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FARMINGTON — San Juan County is ratcheting up its efforts to prevent a coronavirus outbreak after three New Mexicans tested positive for the virus, also known as COVID-19.

“There is no emergency in our area,” county spokesman Devin Neeley said.

The three confirmed cases are in Socorro and Bernalillo counties.

Neeley said the county has already been proactive in its efforts to prepare for the virus.

County urges precautions when visiting people in nursing homes

Senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems are at heightened risk for serious complications related to the virus, according to a press release from the county.

States and health departments across the country have restricted visits to nursing homes because of that risk.

“While we do not currently have those restrictions in place in our area, we highly recommend that families and visitors refrain from visiting their loved ones at this time in order to protect their health and wellbeing,” the county stated in the press release. “Please check with your facility for other options to 'visit' through other electronic methods.”

MORE: Governor declares health emergency over coronavirus, recommends large events be canceled

The New Mexico Department of Health is working with assisted living facilities and nursing homes to minimize the risk to the residents. According to a press release from the governor’s office, a health care survey team will conduct onsite visits at the 269 licensed assisted living facilities in the state.

Hospital continues planning, reviews options

Officials at the San Juan Regional Medical Center have been preparing for a coronavirus outbreak for months and met throughout the day on March 11 to plan their response in the wake of the first New Mexico cases being identified.

The hospital held a preparatory drill on March 5, and it announced it had established a coronavirus hotline on March 6 to provide information to callers with questions about the illness. The hotline is available around the clock, and the information it provides is updated on a regular basis to reflect the latest developments. Those with questions can call 505-516-0938 or 888-949-5387.

Spokeswoman Laura Werbner said hospital officials are taking what the governor said into consideration as they continue to plan and prepare for the coronavirus.

"We are currently reviewing our visitor policy and looking into holding some of our meetings remotely," she said in a statement issued to The Daily Times. "These are a couple of examples. We are continuing to meet on a daily basis with the focus being on preparation — not panic. We will be updating our community on any changes taking place at the hospital as we continue to evaluate the situation."

Protocols in place at adult detention center to reduce risk of illness

San Juan County is also working with the San Juan County Adult Detention Center’s health care provider to reduce the risk of inmates catching the illness.

“We’re asking the questions before the inmate is brought into the facility,” Neeley said.

He said the health care provider screens each detainee and asks the same questions people would be asked if they went to the doctor’s office. If the provider believes the inmate could have been exposed to coronavirus, the person will be tested.

Neeley said there are negative airflow cells that allow for inmates to be quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Schools, college preparing for pandemic 

School districts around San Juan County have been preparing for the moment when confirmed cases of the coronavirus occur in New Mexico.

The Aztec, Bloomfield, Central Consolidated and Farmington school districts have been posting updates on its websites about efforts to prepare for when the pandemic reaches New Mexico. The Diocese of Gallup spokeswoman Suzanne Hammons said the diocese will likely follow the lead of local school districts when making decisions about Sacred Heart School.

MAP: Where is coronavirus? Interactive map shows cases in New Mexico and beyond

Those efforts including disinfecting and sanitizing school buildings and buses.

Area school districts have been working with the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management and San Juan Regional Medical Center to keep students and students safe.

Area superintendents are also planning deep cleaning and disinfecting classrooms and more during Spring Break week starting on March 16.  

For the Aztec Municipal School District, Superintendent Kirk Carpenter told The Daily Times the district is working on deciding on what parts it needs to revisit regarding its plan for the coronavirus.

"We are not ready to say what next steps are taking because we're working on them," Carpenter said.

The administration will evaluate upcoming out of state travel for staff and students.

The Bloomfield School District will have discussions with state and area officials on March 12 to see how to proceed with recommendations from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham including asking residents to avoid large gatherings, according to Superintendent Kim Mizell.

"It's obviously difficult to plan for the magnitude of what might occur," Mizell said.

Administration and teachers are developing a plan for possible e-learning scenarios if schools need to close, according to Mizell.

Renee Lucero, Farmington Municipal School District spokesperson, told The Daily Times the health and safety of its students and staff is among its highest priorities.

"Farmington municipal schools is collaborating with health and safety agencies in the County and State to determine any closures or cancellations should they be necessary," Lucero said.

Lucero said the district is waiting to hear from the county office of emergency management, state department of health and the hospital on any new recommendations.

Shiprock Associated Schools Inc. Executive Director Rick Edwards said the Bureau of Indian Education funded grant school travel restrictions have been enacted for the staff. 

He added there are not any public events the school would need to cancel as Spring Break approaches.

"We're going to continue to watch and monitor what (the governor) and New Mexico does and act accordingly," Edwards said.

The Central Consolidated School District did not reply to a request for comment by deadline.

Maria Rodman, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Farmington and Bloomfield, said her organization would follow the lead of the Farmington Municipal School District, the city of Farmington, the Bloomfield School District and the city of Bloomfield in regard to the possible closure of its buildings to help fight the spread of the illness.

"Basically, when schools are closed, we're closed," she said.

Rodman said any closures or changes to the organization's procedures would be posted on its Facebook page.

San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass released a letter to San Juan College students, faculty members and staff members on March 11 announcing a decision had been made by the college's Pandemic Assessment Coordination Team and members of her cabinet not to close the college, and that classes and operations would continue as scheduled.

But she added that, based on the governor's recommendation, the college will be postponing or cancelling events that potentially could 250 people or more in attendance through April 17.

"We will implement plans should we deem it necessary to close the college," Pendergrass stated in her letter. "Some of these items may include providing resources and support to move courses online, as well as other alternative learning options."

Diocese of Gallup provides guidance to churches in New Mexico

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup is monitoring measures taken by both New Mexico and Arizona as the two states work to contain the coronavirus.

Hammons said masses will continue at churches in both states.

“We’re not shutting those down like in Italy,” she said.

However, some diocese events will be canceled to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Hammons said parishioners should not attend masses if they are sick or if their children are sick.

“You don’t have to fulfill your Sunday obligation if you are sick in any way,” she said.

Deacon Randolph Copeland, a licensed physician and chancellor for the diocese, sent out a letter to pastors and other church leaders about a month ago with guidelines. Hammons said this guidance will be updated as more information emerges. She said the diocese will post updates to its website as well as social media pages. Copeland's letter can be viewed on the website, voicesofthesouthwest.org.

In the letter, Copeland stresses that this is a serious disease with no vaccines or special treatment available.

Hammons said Copeland has recommended not taking communion out of the chalice and instead only taking the eucharist.

Other prudent responses Copeland has recommended include:

  • Discouraging handshaking and hugs
  • No holding hands during the Our Father
  • Changing and cleaning Holy Water fonts often
  • Placing hand sanitizer stations at convenient sites
  • Washing hands frequently or using anti-bacterial gel or hand wipes
  • Increased cleaning of surfaces like doorknobs, handrails and banisters that are frequently touched

Copeland recommends that parishioners follow the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which include frequent hand washing and staying home when sick.

Hammons said people who are at higher risk of complications from the coronavirus can still receive communion from pastors and eucharist administrators who will be available to visit people at their homes.

Cities working with San Juan County to prepare for virus

The City of Bloomfield issued a press release stating it is waiting on the written declaration of a public health emergency following Gov. Lujan Grisham’s announcement on March 10. Bloomfield will follow all directives the governor issues as well as the guidelines from the CDC and the local emergency management office.

The city does not have any employees traveling out of state and does not plan on sending its employees on trips out of state.

The CDC guidelines in printed form can be found at the customer service office in Bloomfield City Hall at 915 N. 1st St.

City Manager George Duncan said Bloomfield will continue offering services at the senior center but is encouraging good hygiene and monitoring the situation.

“At this time, we’re not shutting down the center,” he said.

He said the City Council will continue to meet and the gym at the multi-cultural center will remain open to the public unless things change rapidly and the virus spreads quickly.

Duncan said Bloomfield is prepared to implement stringent measures if needed.

Aztec City Manager Steve Mueller said in a text message that the city is working with the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management as well as other municipalities and Four Corners area agencies.

“We are also reviewing our internal procedures as well,” Mueller said.

The City of Farmington’s emergency management team met following the governor’s press conference to determine the next steps. According to a press release, the city is monitoring the situation closely.

“The community’s safety is our top priority, and we are working closely with partnering organizations (San Juan County Office of Emergency Management, San Juan Regional Medical Center and Farmington Municipal Schools) to facilitate appropriate actions,” City Manager Rob Mayes stated in a press release. “All City facilities remain open at this time pending clarifying direction from corresponding state agencies regarding the governor’s statements.”

However, the city is postponing the kickoff party for the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park exhibition "Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame," which was scheduled for March 13. The exhibition and museum will remain open for visitors. According to the press release, social distancing can be easily maintained at the museum.

The city will evaluate future events on a case-by-case basis and notify people as early as possible if the event will be postponed or canceled.

The CDC guidelines are available online at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV.

More information can be found at sanjuanregional.com/coronavirus and cv.nmhealth.org.

Methane regulations meeting will be a webcast 

The New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department had planned a community impacts meeting for March 19 in Farmington focused on future methane regulations. Instead of having a public meeting, the two state departments will host a webcast.

“While this is not the ideal venue for the meeting, it is imperative to take public health seriously. We are working out logistics and will follow up with webcast details ASAP,” EMNRD spokeswoman Susan Torres said.

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