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COLUMN Gov. Lujan Grisham: Not anywhere close to opening state’s economy

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Editor’s Note: The following column was issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday and ran in Thursday’s News-Sun.

Right now, America faces greater economic pain than at any time since the Great Depression. Tens of millions of people have applied for unemployment — including tens of thousands here in New Mexico — and millions more face profound uncertainty about how they will support themselves and their families in the months ahead.

Given this extraordinary strain, it is understandable many wonder when we can get back to work. In recent weeks, the debate between reopening the economy and protecting public health has dominated our national conversation.

Unfortunately, this is a false choice.

The surest way to efficiently reopen our economy is to effectively combat and ultimately defeat this virus.

No one is more eager than I am to lift our stay-at-home orders and declare New Mexico open for business. But as public health experts remind us, we are not anywhere close to that point. If we open too soon, three things will happen in rapid succession.

First, many more people will get sick — and some will die. Second, our health care system will be overwhelmed. And third, we will likely be forced to close down again.

In other words, opening prematurely means exposing many more New Mexicans to risk — and extending our economic pain. It also means dishonoring the thousands of doctors, nurses, and other essential personnel who are putting their lives on the line every day for their fellow New Mexicans. Reopening too quickly means sacrificing many of the things we care about most — and gaining little in return.

We have to see this crisis through until it’s genuinely safe to reopen. And while we can’t pinpoint an exact date, and while my administration is actively working on a plan for how that might take place and what it might look like, our public health experts have offered some guidelines. We have to continue using physical distancing to slow the spread, test as widely as possible, isolate people who have tested positive and give our health care system time to stand up resources and facilities to contain COVID-19 over the long term. And of course, we must support efforts to find a vaccine.

As we do these things to quicken our timeline to the other side, as we plan for a likely reopening in stages, not all at once, we also have to continue to care for one another. We already knew that New Mexicans are resilient, but this crisis has brought out the best in our state. That includes grocery workers, food banks, mutual aid societies, and community organizations ensuring their neighbors have food. It includes businesses who have transformed their operations to produce badly-needed face coverings. And it includes everyone who has adjusted to the challenges of physical distancing in order to keep their fellow New Mexicans safe.

This crisis has reminded us of a deep truth: we’re all in this together, and we will get through this together.

And when the dust settles, we will act from that same spirit, tapping New Mexico’s enormous reserves of creativity and compassion to build a better, more resilient economy, a remade and whole state, safe and healthy and more prosperous than ever before.

Michelle Lujan Grisham is the governor of New Mexico, elected in 2018.

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