At the beginning of September, a man named Mac Robinson stumbled into a small rural hospital in Clifton, Texas, about 25 miles northwest of Waco. This week Robinson was back to thank the ER there for saving his life. Not because they gave him the care he needed when COVID-19 brought him near death, but because they sent him 600 miles away, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the overwhelmed staff at Clifton’s tiny hospital was finally able to locate an ICU bed.
As KWTX reports, when Robinson became too ill for a regular bed at rural Goodall Witcher Hospital, the staff got on the phone, looking for an ICU that had the necessary skill and equipment to deal with a man on the brink of losing his life. That staff “spent days calling hospitals around Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana” without success.
The chief nurse at Goodall Witcher made the same plea to hospitals across the region. “Please help me save a life today. This is a man who is dearly loved by his family. He really needs somebody to help him. Please help me help him.” It’s a touching statement, but it’s also true of almost everyone who is hospitalized with COVID-19, or any other disease. Few people want to die. Almost everyone has family or friends desperate to see them survive.
But getting Robinson help meant sending him to a place where the rules were different. To a state where a Democratic governor reimplemented an indoor mask mandate in August, and just extended that mandate to October. A state where, as a direct result of policies implemented to protect the citizens rather than boost someone’s chances in the 2024 Republican primary, the rate of new cases is less than half those in Texas.
Michelle Lujan Grisham is the first Latina from the Democratic Party to be elected governor anywhere in America. A 12th-generation New Mexican, Lujan Grisham’s list of executive orders stands in sharp contrast to those of Gov. Greg Abbott in the state to the east.
The orders from Grisham have directly addressed climate change, habitat loss, and the sovereignty of Tribal lands with a plan that would would see literally half the state conserved for environmental purposes. She’s taken steps to move the state away from standardized testing and find measures of educational merit that aren’t saddled with racial and cultural bias. But what’s most obvious in looking at those orders is that, again and again, Lujan Grisham has made the right move in protecting her state. Whether that means limiting social gatherings, issuing a shelter-in-place order in the early days of the pandemic, or instituting mask mandates when recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lujan Grisham hasn’t shied away from taking action, even when it meant facing protests. It probably doesn’t hurt that before becoming governor, Lujan Grisham served as the state’s secretary of health.
On the other hand, Abbott is still out there fighting to prevent schools from mandating masks, and attacking President Joe Biden for requiring either vaccination or testing at large companies.
As a direct result of these differing policies, when looking at cases of COVID-19 over the last seven days, Texas and New Mexico are at nearly opposite ends of the scale. Even then, it’s worth noting that Texas is one step down from the top—not because things have gotten better in the last week, but because some other Republican governors have managed to make their states spectacularly worse. (Looking at you, Bill Lee.)
Not only are the rates of new cases in New Mexico much lower than in Texas, the rate of positive tests also less than half—a good indication that New Mexico is catching and identifying most of its cases, while Texas simply is not.
In that original story about Robinson, the Texas husband and father woke up a week later in an Albuquerque hospital, where the level of hospital utilization by COVID-19 patients is a small fraction of that in Texas cities. In fact, hospitalization in New Mexico is much better than even the difference in cases between New Mexico and Texas. It’s not hard to figure out why that would be.
The rate of vaccination in New Mexico is fully 12% higher than that in Texas, making it one of the most vaccinated states.
Because Abbott values his spot in the GOP primary more than the lives of Texas citizens, Texas hospitals are full. Because Lujan Grisham recognizes that her job is defined by how well she cares for the people in her state, a bed for Robinson was waiting in Albuquerque.
And it says something that the KWTX story about Robinson mentions none of this. It doesn’t mention vaccination. It doesn’t mention masks. It doesn’t mention Abbott. It doesn’t mention Lujan Grisham.
When it comes to the end of the event, Robinson didn’t travel to Albuquerque to thank the people there. He thanked the people at his local hospital. Which is … just about perfect in encapsulating everything that’s happened in the last two years.