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Officials confirmed on the afternoon of Wed. 25, 2020 that two people in Rio Arriba County tested positive for Coronavirus.

As of April 2, five cases of COVID-19 were found in Rio Arriba County. 

The County’s first two cases were announced March 25: a woman in her 70s tested positive for the virus, as did a man in his 60s. 

Nora Meyers-Sackett, press secretary for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, wrote in a March 25 email that the woman contracted the virus through travel and that the man “has no known contact and is under investigation.”

The following two cases were announced March 30 and 31, and the fifth on April 2.

State public information officers did not respond to an email requesting the age and gender of the third and fourth people who tested positive for the virus, as well as whether they contracted the virus through travel or through exposure to others in the community. 

They could not immediately be reached for comment about the fifth case.

Two patients are hospitalized with the virus at Española Hospital, Hospital Chief Executive Brenda Romero wrote in a March 31 email.

Testing

County Fire Marshal Alfredo Montoya, who County officials have appointed as the local coordinator of emergency management for COVID-19, said in a March 30 phone call that as far as he knows, Española Hospital is the only health facility in the County that is testing patients for the virus.

The Dixon Fire Department was also able to test people for the virus on March 31 after the New Mexico Department of Health sent the Fire Department 50 test kits. As of lunchtime Tuesday, the Department had used 40 of those kits.

Montoya said he has been communicating with the Department of Health about setting up a testing site in the far northern part of the County.

Romero wrote in a March 30 email that 99 specimens were collected at Española Hospital between March 23 and Sunday, and she wrote in a March 31 email that the hospital typically has access to around 250 test kits per week.

The hospital has enough test kits to test everyone with symptoms deemed appropriate for testing in a screening process, Presbyterian Communications Manager Amanda Schoenberg wrote in a March 31 email.

The major criteria for being tested include experiencing fever, cough and shortness of breath. 

Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel announced in a March 31 press conference that New Mexico has been able to expand testing capacity and now asymptomatic close contacts of people who have tested positive for the virus and asymptomatic people in nursing homes and congregate settings will also qualify for testing.

Montoya said he has heard that when people try to call the state screening hotline to find out whether they should be tested, they are being placed on hold for so long that they give up. 

Communication, capacity

Romero wrote in a March 30 email that Española Hospital has 80 medical-surgical beds but that she could not state how many beds are currently available for patients with COVID-19.

“Although we are not able to provide specific counts due to the evolving nature of hospital capacity at all times, (Española Hospital) does have both medical-surgical and ICU bed capacity right now and will be able to expand ICU capacity in a number of ways if needed,” she wrote.

In a March 31 email, however, she wrote that eight intensive care unit beds are currently available at the hospital.

She also wrote that 27 ventilators are currently available.

She wrote that the hospital has plans in place to repurpose procedure recovery areas and operating suites, that outdoor triage tents will be available if necessary and that Presbyterian will work with other Presbyterian hospitals and health systems to further expand ICU capacity through shared staffing and resources if the crisis requires it.

Montoya said he has not been able to get information from the hospital about bed capacity in both the intensive care unit and the general hospital, ventilator capacity or about how many testing kits the hospital sends out each day.

County Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt, on the other hand, said she feels confident that the hospital will let the County know about shortages when they occur and that she has not had trouble finding out information from the hospital.

Romero wrote that it can be challenging to report accurate numbers about capacity as those numbers are constantly changing.

“We are not aware of specific outstanding requests for daily information, but we are always happy to work with local officials across the state regarding information they need to serve their communities,” she wrote.

Montoya also said he wished the state Department of Health would be more communicative with local officials regarding new cases prior to releasing information about those cases to the public, so that local officials have more time to prepare.

“I cannot say how frustrated I am as a County official,” he said. “I’ve tried to emphasize that I don’t really need to or want Department of Health to call me and tell me that John Doe lives at this address and has tested positive for COVID-19, as much as I would really appreciate the information from Department of Health calling and saying, ‘Hey, you have another case in Rio Arriba County.’”

He has asked the Department of Health to share the hometowns of those who test positive, he said. 

That way, local officials will better be able to track the spread of the virus and help first responders in specific communities prepare for increased caseloads, he said.

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