A local elected official has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego confirmed that he has tested positive for the disease and is at home, self-isolating.

The mayor said he had contact with a family member last weekend who tested positive and was tested himself on Tuesday.

Charles Griego
Los Lunas Mayor

“I’ve been home since then, working by phone and computer, self isolating,” Griego said. “The rest of my family has tested negative, and anyone I had contact with has been tested.”

The offices of Griego’s company, Heritage Company in Los Lunas, are closed to the public pending test results of employees, he said.

“I thought I was being very conservative, very cautious, but…,” the mayor said of the situation. “You just never know; that’s a lot of it. This can happen to anybody.”

Griego said he currently doesn’t have any of COVID-19 symptoms and someone from the state Department of Health contacts him every morning to check his status.

“I feel fine, I don’t have any symptoms and hopefully won’t,” he said. “I had a sinus infection two or three weeks ago, which kind of mirrored the symptoms, but it’s been treated and is gone.”

The mayor said he would be in isolation for two weeks, which started on Tuesday, May 12.

Due to the nature of title work, Griego said one of his employees was in the Valencia County Clerk’s Office on Monday, May 11.

“We can do a lot of work online and remotely, but some information is available only in the clerk’s office,” he said.

Valencia County Fire Chief Brian Culp said all county clerk’s office employees were tested on Thursday out of an over abundance of caution.

“We also had an employee inform us they had one symptom of COVID-19, so to be extra cautious, we tested everyone,” Culp said.

Because early in-person voting is happening at the county administrative building, the chief said the employees with the bureau of elections, which is part of the clerk’s office, are still working the voting location while they wait for the test results.

“When voting started, all the clerk’s office employees were all fit tested for N95 masks and they are wearing them,” he said. “In other instances, those employees would be home waiting for their results but in this situation, we have no other choice; they have an election to run.”

The chief said he anticipates to have results for the employees by Saturday morning.

Culp said poll workers at the three early voting sites, which open Saturday, May 16, will be wearing surgical masks, the same type that will be offered to members of the public if they come to vote without one.

On Wednesday, May 13, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced upcoming changes to the public health order including the requirement that everyone wear a mask for face covering in public starting on May 16.

Valencia County Fire Chief Brian Culp explains the proper way to wear a mask to the poll officials who will be working the three early voting sites in Valencia County starting Saturday, May 16.
Submitted photo

On Thursday, May 14, Culp trained county poll officials on the proper use of face masks and gloves, as well as how to sanitize the voting area. The fire chief also helped design an entrance and exit plan for each site to keep poll officials and voters safe.

“Because of the contact with the Heritage employee and the county employee who presented with a symptom, we decided to do the testing,” he said. “The clerk’s office is the one I’m most worried about because of the election. I wanted to be overly cautious. No one else in the clerk’s office is showing any symptoms at this time.”

Culp said in addition to the employees in the clerk’s office, all of the employees at the Valencia County Detention Center have been tested for COVID-19 as per a mandate from state Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel.

The secretary ordered all jail and prison employees be tested, Culp said, as well as at least 30 percent of the inmate population.

“We have had a few random county employees tested, but they’ve been negative,” he said. “We are going to try to hit the majority of our employees. It’s just a matter of getting the tests.”

The chief said in some ways, the test kits are still limited due to the state’s push to do more testing, especially in hot spots in western New Mexico.

“When you do mass testing where you open it up, that burns through a lot of tests, and with the secretary pushing for more tests in prisons and jails, it goes through a lot of tests,” he said.

The tests for the jail and clerk’s office employees were done by county fire personnel, who have been trained in how to take the swabs, Culp said.

“On Tuesday, Valencia County and Los Lunas fire will be doing testing at one of those mass testing sites I mentioned,” he said. “We will be at the old ALCO in Belen testing employees of all kinds.

“Both our department and Los Lunas have been trained; the teamwork on this has been phenomenal.”

Testing will begin at 9 a.m., Tuesday, May 19, in the parking lot of the old ALCO, 630 E. Reinken Ave. Any employees including government employees, utility and construction workers, grocery and pharmacy employees, retail and wholesale workers, food service and other service industries workers, whether symptomatic or not, can come be tested.

Culp said the public health department is providing 300 tests for the event.

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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.