LOS LUNAS—As soon as the governor gave her first order in regards to the coronavirus outbreak, the county jail stopped inmate visits and limited vendors from coming into the facility.
“Now we are doing only video visits. Inmates are still in communication with their families that way,” said Valencia County Detention Center interim Warden Randy Gutierrez.
As of Monday, March 23, there were 170 detainees at VCDC. While there are no longer visitors allowed at the jail, Gutierrez said sanitation efforts have increased.
“We are doing twice-weekly lock downs and doing extra cleaning of the facility,” he said. “We are literally spraying down walls, door handles, going over high-traffic areas.”
As new inmates come into the jail, officers are doing an in-depth screening process for possible COVID-19 exposure.
“If they meet the criteria, we send them for testing and have quarantine cells,” the interim warden said. “All staff and vendors are checked by our medical providers before they come into the facility.”
If an inmate has traveled out of the country or state, or has been in contact with someone who has, or has a fever, cough, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, they are placed on a 14-day quarantine, Gutierrez said.
“The two biggest criteria we are looking for, as per the CDC, is travel out of the country and contact with anyone who has,” he said.
Maintaining the recommended six feet between people for physical distancing has been very difficult inside the jail, Gutierrez said, but both staff and inmates are being educated on how to keep the maximum distance possible between each other while interacting.
“As a whole, VCDC has learned a great amount about overcoming adversity and dealing with this epidemic in our country,” he said.
So far, there haven’t been any positive cases at the jail.
“We’re knocking on wood; we took extra precautions, but it might be inevitable,” Gutierrez said.
Jail staff have personal protective equipment, he said, and if there is an outbreak, there are cleaning supplies and containment measures on hand.
When the decision was made to stop visitations, Gutierrez called a “townhall meeting” with all the detainees.
“We did the same thing during the H1N1 outbreak, and we had people get sick then,” he said.
Gutierrez said the detainees and community members have been understanding about the need for the precautions at the jail.
“I’m happy everyone is understanding; everybody is working together. We have good, open communication with the inmates,” he said. “This has been something of a learning experience for us.”
He said it seems likely the outbreak will get worse before it gets better.
“We’re OK for now, but if things get worse, we have protocols in place. We’ll have to tighten up our procedures and we’ll be really, really prepared,” Gutierrez said.
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.