County Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt said 91 percent of Rio Arribans have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. This number was well above the state and national average.
“The last time I looked, about 91 percent of Rio Arribans had one shot, and 79 percent were fully vaccinated,” Reichelt said. “Way beyond the national and state average, frankly it’s just good.”
According to the New Mexico Department of Health on Sept. 9, 69 percent of New Mexicans had received the full vaccine schedule and 78 percent had at least one dose.
Reichelt said the County was currently working with the City of Española, as well as the three clinics in the County and the Española Hospital to set up clinics for booster shots, which Reichelt said she expected to be approved later this month.
“We’re also pulling in the school superintendents to start vaccinating at clinics at the high schools for older children,” Reichelt said.
She said she expected younger children to have the vaccine approved for them sometime after Thanksgiving.
“Rio Arribans have just done an amazing job of everything, staying socially distant, and masking,” Reichelt said. “I think people in Rio Arriba look out for one another. I think it’s an ethic here and it always has been.”
Since the start of the Pandemic, there have been 82 deaths in Rio Arriba County, according to the New Mexico Department of Health, and a total of 4,286 cases. The average positivity rate since Aug. 24 has been 5.29 percent in Rio Arriba County with an average of seven new cases a day.
She said that throughout the Pandemic there’s not been any problem finding volunteers. Early on, Health and Human Services put out a call for 10,000 masks and they received enough, so that they were able to supply masks and other materials to outside counties.
“A lot of people are talking to their neighbors about what they’re doing, A lot of people were recipients of those masks too,” Reichelt said. “We made the masks and then we gave them to staff at Lowe’s and Food King and Center Markert. We tried at Walmart but that was harder. There was some corporate rules that we had to get around to give masks.”
She said that whenever they put a call out for help, they received a lot of support.
Presbyterian Española Hospital Administrator Brenda Romero thanked her employees for the rush to get vaccines distributed in the County in an email.
“We are incredibly proud of our team at Presbyterian Española Hospital and of our whole community for our vaccination effort,” Romero wrote in an email. “Of course, there is still more to be done and we continue to encourage community members to get vaccinated to help end this pandemic. Collaboration, individual outreach and understanding our community’s needs were all key from the beginning.”
In her email, she also mentioned their success at contacting elderly patients and community members to assist them in getting vaccinated.
“We worked very closely with the city and the County, who were making personal appeals through the radio and other venues, collecting names and numbers and providing that information for us to call individuals directly,” Romero wrote. “We even had an employee who visited homebound seniors’ homes and vaccinated them. We continued similar personal outreach efforts as the state proceeded through the rest of the population.”
Romero said the community in Española was also a factor in how the County was able to reach vaccination goals.
“We are a tight-knit and supportive community in Española, which helped with this kind of focused vaccination effort,” Romero wrote. “Our employees were also actively engaged from the beginning, from contacting their own family and friends to help them set up their vaccine appointments to answering questions from patients. My best advice is to know your community and do what works for the people you serve. I know that approach has worked well for other Presbyterian facilities as well.”
Reichelt said other counties weren’t collecting funds available to them, as there were COVID-related grants earmarked for counties in need. She said that originally she wouldn’t have applied for them because her team’s efforts would be better spent on grants that she felt they were more likely to receive.
“We were encouraged to apply,” Reichelt said. “They told us ‘you really have a shot at it,’ and those communities that most need it, we don’t see them applying. If they don’t apply, we’re going to give this money away even if we’re not on the priority list.”
The County was also in the process of helping expand the vaccination services provided at Española schools Reichelt said.
Myra Martinez, Española School’s Director of Assessment and Accountability, said that right now students over the age of 12 could receive the vaccine and that middle school and high school students were the ones they were targeting. Students can receive help signing up for their vaccine at the on-campus clinic.
Martinez said that the school’s faculty also had a high rate of vaccination and those that were not, received regular COVID-19 tests.
Vera Trujillo, the Interim Superintendent for Española School District, said she hoped the community at large would follow vaccine guidelines so that the schools could remain open.
“We are encouraging and hoping that our community follows all the guidelines and gets the vaccination,” Trujillo said. “The more people who can get the vaccination, the better. It will support keeping our schools open and we know the best place for our students is in the classroom.”