ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Doctor David Scrase is known as New Mexico’s top doctor who led the state through the pandemic, even earning the nickname “New Mexico’s Dr. Fauci.” This month he officially retired from state leadership. KRQE’S New Mexico News Podcast talked to him about his time in the state, here are some highlights.

Dr. Scrase was the face of fighting COVID-19 in New Mexico for the last about three years. “I think it was at least 80-hour weeks there for a year or more,” he said. He served as Secretary for the Health and Human Services Department and interim Secretary for the Department of Health during the pandemic.

“We decided early on to use influenza as a surrogate and approach until we had more information about COVID,” he said. Scrase said honesty and communication were key, leading to weekly virtual press conferences and daily COVID updates from the state.

“I also think we decided to be as honest as we could possibly be about everything we didn’t know, which was everything initially,” he said. “I think that served us well. I think as people have gone back and reevaluated the communication during the pandemic, I think one thing that the science community was accused of doing too much of is sort of stating everything as a fact and I think actually in New Mexico we did a good job not doing that. I remember countless times saying I don’t know, or we don’t know that yet, or we don’t know exactly how that works or the science isn’t really clear so here’s what I’m doing.”

He said giving information was crucial during the crisis and claims he responded to every email sent to him, hearing people out or pointing them to publicly available data. “How mean or nice people were wasn’t a modulating factor of my commitment to serve people of the state,” said Dr. Scrase. He looks back on decisions like social distancing in restaurants and believes those initial decisions probably saved thousands of lives. He is also proud of the state’s efficient vaccine and testing rollouts.

Dr. Scrase does admit to one regret. “The one that just nags and nags at me that I feel personally responsible for is requiring wearing masks when exercising outside. I think I would’ve not done that in retrospect,” he said. “We didn’t have the data about how much safer you were outside than inside until later. But…I think that was one that we did figure out was safer and then we did back off it.”

In one of his last public interviews, Dr. Scrase reflected on the polarizing opinions about the government’s response to COVID. “I actually frankly had had three years of feeling like I’d done nothing but make people angry,” he said.

He said healthcare burnout was a real challenge. So, how did the state’s top doctor cope with the burdens of the job? He said sticking to his daily practices, which include waking up at 4 a.m. to read, journal, meditate, and exercise.

“I’m a little calmer, can take things more in stride and just accept the way things are when its the right thing to do and be motivated to change things when its the right thing to do,” he said. He also credits keeping up with his job as a private physician.

“It did actually help to spend that time actually doing patient care every other Monday because it kind of brought me back to my roots. and reminded me why are we doing all the stuff that we’re doing,” said Dr. Scrase. He plans to continue working as a physician.

“I feel really proud of the work we did here with the pandemic, I feel grateful for all the folks who really did all the work,” he said. Dr. Scrase said his proudest accomplishment is actually not related to the pandemic. He says it was getting rid of the waitlist for people with developmental disabilities to get critical service – some of whom had been waiting since the early 2000s.

Click here to listen to the full interview.