© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/20/21
A personal tradition comes to an end
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
New Mexico is rich with holiday traditions. Whether it’s Christmas or a Pueblo feast day, it comes with traditional foods, music, dances, decorations, and religious ceremonies.
New Mexico lights up during the season with farolitos along streets, rooftops, and walkways. Luminarias (bonfires) greet Las Posadas plays and processions from Taos to the Mesilla Valley, highlighting Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter.
Tamales, enchiladas and posole are covered with chile uniquely named Christmas – a combination of red and green. New Mexico piñon candies and bizcochitos are favorite additions.
From the Albuquerque River of Lights to Christmas on the Pecos in Carlsbad, light displays are some of the bests in the Southwest. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Picuris, Ohkay Owingeh, and Tesuque pueblos celebrate with traditional Native dances. People travel from around the world to observe these ancient celebrations.
Families have their own traditions as well – trekking into the forests for a Christmas tree, family feasts with recipes handed down through generations. They gather to attend candlelight services and children’s Christmas pageants.
Mixed into these traditions is gift giving where we spend much of our angst deciding what for whom and how much to spend. Tricycles to bicycles, gadgets galore, new sweaters, books, games, gift cards and on and on. For most of us, it’s not the size or the cost, it’s the meaning – something lovingly handmade, a photo of family or friends, or a gift that simply shows your love for the recipient.
For me, I’ve had a tradition of giving Life’s Little Instructions Calendar Day by Day to my children and dearest friends. What started 20 years ago as gifts for two or three soon became a dozen or more. I made sure I had one for our house too. These daily instructions are my way of sharing a common thought every day with those I love.
Some people take the “Wear red socks” or “Wear unmatched socks to a business meeting and take note of who notices” advice more seriously than others.
I wondered if anyone else decided to “Do something about the clutter in one of your closets.”
More recently there were words to live by: “Be kind to rude people. They need a mentor.” “Sometimes you have to be patient. Time has a way of sorting things out.” “The world can be a dark place. Be the light.”
From practical advice: “Don’t buy a cheap mattress.” “Keep a plunger in every bathroom.” To romance: “Believe in love at first sight.” “Never buy an anniversary gift that has to be plugged in.” To parenting: “Cherish your children for what they are, not for what you’d like them to be.”
And messages of hope: “Never give up on anyone; miracles happen every day.” Or laughingly, “Life is tough, but there’s always Junior Mints, Fritos and mac and cheese.”
It’s all there.
For years, family, friends, their spouses, and children have anticipated the arrival of a calendar – each day a thought of humor, hope or advice. The best got posted on the fridge or someone wrote a little side note.
Sadly, as I tried to order this year, I learned Life’s Little Instructions would no longer be published. My personal gift giving tradition was ending.
I was about to let my disappointment and sadness rule the day when I changed the calendar to see this message: “Remember, the holidays don’t have to be perfect: just filled with family, friends, happiness and goodwill.”
Life’s Little Instructions, in this case, gets the best and very last word.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/6/21
Critical Race Theory is simply a way to learn about the past
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
Sometimes it feels like obituary writing and history writing are similar. Everyone has had experience reading the obituary of someone we knew – a friend, relative or co-worker. Many times, it’s a description of a life much different than the person you knew. The most painful parts, the sadness, are buried. You read it more than once and ask yourself, “Is this the same person I knew?”
Recent conversations about how and what history should be taught in schools seem to suggest that only the dreams and not the struggle, the successes and not the failures, should be included.
Across the country in school board meetings and races for school board seats, Critical Race Theory has become a buzzword – something most of us knew little about until now. The discussion has been fueled by conservative talk show hosts intending to spark outrage. Legislatures are passing laws to ban teaching Critical Race Theory even though it isn’t taught anywhere in the country in primary or secondary schools.
Allegations are made repeatedly that teaching difficult parts of history – discrimination against Black people or Latinos, slavery, the Holocaust – in classrooms is meant to make white kids feel bad or guilty.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, as the pandemic required sheltering at home, parents heard more from children about their studies. They learned kids want to know about racism and the effects on society, according to studies. They are eager to learn about slavery, the Holocaust, minority struggles.
To be clear, Critical Race Theory is a legal research framework that was founded 40 years ago to evaluate racial progress of African Americans. Black scholars were soon joined by Latino scholars who developed Latino CRT. Critical Race Theory is a way to talk openly about our history and how it influences our society and institutions today. It is a way to learn from the past.
New Mexico is fortunate to have talented people teaching the stories of both African American and Latino experience. Black studies, Chicano studies and Native American Studies were all born out of societal events in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In New Mexico student activism overcame early resistance and uncertainty about these studies, which in the end were a recognition of New Mexico’s diversity.
Margaret Montoya, a UNM law professor, authored a groundbreaking paper in 1995 using her own personal narrative about the segregation of Mexican and Anglo communities in Northern New Mexico. In her other teachings she explored the history of racism as it relates to Mexican Americans from Spanish conquest to present day.
Another Northern New Mexico native, Mari-Luci Jaramillo, ambassador to Honduras and the first Hispanic U. S. ambassador, described similar experiences of discrimination in her book, “The Shoemaker’s Daughter.”
Laura Gomez, a Roswell native, co-founded the Critical Race Studies program at UCLA Law School.
Dr. Charles Becknell Sr., who grew up in Hobbs, tells the story of our segregated community in the 1940s and 1950s. An educator, Becknell has devoted his life to raising awareness among students. At UNM he successfully established the Black Studies program to “open up the world of blackness” for students. He passed his legacy to his son Dr. Charles Becknell, Jr. who runs the program now called Africana Studies.
These are authentic New Mexico stories of segregation, discrimination, and success. We are fortunate to have these educators and activists teaching our history of race through the New Mexico experience.
They help us realize that stories of our communities are never complete unless you highlight the successes and recognize the failures. Just as in an obituary, to understand a life we must embrace them both.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/22/21
We still have many reasons to be thankful
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
This week, I decided to write about Thanksgiving and the many things for which we are thankful. It turned out to be a more perplexing task than anticipated. I wasn’t sure why. I have plenty of blessings to count, more than most in my view.
As we gather this year in person, as opposed to last year when we avoided family gatherings and travel, we still face perils of the pandemic and a sense of uncertainty. I began to write, and the challenges of COVID-19 and its many consequences, political strife, and changing ways of working kept popping up.
Then I was reminded of something written on the calendar at my daughter’s home. “There is always, always something to be thankful for.” And so, it is.
The first Thanksgiving was in 1621, a year after the Pilgrims arrived in America. They had experienced a long and painful year, and half of them had died due to illness. They gathered to celebrate their survival.
Throughout history, America and Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving in times of trial, war and peace, pandemics, and prosperity. This year is no different. We join to celebrate survival, family, and friends and to be grateful.
Like all Americans, I’m grateful for my family and friends. The renewed chance to safely gather with them to enjoy a feast, football, and some fun is heartwarming.
In the bigger picture, I’m grateful for the place I call home – from corner to corner – New Mexico. From the tiny villages, the ghost towns, my hometown, and our largest city, I’ve had a love affair with New Mexico my entire life.
I’m grateful for the diversity of cultures and colorful traditions that have graced our lives for centuries and that they are still alive today.
I’m grateful for the stunning sunrises and sunsets that open and close our days – and the big blue skies from southeast to northwest. The diverse landscapes of mountains to the plains adorned by sunflowers, evergreens or aspens, tumbleweeds, and the wispy grasses in our meadows.
I’m grateful for the running waters from the Rio Grande, the Pecos, the San Juan, to the unbridled Gila River and everything in between.
I relish those moments when I spot New Mexico wildlife in unexpected places: antelope, javelinas, sandhill cranes, deer, hummingbirds, coyotes, wild turkeys, roadrunners, mountain lions, to name just a few.
I’m increasingly grateful for those who seek to serve the public: elected officials, healthcare workers, frontline workers, volunteers at food banks and vaccination clinics, teachers, police, firefighters, and those who work to preserve our environment and our right to vote.
During these 20 months of shutdowns and caution, I’ve had a learning curve of gratitude for puzzles, a new pup, movies, letter writing, old neighbors who became new friends, and old friends newly connected.
I began to appreciate modern technology like Zoom for making human connections possible across the miles. We had meetings, birthday celebrations, virtual cocktail parties, baking classes, civic engagement, and virtual family reunions!
So, as we again gather for safe in-person reunions, I am reminded of these words written by singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter: “Grateful for each hand we hold gathered round this table. From far and near we travel home, blessed that we are able. Grateful for this sheltered place with light in every window saying “welcome, welcome, share this feast, come in away from the sorrow. Father, mother, daughter, son, neighbor, friend and friendless; all together in the gift of loving kindness.”
This year we gather away from the sorrow, our political strife, our fears. For one day we step back to be grateful. Counting our blessings. Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/8/21
They died for this? Voter turnout falls short of trailblazers’ hopes
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
The 2021 municipal elections around New Mexico are over. A few voters spoke, but most of them didn’t.
Voters went to the polls to elect mayors, councilors, school board members, and conservancy and water district representatives. Statewide voter turnout averaged 19.5%. With the state’s largest city’s turnout at 32%, that brings the average to 14.5% for communities outside of the metro area.
The accolades circulating about the record voter turnout for these elections doesn’t do justice to the long hard fight for the right to vote.
The preamble to the Constitution states, “All men are created equal.” Even then, some were more equal than others. Only free white men over 21who owned property were allowed to vote. By 1860 the property ownership provision was removed.
In the years that followed the fight continued for African Americans, women, Native Americans, non-English speakers, and those younger than 21. In 1869, following the brutal Civil War, a series of amendments passed, including the 15th Amendment which allowed black men to vote.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote came after 80 years of struggles. Although some states, including Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho, gave women the right to vote in state elections around 1890, it took another 30 years before Congress reached that milestone. In an expression of appreciation for women’s help in World War I they removed the legal obstacle to women voting by including this language: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”
Despite progress struggles remained. Once African Americans gained the right to vote many states worked intentionally to keep them from doing so. Poll taxes, literacy tests and intimidation were tactics states used to deny them their rights. Southern states included a “grandfather clause” which said you could only vote if your grandfather had voted, creating an impossible situation for those whose ancestors were slaves. This clause was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1915.
Native Americans faced their own unique obstacle.
The amendment giving African American men voting rights stated the right to vote “could not be denied because of race.” Native Americans, however, were still excluded because they were not citizens. It wasn’t until the Citizenship Act of 1924 admitted Native Americans born in the United States to full citizenship that they could vote.
The act left it up to states to decide who could vote, and it was two decades later before every state allowed them to vote. Even then, Native Americans were subject to the same obstacles African Americans faced: poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation at the polls.
Passage of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson and subsequent legislation in the 1970s removed these restrictions, and voters’ rights were strengthened. This included changing the voting age to 18 in 1971.
One can only imagine how those who fought for voting rights – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King Jr., and even the framers of the Constitution who believed in “the consent of the governed” would view what is happening today: Governors and legislators making it harder to voter, unsubstantiated voter fraud allegations, and the failure of 80% of eligible New Mexico voters to cast their vote at the most fundamental level – in local elections.
Those who protested, went to jail, and died to secure the right to vote – for everyone – must be reeling in their eternal resting places when we fail them so miserably.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/25/21
Don’t nationalize school board elections
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
Across New Mexico school board elections are in progress. Absentee and early voting are underway and Election Day is around the corner. And for the second time in state history school board elections are being held in combination with other non-partisan elections in most communities.
Beginning in 1912 when the state Constitution was drafted until 1969 school board elections were held at different times from other elections. Why? Because women were eligible voters in school board elections but still couldn’t vote in general elections. In 1920 the 19th Amendment passed, securing the right to vote for women. Nevertheless, the provision to have separate school board elections remained in New Mexico.
Thanks to retired Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, the late Rep. Jim Smith, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Daniel Ivey Soto, D-Albuquerque, that provision changed. In 2019 they authored and passed HB 98, the Local Election Act. HB 98 changed the law to allow nonpartisan elections such as mayor, council, school board, and conservancy districts to be held at the same time in uneven years. All partisan elections, such as U. S. Senate, governor, attorney general and others would be held in the even years.
These changes in HB 98, combining school board elections with mayoral races, city council races and local bond issues, have resulted in an increase in the number of votes cast in school board races. In 2019 when the bill was in effect for the first time, turnout for school board elections went from less than 10% to nearly 20% average statewide.
Something else is different this year. School board elections around the country and in New Mexico are being nationalized.
This year some candidates are running on sound bites that we hear in the national political dialogue. They make promises to defy mask and vaccine requirements or drop parts of history that make kids or parents uncomfortable. Some candidates openly ignore medical and scientific recommendations on how to keep kids safe and healthy.
In some places we have watched supporters or opponents of incumbents take on mob-like characteristics, shouting down meetings, using profanity, stalking board members. Mobs become a weapon of hate, anger and, occasionally, violence.
Let’s not let that happen in New Mexico. Let’s elect school board candidates who know the community and understand the job of a school board member. That job is hiring and firing the superintendent, creating and overseeing the budget, and passing smart policy to govern the district. Let’s support candidates who understand that a district focused on kids in the classrooms and their emotional and social wellbeing is a district that builds a productive workforce.
Who are the candidates in your district who are thinking ahead and not in the heated moment of national discourse? Which candidates for this volunteer job are thinking about curriculum that supplies learning tools and skills training to align to the jobs of the future? What candidates will vote to improve the pre-k programs for three- and four-year-old kids so they get the best possible start? And who are the candidates talking about school district policies that will keep and recruit teachers?
And while considering our choices, we should remember those running for school board positions are our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. School board members, although elected by the public, are unpaid volunteers. They give us time and energy away from their work and families. If chosen, they deserve respectful input, support or opposition -- not mob tactics.
It’s taken over 100 years to make sure every qualified person can vote in school board elections and to devise a system to attract more voters. Now the decision belongs to voters. If you haven’t voted early, go vote on Nov. 2. Don’t nationalize, localize.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/11/21
Leaders and followers in methane solutions
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
“In the west mid dark oil derricks, friendly flares to view.”
So began the Hobbs High School Song when I attended. Those words call up the image of the oil camp lit up by a flare. It signaled the entrance to Hobbs on the Carlsbad highway. Little did we know then that flares, venting and leaks from drilling were creating dangerous levels of air pollutants and threatening public health, wildlife and our big blue skies.
This past week concluded 10 days of daily eight-hour hearings before the state Environment Improvement Board. The subject: proposed regulations needed to control harmful pollution by oil and gas drilling. The state Environment Department (NMED) proposed new rules for regulating VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and methane. The Environment Improvement Board gets to decide what is included or excluded.
Today 62% of all VOCs and methane emissions are produced by the oil and gas industry. Regulating these toxic, deadly chemicals, along with methane emitted by leaks, vents and flares is within reach. That is NMED’s job – to protect communities from harmful, even toxic gases – in our air and water.
Independent oil producers, big corporate producers, individuals, and environmental coalitions testified throughout the hearings. From the testimony, rays of hope emerged to face the devastating impacts of VOCs and methane and the invisible enemy it has become for communities.
One source of hope is Occidental Petroleum, which is the second largest producer in the Permian Basin and one of the largest producers in New Mexico. Oxy showed true leadership in joining with environmental and community groups in a call for stronger NMED rules.
Some of the more powerful testimony came from members of Interfaith Power and Light. One member, Kayley Shoup, an organizer of Citizens Caring for Our Future in Carlsbad, testified in strong support of the new regulations.
Like me, Kayley grew up in the Permian Basin, and she knows and loves her hometown. I can only imagine the courage it took to step up and talk about the dangers of an industry in which her friends and neighbors work. But her goal is to secure the future of her community – improve health outcomes for her friends and neighbors, create jobs through innovative solutions to the problem, and protect the unique and beautiful surroundings in southeastern New Mexico. Amen!
This is a challenge in northwestern New Mexico as well. In the San Juan Basin (where I lived for seven years) leaky gas wells and intentional venting have created the largest methane hotspot in North America. Methane is invisible and dangerous. Hilcorp, a Houston- based private company and the largest gas producer in New Mexico is the number one methane polluter in the entire country. Instead of stepping up to lead like Oxy, Hilcorp’s out-of-state attorneys and local lobbyists continued to use false data about low pollution levels and manufactured safety concerns related to monitoring wells and completion techniques.
There were multiple calls for the Environmental Improvement Board and NMED to adopt regulations that mirror those in Colorado. Colorado has successfully implemented strong well completion rules (completions are a massive source of the deadly chemicals) with no industry objections. Direct expert testimony verified that completion rules are safe, and methane could be captured and sold to help mitigate any costs incurred.
Therein lies the key to industry support for stronger and more effective rules and monitoring – money. Convince operators, large and small, that there is something in it for them. Let’s stop trying to persuade them with the egalitarian notion that they will protect the community, drive down cancer and asthma rates, regenerate wildlife, and fight climate change.
Just remind them that recapturing rather than leaking and venting of these harmful gasses, can put money in their pockets – and once they pay for the cost of controls and effective monitoring – it’s all theirs.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/27/21
State creates early childhood and daycare system to meet modern workforce needs
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
One of my sweetest memories as a little girl was going to Mrs. Pennington’s Playschool in Hobbs. Even though it is among my earliest memories, I can still summon up the feeling of excitement. Going to play with other children, coloring, digging in the dirt, singing in a circle! Mrs. Pennington’s was more like Mother’s Day out for my mom (with three kids under age five) and others in a time when only about 32% of women were participants in the labor force. Mrs. Pennington loved us and loved what she was doing – all the while getting paid for it.
This was an affordable luxury for my mom and a way to catch her breath.
Today, quality childcare is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity. Until the pandemic, women made up more than 52% of the work force. In the last 70 years women have not only entered the workforce in greater numbers but have expanded their presence in almost every profession and occupation. Two-income families have increased dramatically, leading to an increased need for full-time childcare.
With the changes, increased demand, and fewer options, childcare has become expensive and unaffordable. And for years, childcare has been undervalued. In New Mexico we have a chance to remedy this and pay attention to the most critical time in kids’ lives – the first five years.
Thanks to the Legislature, the American Rescue package, and the proposed passage of the Reconciliation Act, we can focus on necessary elements to improve childcare and early education. That includes quality and affordability for childcare, additional money for pre-K, expanded workforce training, and professional development and expansion of home visiting for families with young children.
Addressing these issues will strengthen and grow the mixed-delivery model of public and private centers that works for New Mexico. We have the tools to build what we need.
In 2019 the Legislature created the Early Education and Care Department with a small $1 million appropriation for startup. Money could be focused on services to jumpstart kids and families, and to prepare them for a successful educational journey. Prevention and preparation versus intervention in later years was the goal.
In 2020 Rep. Doreen Gallegos,(D-Las Cruces, spearheaded and passed with support of Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the establishment of the Early Education Trust Fund with a $300 million appropriation. According to Legislative Finance Committee projections, the fund will grow to $1.5 billion over the next two years and $2.3 billion or more in five years.
Add to that the $435 million received from the American Rescue package, and the additional money in the Build Back Better reconciliation package – we have the money.
What will this money do? Where will it go?
No family will spend more than 7% of their income on childcare, making it affordable. Money for training the workforce will go to New Mexico’s community colleges and four-year universities offering associates and four-year degrees. Innovative Projects like the Wonder School that offer back-office support, technical and business support, will be more readily available to the 600-plus childcare centers, family group homes, and other providers. Money for bricks and mortar to build capacity is there too.
And most importantly, money will be available to create pay equity across the public-private system of care, helping to recruit the 6,000 additional workers.
We can recruit people like Mrs. Pennington who want to give kids the love, quality care, early learning skills, and a safe place – if they can earn good wages. I believe there are lots of eager Mrs. Penningtons out there watching and waiting for it to happen.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/13/21
Broadband improvements can't come too soon
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
Do you know the 1-800 number of your internet provider by heart? Can you recite the automated message ("It looks like there is an outage in your area") in your sleep? Have you spent hours on the phone with technical assistance representatives from Indonesia, Jamaica, or other locations, sometimes being placed on what’s known as “a brief hold” that lasts for 20 to 30 minutes?
If you answered yes, chances are you live somewhere in rural New Mexico. A place where high-speed internet is a dream, and most just hope for any kind of internet service on a good day.
In my experience in Sierra County, it’s always a roll of the dice if our provider, Windstream/Kinetic, will be available at all. On bad days you can’t even call 911 because Windstream also provides landline service. And the lack of reliable internet service made remote learning almost impossible for some kids who lived in rural Sierra County during the pandemic.
It all began three months ago when a modem in our getaway house in Hillsboro died after 10 years. This prevented me from kicking back and doing things such as researching and writing for this column. After five hours of phone time and two non-working modems supplied by Windstream that didn’t work, I resorted to eBay. I bought a used modem just like the one that died. It worked. By then, Windstream had agreed to send a technician, local and knowledgeable, from T or C. He called me prior to departing and told me I had solved my problem with my eBay purchase, for now.
While pulling my hair out during this experience I thought about these questions: Can we promise rural communities economic development opportunities without high-speed internet? Can location-based employment for those who want to live rural and work remotely succeed without reliable connectivity? Can internet reliability be addressed by out-of-state companies with little knowledge of New Mexico?
Not a chance.
As of 2010 New Mexico had 100 incorporated cities, town and villages. (Hillsboro is not incorporated.) Only 19 had populations of 10,000 or more, and 35 had fewer than 1,000 people. Everything else falls somewhere in between, and nothing will change much in the 2020 census. Rural NM is resilient, but reliable connectivity for small communities is a key to survival.
Thanks to the pandemic, the need for remote work for many, remote school for kids, remote medical advice, remote therapies, and remote shopping, broadband issues grew from urgent to acute. Broadband legislation, some presented earlier, became a priority.
Two legislators, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, joined to pass SB 93 and HB 10. SB 93 creates the Office of Broadband Access, and HB 10 establishes an infrastructure grant funding mechanism and oversight for the $130 million allocated to the bill. Best news of all, the $130 million can be leveraged with federal FCC funds and other money in the current infrastructure bill to create close to $1 billion in funding. Added benefits in SB 93 are technical assistance and design and implementation guidance.
Don’t get me wrong. A few utilities in New Mexico like Kit Carson Electric Co-Op have been modeling fiberoptic network buildout and better broadband connectivity for years -- a great example of what it means to have local companies doing local work creating local jobs.
But there needs to be more, and these new tools and money can expand broadband to help prepare rural communities for the new era of remote work and learning. I’m optimistic, but in the meantime, I’ll keep that 1-800 number handy.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/30/21
Vaccine, mask protests have consequences
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, the governor’s mask mandate for schools has caused a loud and probably unnecessary dust up.
In Floyd (population 133), located in Roosevelt County, which has the lowest vaccination rates in New Mexico, the Floyd School Board twice voted not to comply with the governor’s statewide mask mandate for public schools. The board fired their superintendent when he refused to comply with the board’s decision because it would violate the law.
The state Public Education Department (PED) took over the school district, suspended the board, reinstated the superintendent, and appointed former Las Cruces superintendent Stan Rounds as a one-man school board. PED has since filed a lawsuit asking the court to validate its actions.
Sound like a complicated process? That’s because it is, and it’s about to get more so.
An amended public health order, which took effect August 20, requires all school workers, paid and unpaid, to provide proof of vaccination and, if unwilling, provide weekly negative COVID tests. In addition, unvaccinated school workers must be always masked unless they provide instruction by a doctor directing otherwise.
While Floyd’s defiance has been more public, a variety of other protests have been reported in Lea, Eddy, and Chaves counties – perhaps in Curry as well, where students have enrolled in Texas schools to avoid remote learning, mask and vaccination requirements. In the private and public sectors folks threaten to quit their jobs rather than meet their employers’ or the state’s mandatory mask and vaccination requirements.
All of this has consequences.
COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing. Local schools lose money every time a family decides to enroll their kids across the state line. Hospitals are at capacity, healthcare workers are exhausted, our neighbors are dying, and others will have long-term health problems.
In New Mexico, as elsewhere, everyone has someone to blame -- kids who go to school in Texas where no protections are in place and bring the virus back; tourists from Texas in Santa Fe, Taos, Elephant Butte and other spots who don’t have to comply with any safeguards at home and refuse to do so here; immigrants crossing the border (processing centers have lower positive rates than most counties); and local elected leaders’ failure to encourage face coverings, vaccinations or other safeguards.
Add to that, it’s county fair time!
Recently the largest surge of cases in Lea County came after the fair when positive cases began consistently topping 100 per day to over 200 on some days. While Lea County has always taken pride in having the state’s largest county fair where everyone can have a good time, this year that comes with a new burden – the spread of COVID-19.
So yes, there is plenty of finger pointing going on. Not to mention the many excuses we hear about why folks won’t wear masks or get vaccinated.
Yes, it’s complicated. Or is it? Perhaps we are just making excuses for not adhering to the limited restrictions that have challenged and exhausted us and at the same time have proven to work. Is it as complicated as some like to make it – board vs. state, superintendent vs. board, Republicans vs. Democrat, proven data vs. misinformation? I think not.
The chain of events in Floyd underscores this: It’s only as complicated as we make it. The truth is simple and now almost indisputable. Stopping COVID-19 means getting vaccinated and wearing masks until infections are significantly reduced or negligible. Stopping COVID-19 is on all of us. It’s time to stop the blame and excuses and do your part.
Ojito Wilderness (Sherry Robinson photo)