It’s the good news/bad news litany we’ve become accustomed to as the coronavirus and responses to it grind on.
First, the good news. New Mexicans operating under emergency orders issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham – some of the toughest in the nation – continue to drive down the number of infections and limit the spread of COVID-19. Statewide COVID hospitalizations as of Monday had fallen to 65 – an important metric, because much of the lockdown was predicated on the need to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed. It is a deadly virus. The state has recorded about 24,000 cases and 745 deaths – tragic, yet good news compared with many other places. Now, for a round of bad news.
As reported by the Journal’s Rick Nathanson on Monday, nearly half of the state-licensed child care programs in New Mexico have closed, some of them permanently, due to plummeting enrollment during the pandemic.
Some parents are sheltering their children at home, fearing exposure; some are working from home so they don’t need child care; others have lost their jobs and no longer need or can afford child care. Crystal Tapia, treasurer of the New Mexico Child Care and Education Association, says the number of child care spaces statewide has dropped to 32,850, from 65,692 before the pandemic.
The industry, which employed about 14,000 people, also faced additional safety-related expenses such as smaller class ratios and enhanced cleaning. Industry representatives say adding to their woes locally are Albuquerque’s expanded full-day youth programs that in some cases compete with private providers. (It’s more good news/bad news as the city program is welcomed by many parents wanting to get back to work as schools remain closed for in-person learning.)
“Despite the key role child care providers are playing in support of other essential businesses during the COVID crisis, the child care system as a whole is at risk of collapse,” association President Angela Garcia says.
High-quality, licensed child care is a key component of education and a healthy economy. Helping it recover should be a priority for the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department.
In a related development in the bad news category, New Mexico’s jobless rate hit 12.7% in July (13.1% in Albuquerque). The hospitality-leisure sector was hit hardest, with more than 25,000 jobs lost. That’s not surprising, given no indoor dining in restaurants – we are one of three states with that ban – and a rule that many visiting the state quarantine for 14 days.
Meanwhile, the personal finance website WalletHub ranked New Mexico 48th nationally in the rate of unemployment claims recovery from COVID-19. WalletHub predicts another jump in unemployment if schools provide only remote learning. “Forcing parents to stay home could be especially devastating financially for single-parent households,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez says.
The next chapter in the good news/bad news saga will roll out this week. The governor’s current health order expires Friday, and her administration has made it clear any reopening will be slow. Dr. David Scrase, her key adviser on COVID, says, “We believe we have room to do a little more reopening. And I want to emphasize ‘a little.’”
The state has met all gating criteria for reopening, and it appears most New Mexicans are abiding by the important health instructions of wearing masks and social distancing. Isn’t it time for a little more good news and a slow reopening to mitigate damage inflicted on the hardest-hit industries – and the tens of thousands who work in them?
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.