ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Watching a sporting event on the television is one thing. Still, many New Mexicans miss that feeling of being part of the crowd, cheering on their team, and participating in events. With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout well underway, people are wondering when might life start to return to some semblance of normal.

Whether it’s packing The Pit to watch the Lobos, going wild at a New Mexico United match, or relaxing at an Isotopes game, New Mexico sports fans are still longing for those days to return. “You can get your fix on television a little bit,” said John Traub, General Manager for the Albuquerque Isotopes.

“I think what I miss, and I think what this community misses, is coming out to the ballpark and enjoying time with their family and friends, and really enjoying something that’s become part of the fabric of their community,” said Traub. “Obviously it’s taken a back seat over the last year and everybody’s having to adjust.”

Empty Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park

Traub has spent the past year planning for every possible outcome. The entire 2020 Isotopes season was canceled in the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, Major League Baseball announced the minor league season will start on time in April. However, like everyone else, Traub is waiting to see what New Mexico’s Public Health orders will allow.

“We need fans in the ballpark to be able to play,” Traub explained. “Playing in front of an empty house is just not practical or realistic for us to be able to do. Our business model is totally contingent upon people in the stands, for ticket sales, for concessions, for merchandise, for other ancillary revenue,” he said.

Since the Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park is an outdoor venue, Traub is confident they can come up with a COVID-safe plan to keep people safe. “We’re still waiting on MLB, we’re waiting on the state, we’re waiting for the vaccines to become more widely distributed, and in the meantime, we’re trying to prepare for kind of a moving target,” said Traub.

When might people be allowed to mingle once again in public, or even feel comfortable in a crowd? New Mexico health officials say a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout is key.

“The vaccine rollout is a key component to life returning to normal for New Mexico,” said Dr. Tracie Collins, Secretary-Designate for the New Mexico Department of Health. In a one-on-one chat with KRQE News 13, Dr. Collins explained what the state’s up against.

“Really the issues are, we have to get more people vaccinated so that we can stop the virus from replicating,” said Collins. “And the more we can stop the replication, the fewer mutations we’ll have. So we’re trying to really get ahead of that issue with these variants that we’re hearing about in the UK and South Africa.”

COVID-19 has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Currently, vaccine demand far outpaces supply.

More than half a million New Mexicans are registered through the Department of Health to receive the vaccine, and roughly 9,000 shots are administered per day. But more vaccine is in the pipeline.

When asked when might New Mexicans see life return to some semblance of normal, Dr. Collins replied, “You know, it’s a question that’s difficult to answer because first of all, good news, we have two other vaccines that are in the cue, Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca. And those vaccines currently will be one dose.”

Single-dose vaccines will be a game-changer, she said. The state’s goal is to vaccinate at least 60% of the state’s population.

With no COVID-vaccine on the market for kids, that leaves 1.6 million adults across the state. Vaccinating 60% of adults is roughly 960,000 people, with first and second doses to consider for Pfizer and Moderna.

In 2020, much of the messaging from the state centered around COVID-19 testing, and isolating positive cases. While testing still plays an important role, much of the focus has shifted to the logistics of a statewide vaccine rollout.

When asked if the vaccines are the way out of this pandemic, Dr. Collins replied, “The current vaccines and those in the pipeline, absolutely yes. And to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

Once supply picks up even more, and Dr. Collins is hopeful that it will soon, she said widespread vaccine acceptance is another key component. She knows there are people out there who don’t want the shot, and she’s hoping many of them will change their minds.

If COVID-19 cases continue to decline, and more people are protected against the virus, Collins said New Mexicans can expect to see public policy reflect the state’s success. “Yes, in the next few months we’ll know more, but ultimately we’re hoping that it will in a positive way.”

“I appreciate all that we are doing with masking and distancing,” said Dr. Collins. “And I just, I wanna encourage people that there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and just you know, to stay the course.”

With a rough year behind us, Traub remains hopeful. “We’re doing our best and hopefully we’ll have some clarity here soon,” he said.

Dr. Collins said New Mexico was initially told how much COVID vaccine the state would receive. Now, she said there is more of a dialogue with the federal government. The Biden administration promised an additional 6% shipment of vaccine this week to New Mexico.