Taos Grapples with surge in cases

Pastor John Privitt of the Calvary Taos church was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-October. So was his wife Stephanie Privitt. The church quickly shut down services on Oct. 18. “We suspended services for 29 days,” according to the church website.

Their positive tests for the novel coronavirus came toward the beginning of a surge in cases in Taos County – most of them occurring in residents of Taos, the Ranchos de Taos area and El Prado, according to data from the New Mexico Department of Health and Holy Cross Medical Center.

In total, Taos County has had 144 new cases since Oct. 15, the largest number of cases in the county in the shortest time frame since the pandemic took hold in the state in March. The incubation period and period during which symptoms can appear is 5 to 14 days; many people never show symptoms but can be contagious.

Taos Living Center had two employees test positive in late October, according to Dave Armijo, the facility’s administrator. The center had not had a positive case for several weeks and had been testing regularly, he said. “We have initiated emergency procedures and have canceled all window and compassionate care visits,” Armijo said of the recent positive tests. “We are working closely with Holy Cross Hospital and are in continued contact with our medical community to ensure we take all necessary precautions to protect our community and provide the highest level of care.”

“Knowing that 46 of the 71 homes in New Mexico have tested positive for COVID-19, we remained vigilant with our protective equipment, our continuous testing program and our facility quarantine procedures,” Armijo said.

Randall Lumber and Hardware had eight employees who tested positive over a two-day period in October. Both store locations temporarily closed down for deep cleaning and to have employees tested, according to downtown lumber store manager Cortnie Gurno. Both are now back open, she said.

Among the businesses that reported at least one positive COVID-19 case to the state since Oct. 21 were:

BHHS Taos Real Estate, 1 employee, Oct. 21;

Holy Cross Medical Center, number of positives not listed, Oct. 21;

Randall Lumber and Hardware, number of positives not listed, Oct. 23;

Taos/Picuris Indian Health Center, number not listed Oct. 23;

Peñasco Elementary School, 1 employee, Oct. 24;

Randall Lumber and Hardware, 7 employees, Oct. 24;

El Pueblo Lodge, Taos, 1 employee, Oct. 28;

Granite Concepts, Taos, number not listed, Oct. 28;

Private Select, Taos, 1 employee, Oct. 28

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, Taos, 1 employee, Oct. 29;

Youth Development Inc, Ranchos, 1 employee, Oct. 30;

Ojo Caliente Mineral Hot Springs, 1 employee, Oct. 31;

Historic Taos Inn, 1 employee, Nov. 2;

Taos Ski Valley, 1 employee, Nov. 3;

KCEC, 3 employees, Nov. 4.

In an Oct. 22 update, Holy Cross Hospital CEO Bill Patten said there had been several positives for COVID-19 among staff in the prior few days. “As of right now, none of these employees appears to have contracted the virus through a workplace exposure,” Patten said in an emailed update. “The positive employees are working closely with Employee Health and are appropriately in quarantine on paid administrative leave. Employees who worked closely with these people are also being tested, as appropriate.”

Patten noted that many hospitals around the state were experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. “We are actively making plans for a fall surge,” Patten said in a weekly update.

From Oct. 15 to Oct. 27, Holy Cross had 64 people come in for tests that came back positive for COVID-19. Of those, eight were between the ages of 10 and 20 years old.

One Kit Carson Electric Cooperative self-reported a positive COVID test on Thursday, (Oct. 29) to the utility. The utility immediately did contact tracing with other employees and sent eight to be tested and then to self-isolate, according to KCEC CEO Luis Reyes. “Of those, three came back positive today (Nov. 4) and five came back negative. One of the people who tested positive is in the ICU and the others aren’t showing symptoms,” Reyes said.

He said employees were sent home Friday (Oct. 30) half day and the facility on Cruz Alta was cleaned deeply. Reyes said the utility follows all of the state’s COVID-safe practices, with staff and visitors required to wear masks, plexiglass barriers in some areas and physical distancing. He said two of employees had picked up the virus outside of work – one attended a wedding and one is a member of Calvary Taos church. “We’re struggling with employees going to social gatherings and not telling us,” Reyes said.

Not on the state’s recent list of positive COVID cases is Calvary Taos church. Maddy Hayden, public information officer with the state Environment Department, which tracks rapid responses, said paid employees of churches are required to report positive cases under state health regulations like any other business. Positive cases among volunteers and parishioners do not have to be reported to the state.

Calvary Taos noted on the church website Nov. 3 that the Privitts were feeling better and that in-person services would resume Sunday (Nov. 15). Privitt did not respond to an email seeking comment and no one from the church responded to a message.

“If you have been under quarantine please do not return to church until you have completed your health department mandated quarantine period,” according to a message on the church’s website. “We require mask wearing for the duration of the services as well as continuing the required social distancing practices. Thank you for your consideration of our church family in keeping with these requirements. We want to do everything we can to protect one another from the virus.”

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