Sunday, May 31, 2020

On the Road: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 22: Into New Mexico

COVID signage outside Walmart. Las Cruces, New Mexico. May 2020.

After leaving Tucson, I headed east on I-10.

In addition to the Welcome to New Mexico border sign, there was another, emblazoned on a giant LED board, which I remember as:

Face coverings must be worn in public settings.

(When, oh when, will I learn to stop and take photos of these documentary things?)

I already knew that New Mexico took COVID protections more seriously than Arizona. The signage impressed me right off, not only for its literal message to inform travelers, but for the sign's implied message: We walk our talk about our concern for your health.

My experience in Tucson was that stores took COVID seriously: plexiglass barriers between cashiers and customers, sanitized shopping carts, and eventually, cashiers routinely wearing masks. But the percentage of Tucsonans wearing masks while shopping was slow to rise as COVID unfolded, and at best, I estimate only a 70% mask-wearing rate at its peak.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, mask wearing is de rigeur. When I entered the above Walmart, everyone wore a mask except for one scofflaw dad and his under-the-age-of-informed-consent daughter.

I stayed in a Las Cruces motel for three nights. COVID constraints closed the indoor pool, prohibited visitors to motel guests, and required masks in the lobby. This felt reassuring. 

I met with friends in Las Cruces.

In one case, a friend and I met outside only, in a covered breezeway, with 15 or so feet between us. In another case, we met indoors and maskless, but with at least 10 feet between us.  In the third case, we met inside, maskless - most of the time with at least six feet between us, but for a brief time, we sat together at a dining table for lunch.

No hugs, no handshakes.

A level of confidence among all of us that we'd each practiced pretty-safe behaviors before meeting up.

If I were to apply a sexual-encounter analogy, I'd say the three personal meetings - in their aggregate - were similar to using a condom: pretty darn good protection against infection, but not without risk, and certainly not the 100% protection that abstinence brings.

Gosh, it was good to see some folks face to face!

And a rueful shout-out to my El Paso friend and treasured role model, who I couldn't meet while in the area.   :-(

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