19 in the lead-up to elections and that the CDC has put local leaders in a bind,” Marked by COVID wrote, “but we expect better from New Mexico. It’s why we’re proud to call this state home.”
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