The first case of COVID-19 has been detected in Valencia County.

Valencia County Fire Chief Brian Culp said the governor’s office contacted the county today, Friday, March 27, advising him and County Manager Danny Monette that a 70-year-old Valencia County man has tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have not been told a specific location and as of now, we do not know if he is at home or has been hospitalized,” Culp told the News-Bulletin this afternoon.

The governor’s office typically releases updates on the number of positive cases as well as the status of new patients in the state every day about 4 p.m.

Positive COVID-19 cases by county
Including the newly reported cases on Friday, March 27, New Mexico has a total of 191 positive tests for COVID-19:

  • Bernalillo County: 82
  • Cibola County: 2
  • Chaves County: 4
  • Curry County: 1
  • Doña Ana County: 16
  • Eddy County: 2
  • Lea County: 2
  • McKinley County: 5
  • Rio Arriba County: 3
  • Roosevelt County: 1
  • Sandoval County: 15
  • San Juan County: 17
  • San Miguel County: 1
  • Santa Fe County: 29
  • ​​Socorro County: 2
  • Taos County: 8
  • Valencia County: 1

The New Mexico Department of Health announced that Valencia County residents may call the Belen public health office two days next week to spe…

The lack of a specific location of the patient has been raised repeatedly by local emergency responders across the state, Culp said, but the question has been met with silence from state officials.

“It’s something we, as local emergency providers, feel would be valuable information,” he said. “Take Sandoval County for instance. It’s 3,700 square miles. Is the case in Rio Rancho or Cuba? Providers should know that.”

David Morgan, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health, said the department is legally required to protect the privacy of patients.

“We are not providing any further specific data on individual cases other than age group, sex and county,” Morgan said via email.

While there is a positive case in the county, Culp urges residents not to panic.

“The thing to remember about this virus is it is very infectious by nature and it spreads rapidly — faster than the flu,” the chief said. “With that, the biggest thing is to follow the state’s instructions and stay at home.”

When residents need to leave for necessities such as food and medication, Culp advised them to plan their trips carefully to limit contact with others.

“Get what you need but don’t stockpile,” he said. “Continue to wash your hands. Maintain that 6-foot distance. Keep groups to five people or less and still maintain 6 feet between yourselves.”

If someone develops symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, dry cough and shortness of breath — Culp said they should contact their medical provider or call the state’s hotline, 1-855-600-3453, to get guidance.

“That’s the most important part,” the chief said. “If you call 911 because you are really sick and having trouble breathing, we will transport you to the hospital. It is our job to make sure people are taken care of.”

Emergency responders answering calls to homes where someone might have COVID-19 will most likely limit the number of people who enter a house, Culp said.

“We don’t want to have a lot of personnel in the home,” he said. “We might have the person come outside if they are able to, since it will be better ventilated.

“We will still have people keeping their distance; not all the providers will be crowded around the patient. We’ll still be wearing our personal protective equipment.”

The state has not established a test site in Valencia County, Culp said.

“Right now, the only place I know of that has done any kind of ‘drive-up’ testing is First Choice in Los Lunas. But the reason they were testing is because someone called the hotline or contacted their provider and were referred. My understanding is First Choice was doing that for their patients only.”

If a patient in Valencia County contacts their provider, if they meet the criteria necessary for testing — travel outside the country or to a area where the virus is prevalent, contact with someone who has traveled or active symptoms — they will be given a referral to the public health office for testing.

“At that time, I would hope providers are telling their patients to self-islolate and wait to hear from public health,” Culp said. “Someone from public health will contact the patient and do a second round of screening, to see if the symptoms have subsided.

“What people need to remember is when places like Lovelace and Presbyterian did those mass screenings, they weren’t testing anyone who drove up. They had to meet the criteria.”

Once someone has been tested, they are to remain quarantined until the results are known in 24 to 72 hours.

Duke City Urgent Care in Los Lunas has a limited number of test swabs, according to staff at the main office in Albuquerque. Staff at the urgent care are only testing what they consider high risk patients at this time, and moderate risk patients will be referred to a testing location in Albuquerque.

If you are having symptoms, call Duke City’s main number, 814-1995, and chose option 1 to schedule a video visit with a provider.

Once a provider has done an evaluation by video, the patient will be instructed to go to the Los Lunas location or other testing facility if it is warranted.

Culp said the virus in New Mexico is expected to peak sometime in April.

“I think New Mexico has done a great job trying to get in front of it but we are still going to have cases,” he said. “Which we can do the more we try to social distance and remain home as much as possible.”

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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.