County Council Hears Update On Local COVID-19 Efforts

County Manager Harry Burgess

Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos County is following the governor’s phased approach to reopening the economy, County Manager Harry Burgess reported to County Council May 5.

He told Council during its regular meeting held virtually, that while the County golf course reopened and local businesses are working to reopen, other County programs and services are still on hold or expected to be drastically changed.

Regarding the golf course, which opened Friday, Burgess said while it is back in business, the pro shop remains closed. Since the pro shop is where passes are sold to play on the course, he said staff reconfigured an office in the golf course community building and utilized an exterior door to process payments and passes. Additionally, signs are posted to inform golfers about social distancing and other issues with the course. Burgess further reported that tape was put on the floor to mark six feet. He added while normally tee times are scheduled in 10-minute intervals, they will now be schedule in 15-minute intervals. Plus, carts will be rented to individuals rather than groups and the ball washers will be unavailable. Burgess said a pole marking system will substitute flags to mark holes on the course.

Burgess said the County is following the state’s phased approach to reopening the economy. Currently, he said the pre-phase is being enacted, which will last through May 15.

“During that time, a lot of preparations are anticipated to being made …” he said.

In Phase I, which will begin May 15, Burgess said, certain retail business may open provided they follow COVID-19 protocols, as well as certain elective medical procedures including dental care. He added during Phase II, additional retail businesses may open.

One of the major protocols for businesses is that employees wear face masks. As a result, Burgess said many local businesses have struggled to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE).

In response, Burgess said County staff reached out to the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation (LACDC) to assist businesses in getting PPE. He added getting PPE for the County’s own employees is challenging. Either items are out of stock or back ordered, Burgess said. However, County staff provided LACDC with a list of contractors that it has successfully procured PPE from and LACDC Executive Director Patrick Sullivan agreed to purchase PPE and make it available to local businesses.

“We are trying to support our local businesses …,” Burgess said.

Councilor David Izraelevitz asked about day care services. With businesses reopening and people required to go back to work, Izraelevitz asked what the current guidelines were for day care centers and if the County is trying to coordinate with local day care businesses.

“Seems like a critical part of our local economy is to try to better understand and better support that specific segment,” he said. “Some people who are forced or required to go back work without having day care support – it is just going to exacerbate an already difficult situation.”

Burgess said he is not aware of any discussions about day care. He mentioned there is potential for reimbursement to those who need day care, which is part of the CARES Act. He added he has not seen any exceptions in the governor’s public health order for limiting groups to no more than five people. However, Burgess said he would investigate the issue further and report back to council.

He added that County Emergency Manager Beverly Simpson has developed an appendix in the County’s emergency management plan for pandemics. Creating the appendix was interesting, Burgess said, because it was venturing into unchartered territory.

“At least at present it will be a good guideline,” he said. “None of us have done this before … We looked to others that have done this already to consider all the possibilities.”

He added that Los Alamos will share its plans with others.

Burgess said Phase II is estimated to begin June and Phase III is planned to start in July. Phase III, he said, addresses mass gatherings. Provided that the number of COVID-19 cases are maintained, and protocols are followed, the maximum number for groups will be raised from five to 100 people.

Even at that, Burgess said the County will need to reconsider some of its events. There is discussion about offering alternatives to different programs. For instance, he said, Discovery Day, the major outdoor event for Science Fest, will not happen this year. Organizers are considering delivering the event online.  Plus, the Los Alamos Summer Concert Series could not happen for next couple of months and even that, the concerts would have to be modified, Burgess said.

“Unfortunately, at this point we are looking at a longer-term continuation of social distancing and all the related provisions,” he said.

In other news related to COVID-19, it was reported during the council meeting that:

  • The state is not updating testing numbers for Los Alamos as the County would like to see, Burgess said, adding the state still reports six positives tests for COVID-19 but he said the County is aware of 10.
  • Burgess reported during the previous week, 25 individuals were tested at the Public Health Office and this week another 16 more were tested at the health office. Furthermore, he said, Los Alamos Medical Center reported an additional eight tests.
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory is developing its own test site, which will be separate from the state. Burgess said the laboratory decided to do this so the state would not be charged. However, the results would be reported to the state.
  • Council Chair Sara Scott reported that a council subcommittee made up of Scott, Councilors James Robinson and Randall Ryti was formed to address restarting the local economy. She said the public is encouraged to contact the subcommittee with questions, needs and concerns.

Despite the uncertainties ahead, the County is working to continue other events as scheduled. For instance, Burgess reported that the County Clerk’s office is busy with the primary election.

He said the election cycle started May 5. The County Clerk reached out to Simpson to get PPE for election staff and part-time staff, which was provided. Additionally, lanes into and out of the Municipal Building were marked and social distancing in the voting areas is being enforced.

Clerk Naomi Maestas reported on May 5, in-person voting totaled 21 voters and there were no more than two voters at any one time. She added close to 900 ballots were mailed out.

Maestas added that close to 2,000 ballots were expected to be tackled May 6 and the number of requests for absentee ballots grows continuously.

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