BELEN—Screening, and when necessary testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is ongoing in Valencia County.

Since March 30, nurses at the Belen Public Health Office have been taking calls to determine if people need to be tested for the virus and performing tests on an appointment-only basis, said registered nurse Melinda Ivey.

“People are more than welcome to call us for a screening, to see if they need to be tested, but testing is done by appointment only,” Ivey said. “We will make an appointment for you if the screening determines you need to be tested. We also take referrals from physicians.

Melinda Ivey, RN
Belen Public Health Office

“If your doctor has recommended you for testing, they will fax us and we will call you when we get the referral to set an appointment. Please, don’t come without an appointment. We are not doing walk-in testing.”

If a resident feels like they are at risk for or may have COVID-19, they should call 864-7743, ext. 1101 to be screened. Ivey said sometimes a nurse isn’t available to answer a call and people should leave a message with a contact number.

“Please leave a message and we will call you back. There’s only so many of us,” she said.

The following people may now be considered for COVID-19 testing:

• Asymptomatic people who are close contacts or household members of New Mexico residents who have already tested positive for the coronavirus;

• Asymptomatic residents in nursing homes;

• Asymptomatic people in congregant settings such as homeless shelters, group homes, detention centers;

• Symptomatic people displaying the COVID-19 symptoms of cough, fever or shortness of breath.

Ivey said an appointment for testing is usually scheduled one or two days in advance, but there are no same-day appointments made. Testing is done in batches of no more than 30 people a day.

“Most of the calls we’ve gotten have been educational, helping people understand what the symptoms are, precautions to take,” she said. “We’ve talked to more people educating and screening them than we’ve tested.”

If you are referred for testing, it will be done in a drive-thru fashion, Ivey said, and people are asked to keep their windows up until otherwise instructed.

“They stay in the car and are given an identifier,” she said. “Also, a reminder — people should keep their car in park during this.”

Testing will be done using either a nasal or oral swab, Ivey said, depending on what is available. When people come for testing, they are given information on how to self-isolate as well as a link to a website where they can check their results.

It takes 24-72 hours before results are available, and those tested can also expect a call from the New Mexico Department of Health’s emergency response division with further instructions.

“The positive cases are the priority for the calls,” Ivey said.

The RN said if you suspect you have the virus or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, you should self-isolate.

“Please, stay home. If you feel sick, isolate from the rest of your family as best you can — using a separate bathroom, not cooking for everyone — until you get the results,” she said. “As soon as you are told you need to be tested, you should be in isolation until the results.”

Symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough or difficulty breathing — can take two to 14 days to show after exposure to the virus.

The DOH portal for receiving COVID-19 test results is If you have been tested for COVID-19, you will need to provide your name, date of birth and the date of sample collection.

If test results are not yet available, the portal will indicate they are pending. If test results are available, you will be required to provide an email address, contact information and to create a password to access your information.

Anyone testing positive for COVID-19 will be informed via phone call by their provider or NMDOH, and the portal will list results as pending until you are notified.

Upon notification, the department will begin working with the patient on a contact investigation to determine those around the patient who might also require testing. Negative test results will be displayed on the portal.

The Belen Public Health office is the hotline and assessment center for Valencia County, but if someone feels like they cannot wait for an appointment, they can call the Public Health Office in Midtown Albuquerque at 235-1564 to schedule a same-day appointment after a screening, Ivey said.

“We hope people can come here and not need to make the drive into Albuquerque, especially since some don’t have the means,” she said.

Ivey and her fellow nurses are doing everything they can to stay safe and sane.

“We are in our offices, working by phone. When we go out, we practice what we preach. Now we’re covering our faces to protect others,” she said. “We’re wearing our (personal protective equipment) to protect ourselves.”

She also wanted to give a big shout-out to Domino’s Pizza in Belen for donating pizzas to the staff last week.

“That was great,” Ivey said. “I think everyone is hanging in there.”

Information about the number of positive cases in the state and each county, as well as many other COVID-19 resources, including screening and testing sites and a link to the results portal, can be found at

For additional COVID-19 information and other resources, you can call the following numbers:

• COVID-19 health hotline: 855-600-3453

• COVID-19 information hotline: 833-551-0518

• Senior/disabled adult grocery hotline: 800-432-2080

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.