Some Las Cruces health care workers call out from work in protest of vaccine mandate

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) — On Wednesday, health care workers stood on the corner of Picacho Avenue and Main Street in Las Cruces to protest a vaccine mandate issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Aug. 17.

Many of the workers called out from work on Wednesday and will call out on Thursday. The mandate requires all health care workers in the state to be vaccinated and those who are not must receive their first dose by Friday. A second dose must be received within 40 days of the order.

Holding a sign that read, “From Hero to Zero,” Las Cruces respiratory therapist Shelby Howard said she worked with COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic but may be out of a job as she does not want to get the vaccine.

“I may have to quit my job and go outside of health care. I’m hoping that the governor will drop the mandate. I’m going to apply for exemptions for my cardiac condition and if that goes through if not I’m not going to have a job,” Howard said. “We’re tired. We’re exhausted. We know COVID is real, but why are you making it mandatory just for us?”

Registered nurse Jennifer De La Paz said she is vaccinated but came out to show support for her colleagues, explaining that they need all the nurses to help treat patients.

“(There are beds) that are open but cannot be utilized because they don’t have nurses for them,” De La Paz said. “We are suffering a nursing shortage and this is only going to make it worse.”

A speech therapist and physical therapist assistant joined the protest, telling KTSM 9 News they expect to lose their jobs because they do not want to get vaccinated.

“We are going to be fired because we do not have the vaccine. We do agree with the vaccine but we want to have a choice,” said Diana Hall, a Las Cruces speech-language pathologist.

Amanda Lewis, a Las Cruces physical therapist assistant, said she feels as though she’s being left behind when her work is so valuable.

“A lot of us did catch COVID at that time and thankfully we survived,” she said. “We came back and now it’s disheartening to know that we were needed then and now were just disposable.”

On Wednesday, New Mexico Cabinet Secretary for Health and Human Services Department David Scrase spoke about the vaccine mandate during a COVID-19 vaccine update.

“Health care personnel have some of the highest rates of COVID cases in the country among all types of workers,” he said. “It does make sense because many of these folks are exposed to COVID every day but they sometimes acquire COVID outside of the workplace as well.”

Scrase said he has heard negative feedback from people about the mandate for health care workers.

“Just so you all know, hospitals across the county, the world, require a fairly long series of vaccines for all hospital workers,” he said.

NM Stands Up, a crowdfunded legal service for New Mexicans who disagree with the state mandate, plans to send a cease-and-desist letter.

The letters were available for health care workers at Wednesday’s protest. One of the organizers of the protest, Sarah Smith with the New Mexico Freedoms Alliance, said that the health care workers can take the letter to their employers.

“The health care workers can give this letter to their employers and also they can use this as a way to explain the situation,” she said.

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