Rio Arriba County officials are coming up with creative solutions to the challenges posed by the lack of resources for dealing with COVID-19 in rural northern New Mexico.
County Economic Development Director Christopher Madrid coordinated an effort to provide hospitals around the north with hospital beds that had been sitting unused in Española’s old nursing home.
In total, the County will likely provide 82 beds to hospitals throughout Northern counties.
Española Hospital received 34 beds, Holy Cross Hospital in Taos received 20 and 15 are set aside for Rehoboth McKinley Hospital in Gallup, though officials are trying to figure out how to transport the beds to Gallup.
Madrid said he needs to find mattresses for the remaining beds before they can be distributed.
He emphasized the role collaboration played in the distribution. Darren’s Place, the new tenant of the nursing home, allowed the County to take the beds, while the organization HELP New Mexico assisted with inventorying and the Taos-based production companies AMP and ETS helped with the transportation.
The town of Taos and Taos County worked with Rio Arriba, too, to make the donations possible.
“What impressed the hell out of me is the cooperation that’s taking place,” Madrid said. “It’s all hands on deck, everybody really cooperating.”
And Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt has been organizing a massive mask-making effort, and County residents are now providing hundreds of masks to essential front-line workers throughout the North, including health care providers and grocery store clerks.
Participants have figured out how to produce N95 masks––probably the most effective masks for preventing the spread of the virus––for health care providers, as well as a variety of other masks.
The mask-makers have begun using paint heat guns, which help mold plastic masks, and instant pots, which sterilize N95 masks, for the production.
“It is absolutely whacky,” Reichelt said. “I feel like I’m teaching a home ec. class on acid or something."
Reichelt announced on Facebook Friday morning that the County is also now able to test people for the virus at the County Health Commons.
The testing will occur on Mondays from 10am to 12pm and on Wednesdays from 9am to 11pm. Call (505) 753-2794 in advance for screening.
Previously, testing was mostly only occurring at Española Hospital. Between April 6 and 13, 110 people were tested for the virus at the hospital, Presbyterian Communications Amanda Schoenberg wrote in an April 13 email. Three patients are hospitalized there because of COVID-19.
As of Friday morning, 10 people in Rio Arriba County have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Department of Health.
The Department launched a new online tool Tuesday that allows the public to view the gender and age breakdown of the people who have tested positive in each county.
Five women and three men tested positive for the virus in the County, according to the data. Two of the people with the virus are aged 40-49, four are aged 60-69 and two are aged 70-79.
As of Friday morning the data had not yet been updated to reflect details about the two most recent cases in the County.
The Department stated in a Tuesday press release that the tool would also provide information about the ethnicity of those who have tested positive, but as of Tuesday evening ethnic breakdown in the County did not appear to be available on the Department website.
New Mexico Human Services Department David Scrase said in an April 9 press conference that state models predict hospitals around the state will likely be at full capacity in the last two weeks of April. The peak in cases around the state will probably occur in late May.
County Fire Marshal Alfredo Montoya, who is in charge of the emergency response to COVID-19, said he wanted to thank County residents for continuing to follow the stay-at-home instructions, saying that whether or not the virus spreads is in their hands.
He also said knowing that residents are staying at home makes it easier for County officials to focus on other important COVID-19-related tasks.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reiterated how crucial staying home is to prevent the spread of the virus and save lives.
“Everyone in the state should be treating this virus as if they have it, and as if you are exposing any number of individuals,” she said. “That’s how we prevent spread. I don’t think there is anyone working on the modeling or the public health response or the containment strategies that believes that the only people in the state who are COVID-19 positive are the individuals who are in our positive COVID-19 count."