Commentary: For the sake of student-athletes, New Mexicans must mitigate COVID-19, now

Matt Hollinshead,
Kirtland Central celebrates winning a point against Navajo Prep during a volleyball match on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 at the Eagles Nest in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Do you need game-changing motivation to practice the public health guidelines and limit the number of times you leave home? Do it for New Mexico’s high school athletes, who will be without sports until at least January 2021.

These kids are paying a steep price, all because some New Mexicans aren’t fully taking heed of the public health guidelines in combating COVID-19.

Since Labor Day weekend, there have been reports of some residents having outdoor get-togethers with others and not wearing face coverings. Between Sept. 24 and Saturday, 4,735 New Mexicans tested positive for COVID-19, according to New Mexico Department of Health data.

The alarming part of that particular span is that it accounts for 14.47% of the state’s total number of positive cases of 32,722 through Saturday — capped by nearly 1,000 combined positive cases between Friday and Saturday.

Although the Four Corners has fared well in recent months, San Juan County is slowly creeping back into the double digits for daily case counts, logging 10 days with 10 or more cases between Sept. 22 and Saturday.

NMDOH COVID-19 data highlighting a family gathering, shown here during Thursday’s televised press conference.

Other places, like Albuquerque, Las Cruces and the Southeast, are still trending in the wrong direction.

The decision to postpone sports for at least a couple of more months was foreseeable, because the data shows adolescents and teens are also susceptible to contracting COVID-19.

Of the total statewide cases, 3,622 of those positive cases are from the 10 to 19 age range. Additionally, there’s the risk of potentially exposing their parents and grandparents because the kids are home more often — with online and hybrid learning now the norm.

NMDOH data showing COVID-19 test positivity rates among children, shown here during Thursday’s televised press conference.

High school athletes are taking precautions by staying within 10-person pods during limited noncontact practices and wearing masks around others.

But outside of school and sports, they’re out in public like the rest of us, including those in the 20 to 59 age range. That age range totaled 21,799 positive cases in New Mexico through Saturday.

For many New Mexico student-athletes, sports drive them to graduate high school. Sports are also their ticket to college and a more promising future.

And with New Mexico’s high school graduation rates at just 74%, according to data from the 2020 U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, that makes sports an even more critical element.

The New Mexico Activities Association will announce its most up-to-date tentative sports calendar later this week, so now is the time to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to ensure these high school athletes get the OK to start up sports as early as January 2021.

The entire 2020-2021 sports season could’ve been canceled altogether, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham didn’t go that far.

It’s understandable that the guidelines are draining and inconvenient, but they’re necessary to bring down the number of new daily cases. Ultimately, that’s what it’ll take to get student-athletes back onto the playing field or court.

And once the seven-day rolling averages reach a manageable level, such as the state’s previously set goal of 168, it’s imperative to keep those numbers that way, if not lower.

New Mexico has a solid two and a half months to accomplish that feat for these student-athletes.

For the sake of these kids, whether you have any connection to the athletic programs or not, please, please wear a face covering, practice adequate social distancing and hand-washing habits and stay home.

For the sake of these kids, don’t let up when things start turning around for the better.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: