Los Alamos County Continues Response Against COVID-19

Shoppers embrace COVID-19 safety practices on Central Avenue. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
bjgordon@ladailypost.com

As the COVID-19 pandemic grows and cases increase in the Southwest, New Mexico continues to update its response. Last week Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued public health orders, including the newly instituted face covering mandate enforcement.

In a legal finding, Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote, “Pursuant to Section 24-1-21, “any person violating any of the provisions of . . . any order . . . adopted pursuant to the provisions of the Public Health Act is guilty of a petty misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not to exceed one hundred dollars ($100) or imprisonment in the county jail for a definite term not to exceed six months or both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court. Since the face covering mandate is promulgated pursuant to this section, among other provisions of law, any certified law enforcement officer in the State of New Mexico may enforce the failure to comply with this provision. The Legislature has made clear that violation of a public health order, promulgated pursuant to the Public Health Act, is criminally sanctionable.”

Chief Dino Sgambellone

Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone addressed the issue Tuesday during a ZOOM forum organized by the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier that day, Los Alamos Medical Center CEO John Whiteside also addressed COVID-19 safety at a ZOOM meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos.

Sgambellone has instructed his officers to wear masks in accordance with the health order noting, “it’s something new and easy to forget. We’re all human and that’s why we prefer an approach more focused on reminding folks.”

“I would like to think everyone would comply with the Governor’s orders, but that’s not always the case,” Sgambellone said. “Officers have some discretion. Most people without a mask have just forgotten it. We’d warn them and have a common sense discussion about the law and why it matters. It’s more of a reminder.”

Unless the person is endangering others, the police would likely issue a warning only.

“If someone is coughing on others or causing a disturbance, they might be cited,” Sgambellone said. “If a person is a habitual offender and not listening to warnings, we might cite them.”

Sgambellone also said that business owners should be proactive to avoid problems with customers who come to their locations unmasked.

“It’s important to have signage and to update your website to indicate masks are required,” he said. “Having masks on hand if someone doesn’t have one is helpful.”

Chamber Director Ryn Herrmann noted that masks are available at the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce office.

If someone has a medical reason for not wearing a mask, they should carry a doctor’s note with them, Sgambellone said. Walking is considered to be exercising, and unless people are walking in a large group, they need not be masked, but should practice social distancing, he said.

According to Sgambellone, the Police Department has not seen much of an uptick in crime, other than a rash of break-ins at businesses early in the pandemic.

Domestic violence has not markedly increased, he said. Suicide rates are up since January, but the Department is not sure this is tied to the pandemic.

“We don’t want people to panic or get upset,” Sgambellone said. “But if you need us, call us.

LAMC CEO John Whiteside

When the pandemic hit, Los Alamos Medical Center was ready, CEO John Whiteside told the Los Alamos Rotary Club.

“I’ve got a great crew and they said to me, we should buy some masks,” he said. “We bought a lot of gowns, gloves and masks in February.”

Whiteside said “a few people” have been hospitalized at LAMC with the virus, but so far, all have recovered. One case was detected this week at a local nursing home, and the New Mexico Department of Health was testing everyone at the facility on Tuesday.

“When an employee at the hospital tested positive, we tested everyone who had contact with that person,” Whiteside said. “There were no positives.”

The hospital continues to have a no patient visitor policy, he said. Loved ones are allowed to come in if a person is facing death. Everyone entering the hospital is required to wear a mask.

Everyone entering the hospital must do so through one entrance and be screened. The hospital is looking at new equipment that will automatically take someone’s temperature when they pass through the door.

“We have a new speech to explain why the rules are necessary,” Whiteside said. “When people hear why, they understand.”

Whiteside said that former COVID patients are spreading the word about the excellent care they received at LAMC.
“We don’t have any COVID patients now, but if we do, don’t worry, you’ll be safe,” Whiteside said.

Whiteside praised the Los Alamos community for its response to the pandemic.

“The community has done a fantastic job staying safe.” Whiteside said. “Local seamstresses have made masks so we can save the professional gear for our medical staff.”

Whiteside said the “super smart people” of Los Alamos National Laboratory also have lent a hand.

“They used a 3-D printer to make face shields to protect our staff,” he said.

LANL staff also designed a tent to keep caregivers safe during CPR and a machine to disinfect masks so they can be reused, and offered them to LAMC.

“No one else in the nation has this ability and access,” Whiteside said.

Chair Sara Scott

County Council Chair Sara Scott is closely monitoring COVID-19 on the local and state level. She represents Los Alamos as a member of the Mayor’s Council, an advisory group to the Governor’s office to provide input and feedback that includes 25 mayors from around the state.

“I take the Covid-19 risk to our community very seriously,” Scott said.

Lately, Scott has been hearing concerns from some constituents about gatherings of significantly more than five people.

“It is hard for some people to understand why businesses can be open, including indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants, but why parties and other gatherings are violations of the public health order,” Scott said. “It is important to understand that going into a restaurant or business is not risk free. The phased reopening of the economy in New Mexico is working to walk the line between keeping us safe, helping businesses survive, and not overwhelming our medical care infrastructure. We take calculated risks, with protective measures, to open businesses – and potentially schools in the fall – but big gatherings aren’t essential in the same way. By helping each other and following the rules, we’re supporting the reopening of our economy and the opportunity for schools to open up.

“We are a creative community and have persevered through some trying times in the past. With patience, understanding, and care for each other and ourselves we will all do the best we can to work through this together. Don’t forget to stay connected, take a walk outside, and show extra kindness – we’ve got this.”

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