(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the most recent positive case numbers from the New Mexico Department of Health released on Wednesday, April 1, and differs from the numbers in our print edition for April 2.)
Twenty days into the coronavirus outbreak in the state, Valencia County has a total of five positive cases of COVID-19 as of 4 p.m., Wednesday, April 1.
The New Mexico Department of Health reported the first case in Valencia County — a man in his 70s — on Friday, March 27, and the second on Sunday, March 29. Three more cases in the county were announced Monday, March 30. DOH did not include the age group or sex of the second patient or the three on Monday. No additional cases in the county were announced Wednesday.
In total, 363 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in New Mexico as of Wednesday, April 1, with six deaths.
New Mexico is now expanding criteria for those who wish to be tested for COVID-19. New Mexico will now test asymptomatic people who have close contact with or are household members of individuals who test positive for COVID-19, asymptomatic individuals in nursing homes, those involved in congregate settings and those with symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever and shortness of breath.
Valencia County Fire Chief Brian Culp said while there are positive cases in the county, residents should not panic.
“The thing to remember about this virus is it is very infectious by nature and it spreads rapidly — faster than the flu,” Culp 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 advises them to plan their trips carefully and 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,” Culp 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.”
If a patient in Valencia County contacts their provider, they will be given a referral to the public health office for testing, the fire chief said.
“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 (in Albuquerque) 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.
New Mexico COVID-19 Resources
Food for seniors, disabled adults Hotline:
New Mexico Department of Health:
Governor of New Mexico’s Office:
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.
The Belen Public Health office was also doing its part this week. Valencia County residents who believed they were suffering from the symptoms of COVID-19 were asked to call the local office to be screened.
If the nurse determined the patient was symptomatic of the corona virus, they were then given an appointment to go in either Tuesday or Wednesday to be tested.
Screening and testing will continue at the Belen Public Health office
If Valencia County residents feel they meet the new criteria, they can call the Belen Public Health office to speak to a nurse to determine their need for testing.
Call 864-7743, ext. 1101, to speak to a nurse and set an appointment for testing if necessary. Residents wanting a test should not go to the public health office, but should remain home and call.
If there is no answer, leave a message and someone will return your call. Please do not call multiple times.
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.”
Any positive cases found on New Mexico’s pueblos are counted in the county where the tribal members live. In the case of the Pueblo of Isleta, any positive cases will be part of Valencia or Bernalillo county’s numbers depending on where the person resides.
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.