Friday’s announcement that New Mexico will be entering a second full-bore lockdown was warmly received by politicians, pundits, and residents who agree with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s claim that the state is “at the breaking point.”
For those who understand the malignant unintended consequences of excessive COVID-19 controls, the news was nothing to celebrate.
In March, as COVID-19 began to spread throughout America and governments implemented strategies that officials claimed would “protect public-health,” David L. Katz, a liberal activist and physician who is president of True Health Initiative and the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, expressed a perspective that few were bold enough to voice:
I am deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life -- schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned -- will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself. The stock market will bounce back in time, but many businesses never will. The unemployment, impoverishment and despair likely to result will be public health scourges of the first order.
Eight months later, the Lujan Grisham administration has offered no evidence that it has a plan for -- or even a cursory awareness of -- Katz’s worries.
The obvious metric that best illustrates the wreckage wrought by New Mexico’s lockdown is employment (see below). In the pre-virus months of the Trump presidency, the state’s net job growth was 39,594. (Far in excess, it’s worth noting, of the 15,828 positions created during the final 37 months of the Obama administration.) The economy was strong, and New Mexico’s all-time employment peaked at 915,799 in February 2020. During the following seven months, as economic and personal freedoms were severely curtailed, a net loss of 53,033 jobs occurred.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Even accepting the federal government’s optimistic -- if preliminary -- finding that New Mexico net employment growth between August and September was an impressive 68,015, more recent data indicate that before Lujan Grisham’s Lockdown 2.0, there was cause for pessimism. On November 12th, Santa Fe’s daily newspaper reported that during “the week of Nov. 9,” unemployment-benefits “claimants statewide grew by 225 to 106,124.”
At 9.4 percent, New Mexico’s unemployment rate is the eighth-worst in the U.S. As the chart below reveals, each of the state’s neighbors has a lower (in some cases, significantly lower) rate.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Defenders of Lujan Grisham’s public-health orders have little regard for these data, brushing them aside with the shibboleth “lives matter more than the economy.” But their retort is, and always has been, facile. The choice isn’t between lives and the economy -- it’s between the possibility of saving some lives and the certainty of destroying others.
As far back of the 1980s, researchers knew that “symptoms of somatization, depression, and anxiety were significantly greater in the unemployed.” A 2013 analysis by The Urban Institute, a leftist think tank, concluded:
Being out of work for six months or more is associated with lower well-being among the long-term unemployed, their families, and their communities. Each week out of work means more lost income. The long-term unemployed also tend to earn less once they find new jobs. They tend to be in poorer health and have children with worse academic performance than similar workers who avoided unemployment. Communities with a higher share of long-term unemployed workers also tend to have higher rates of crime and violence.
Family fragmentation is another problem exacerbated by the Lujan Grisham administration’s preference for virtue-signaling over fact-focused policymaking. For example, only “a month after the onset of COVID-19,” one Las Cruces nonprofit experienced “a nearly 100 percent increase in the demand for shelter for domestic violence victims.” With so many households afflicted with financial woes, the state’s divorce rate is likely to spike. A 2018 survey by Ramsey Solutions found that “money fights are the second leading cause of divorce.” And as summarized in a 2012 article in the peer-reviewed Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, when compared to “their married counterparts,” the divorced have “higher levels of psychological distress, substance abuse, and depression, as well as lower levels of overall health,” with “[m]arital conflict and divorce” having shown “to be associated with negative child outcomes including lower academic success … poorer psychological well-being … and increased depression and anxiety.”
While the official data will not be available for some time, there is strong anecdotal evidence that suicide has been on the rise in New Mexico this year. Two months ago, an article in the Albuquerque Journal documented that “there have been 11 suicides in [Farmington, New Mexico], compared with four during the same period in 2019.”
Children kept from in-school instruction are additional victims of COVID-19 policy errors. According to the Legislative Finance Committee, fresh “projections from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes suggest the spring 2020 school closures could have cost New Mexico students an estimated four months to more than a year of learning -- an even steeper loss than a national study based on the same data predicted this spring.” Figures from Santa Fe Public Schools, which “had 38.2 percent of students from third grade through the 12th grade fail one or more subject or classes to start the school year -- a 15.6 percent increase from the opening quarter of 2019-20,” support the evaluation.
Yet no “schools or districts currently in the remote learning mode will be able to move to the hybrid mode for the duration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’ [sic] new public health order,” despite the state’s own mortality data (below) showing that not a single New Mexican aged 17 or under has died from COVID-19.
Source: New Mexico COVID-19 Mortality Update, November 9th 2020
Even before the pandemic, social isolation (the objective state of having few social relationships) and loneliness (the subjective feeling of isolation) were considered serious health risks for older Americans.
A body of evidence shows that these factors significantly increase a person’s risk of mortality from all causes, potentially rivaling the risks of smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Social isolation and loneliness are also associated with higher rates of clinically significant depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
But there is more than mental health at stake. Isolation and loneliness are associated with a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia, a 32 percent increased risk of stroke, and a nearly fourfold increased risk of death among heart failure patients, according to separate studies. With 43 percent of adults age 60-plus in the U.S. reporting feeling lonely, the rates of social isolation and loneliness were already at the level of “a public health crisis.”
COVID-19 is not a hoax, and far too many New Mexicans have succumbed to the disease. (Although dying with SARS-CoV-2 is hardly the same as dying from it, so it’s not at all clear that the 1,215 “total deaths” claimed by the state is even remotely accurate.) But by doubling down on a strategy that has obviously failed to stop significant spread of the novel coronavirus, Lujan Grisham has guaranteed that the baleful side effects of her prior obtuseness will worsen. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, divorce, suicide, inadequate learning, heart attack, stroke, and dementia.