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Four Years of COVID — and Counting

A surgical mask on top of a fabric with a colorful abstract pattern.

March 11 snuck up on me a bit this year. The date has been seared into my brain since 2020, when what we used to call the novel coronavirus swept into New Mexico with the first confirmed case.

For the next couple of years, as COVID-19 ravaged New Mexico and the rest of the nation, I frequently recalled the date in conversations with friends and family, in news stories I wrote and edited and in marking the kaleidoscopic fashion in which days, weeks and months seem to pass in these, the aftertimes.

In late February, March 11 snapped back into my mind as I was planning show topics with New Mexico in Focus Senior Producer Lou DiVizio. “We need to do something on COVID,” came the obvious conclusion. “It’s been four years.”
Among the planning conversations we had was one with my old friend Heath Haussamen, a longtime Las Cruces-based journalist who has struggled hard and publicly with Long COVID for years now. Heath was gracious and thoughtful in helping me sort through the points we needed to hit on the show. And when it came time talk about potential guests, he reminded me that Santa Fe-based public defender Jennifer Burrill has stayed at the front of the conversation about the pandemic — as so many others have tried to forget — and that she, too, has suffered with Long COVID.
I recalled that Jenn was one of, if not the first person to raise her hand in New Mexico and say she’d tested positive for the virus back in March of 2020. I was working at the Santa Fe Reporter then, and she did so in an interview with me. Some of Jenn’s concerns about our health systems’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities — and her predictions about what would happen to incarcerated people as the pandemic worsened — turned out to be spot-on. 

Jenn was a perfect guest to help take stock of the last four years on this week’s show, and we are grateful for her perspective. And we could not have imagined having this conversation on air without Michael Bird, former president of the American Public Health Association and a frequent contributor of wisdom and grace on New Mexico in Focus.  

“The pandemic is not over” has become a hashtag and another wedge in America’s maddening, endless debate over what color the sky is. It is blue, and the pandemic is not over. People are still getting sick, going to the hospital and dying; we’ve just chosen, as a society, to live with the virus. There are many reasons for this, some of which Jenn, Michael and I explored on the show.  

We also talked about Long COVID and dug into a question that has troubled me for two years or more: What are we doing, if anything, to reckon with the deep, collective scar we all now bear having lived through all that’s come since the beforetimes? 

Reckoning is one thing; healing another. There’s work to do, and I hope New Mexico in Focus can be a place to at least continue

-Jeff Proctor Executive Producer