County Council Hears Latest Updates On COVID-19

County Council Chair Sara Scott

Los Alamos Daily Post

As the Governor’s stay-at-home order extends through April and becomes stricter, Los Alamos County continues to discuss how to best respond.

During Tuesday night’s County Council meeting, County Manager Harry Burgess reported that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham extended her stay-at-home order through the end of April.

Furthermore, he reported that the maximum occupancy for hotels and RV parks were reduced to 25 percent of their usual occupancy and that other essential businesses limit their occupancy to 20 percent. Additionally, auto dealers and liquor stores are now deemed nonessential.

Finally, the Governor recommends that people wear face coverings.

In response to these new recommendations, Burgess said the County is working on developing guidance for and getting masks for its employees. However, even for non medical grade masks there can be significant wait times but the County will continue to pursue multiple options.

Burgess said the New Mexico Department of Health hosted a testing site last Thursday for COVID-19 in White Rock. He said 136 tests were conducted at Overlook Park and an additional 18 tests were done at the Beehive Homes, an assisted living community in White Rock. Burgess said the tests take approximately seven days to process so the results should be known sometime this week.

In the County, “what ifs” scenarios are being discussed with employees, Burgess said. What if a County employee tests positive for COVID-19? What about being quarantined? In response, he said County officials are developing guidance for those various situations. Burgess said it is important to have a conversation about these potential issues and develop effective and uniform guidance for all departments.

Burgess also reported that a contractor has been hired to do cleaning. For instance, once the health department concluded testing at Overlook, the park was thoroughly cleaned.

As far as the community’s response, Burgess commended residents for stepping up and helping each other. He said residents have sewn masks for each other and a new group, All Together Los Alamos, has been created in response to COVID-19. In a time when helping one another is becoming more and more crucial, Los Alamos has followed through, Burgess said.

“The community has done a great job adhering to state directives and guidance,” Burgess said.

Councilor David Izraelevitz offered more information on the volunteer group, All Together Los Alamos. He explained that the social media group is a citizen-led effort to provide information on resources as well as share needed resources to families that are home bound during this emergency.

“Our goal is to supplement services … I’ve seen a lot of neighbors reaching out to neighbors … this group is trying to augment (services) as needed,” Izraelevitz said.

He added that  more than 20 volunteers have offered to help with the effort, whether it is computer support or delivery of necessities. Sometimes it is just as simple as calling someone up so they can hear a friendly voice, Izraelevitz said. He added that the hope is to have the program go live sometime this week.

Council Chair Sara Scott said she has been engaged with various state entities regarding the County’s concerns, questions and needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would like to say we are very fortunate to have such great folks at the state level,” she said.

Scott added that in order to get through this, each resident needs to do their part.

“Please keep your resolve strong … everyone has to continue to do their part to keep each other and our community safe,” she said.

In an unrelated issue, Los Alamos County Council unanimously approved amendments to the Homebuyer Assistance Program.

According to agenda documents, one of the new amendments allows for a 10-year Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM) loan product with a 30-year amortization and a rate that cannot adjust more than 2 percent on an annual basis, with a total cap of 6 percent over the life of the loan. 

In addition, Council approved adjusting the minimum credit score for eligible applicants to the Homebuyer Assistance Program from 660 to 640. As stated in the agenda documents, the change was recommended in order to be in alignment with the most stringent underwriting criteria of the community lenders (Zia and Del Norte Credit Unions) participating with the program.

Community Development Department Director Paul Andrus told the Los Alamos Daily Post Wednesday, “We want to be able to keep conduits of funding so people can have access to this product that can be lower than a traditional 30-year mortgage, which is good for lower income buyers.”

He added this is more aligned with what local lenders are offering.

“We want our program to stay in sync with what the lending community is doing,” Andrus said.