State officials recall making tough decisions to protect New Mexicans from COVID-19

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- State officials had to act fast when they learned COVID-19 could impact New Mexicans in 2020.

Aging and Long Term Services Cabinet Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez recalls the decision to suspend visits at senior living centers.

"It just brings you to tears knowing that protecting them is the most important thing, rather than that personal visit," she said.

Brian Blalock, CYFD secretary, said visitations were also restricted for some children in the state’s care.

"If you could imagine having the worst day in your life, and so your children aren’t staying with you and then being told that there’s nothing you can do to see your child because there’s an unprecedented global pandemic happening and it’s not safe for that to happen," he recalled.

More than 3,800 New Mexicans perished during the pandemic.

"The idea that you’re going to have a funeral delayed," said New Mexico Department of Health Sec. Dr. Tracie Collins. "That you couldn’t even say goodbye to your loved ones properly."

As the cabinet secretaries reflected on a tumultuous year, they do believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"We’re now up to the point where for every one new case of COVID, we’re seeing each day, we’re vaccinating 50 people," said Dr. David Scrase, cabinet secretary for the Health and Human Services Department.

Cases are going down. New Mexicans have grown used to a new way of life. So have various state departments. Whether it’s finding new, innovative ways to communicate, or realizing the benefits of working remotely. Secretaries, across the board, say there are some major takeaways.

"It’s really highlighted population health, which is public health and healthcare delivery working closely together," Collins said. "I’m going to use a term I just heard, marching up stream together, really addressing those determinants of health."

Scrase said he’s optimistic about the future.

"We’re just about two-thirds the way through this today. I think it’s going to get easier, it’s going to get better," he said. "You saw the map, its turning Green, even Turquoise which is really good news. But we still have to do those things we know work while we get everyone vaccinated. I think figuring out how to do that and bring business back in a more robust way."