One year ago, everything changed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 205 new cases of COVID-19 on March 12 in the United States. It was the calm before the storm: Within a month, and as states locked down, new cases peaked at well over 20,000 a day, and by December, we were recording 200,000 new cases a day.
Our perspective – literally and metaphorically – changed as we learned to cope with life in a pandemic. Learning looks different when “classrooms” include kitchen tables, home offices and cars outside a Wi-Fi hotspot. Our frontline workers have a great selection of parking spots, but the campus still feels empty. Zoom meetings have become the norm, and kids, pets, significant others, bookshelves or fancy pictures stroll around behind us, lurk in the background, or sometimes take the center spot in the foreground.
It is an amazing testament to the power of human ingenuity that we now consider coming back together. It was the result of scientific inquiry that created and produced safe and effective vaccines. The challenges of the past year made us rethink everything, and as we move forward, we can assemble the best from our pre-pandemic lives and our pandemic experience to shape a better post-pandemic future. How will we use technologies to learn better? How do we reach new people? Who needs to be on campus to do their work? What do we need to do for students, faculty and staff to work seamlessly regardless of place?
The most important characteristic to recreate from pre-pandemic existence is our vibrant campus, filled with the energy of shared learning, ideas and experiences. Our community can survive online, but it thrives when students and faculty gather in learning spaces to dialogue and share knowledge, ideas, creativity and discoveries. We need the serendipity of chance conversations and the synergy of being greater together than when we are apart.
We are getting there. Since the widespread distribution of vaccines began in January, the drop in new COVID-19 cases and deaths has been astonishing in the U.S. New Mexico is doing especially well in vaccine distribution, with 27% of the population receiving at least one dose, compared to 19% for the US in its entirety. At CovidActNow, New Mexico has moved away from the “severe outbreak” category to at “risk of outbreak,” and if current trends hold, we will move to an even lower risk level soon. Doña Ana County just moved from red status to yellow as determined by the New Mexico Department of Health, which means that Aggie athletics can return to campus and students can dine inside at the Taos Cafeteria!
There are two things that every Aggie can do to help us sustain this progress.
- Keep using COVID-safe practices anytime you are outside of your quarantine pod. Not only is it too early to put away masks, but New Mexico Public Health Orders mandating safe practices are still in effect.
- Register today for a vaccine, online or by phone at 1-855-600-3453. If you are already registered or have been vaccinated, use your experience to help others with their vaccine concerns. You can make a difference: Following a recent conversation I had with a hesitant coworker, she registered for a vaccine and received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine just today.
We will continue this conversation at Tuesday’s town hall at 3 p.m. It will feature information about COVID-19 and vaccines. We will also discuss how to talk with others about vaccine benefits. The following experts from our faculty will join the conversation: Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, professor of public health sciences; Dr. Jon Boren, associate dean and director of Cooperative Extension Service; Dr. Ivan De La Rosa, associate professor of social work; and Dr. Kathryn Hanley, Regent’s Professor of biology. Submit your questions in advance, and join us on Zoom or Panopto.
Feedback is always welcomed at President.Floros@nmsu.edu.
Be Bold. Be Kind. Be Safe.