Local governments prep for emergency


Taos County, the town of Taos and Taos Ski Valley have all declared states of emergency due to concerns surrounding the spread of a novel coronavirus.

The Taos County Board of Commissioners became the most recent government entity Tuesday (March 17) to declare an emergency following the 28 positive cases in the state of New Mexico, including at least one in Taos County.

Due to the emergency declaration, $300,000 has been earmarked for emergency services in Taos County including $95,000 for safety equipment and $22,000 for field supplies.

"Taos County recognizes that we have a health epidemic at this point," said Taos County Manager Brent Jaramillo.

Jaramillo said the county's emergency management team has been meeting daily to prepare and handle the situation around the county. The team consists of Taos County Emergency Medical Services, Taos County Sheriff's Office and Taos County Central Dispatch.

Taos County EMS Chief Chris Medina spoke during the meeting and updated the public on the current happenings with the department. EMS has a special ambulance to respond to patients possibly infected with the virus and will be only using that specific vehicle for calls related to COVID-19.

Only 10 people were allowed at Tuesday's commission meeting, part of a federal and state recommendation to limit the potential spread of the virus.

Taos County will be dealing with the virus as discussed in their emergency plan and will be limiting public access to the county complex. One entrance and exit will be allowed and those entering will need to check in at the front desk.

County employees have also been instructed to sanitize their desks twice per day and all sanctioned out-of-state travel has been suspended.

Town of Taos

Town officials have decided to follow similar guidelines and are also limiting public access to town hall.

Members of the town council voted Friday (March 13) to declare a state of emergency due to the concerns around the virus.

Town sanctioned out-of-state travel has also been suspended and those who have traveled out of state must wait at least 14 days before returning to work.

The town has limited meeting hours with officials and all meetings must be conducted in the same room which is then sterilized following each meeting.

Utility bills can still be paid at town hall, but officials are encouraging the public to limit their presence at town hall.

During this time, the town will be focusing on applying for additional state and federal funding to handle the situation. In the meantime, the town's finance department has allocated $900,000 for the town to handle the emergency declaration.

All town public events and meetings have been canceled for the time being and the situation will be reviewed every 30 days. Town officials have closed the Youth and Family Center, the town library, visitor center and the Guadalupe Gym for the time being.

"We need to be sure that we can catch up on putting antiviral measures in place and sanitizing the facilities but likely will keep them closed to the public, which we will revisit every 30 days," Bellis said in an email.

Town hall will close at 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Public access

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has advised all public entities to remember their responsibilities to the Open Meeting Act as well as the Inspection of Public Records Act.

In a press release, Balderas provided specific guidelines for public bodies to follow including providing the public some sort of access to the meeting if they are not being conducted in a traditional sense.

Some are being teleconferenced and some are being filmed, but the public is still entitled to participate, according to Balderas.

"We are looking for alternative ways for the public to participate," Jaramillo said.

During the commission meeting, commissioners Candyce O'Donnell and Mark Gallegos both attended the meeting via a phone call.

Balderas suggests that each member who is present via telephone identifies him- or herself before speaking loudly and clearly.

During the meeting, Holy Cross Medical Center CEO Bill Patten spoke about the current situation at the hospital and reminded the public that only those with symptoms of the virus - fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and/or fatigue - would be allowed to be tested at this point.

"People can't be tested just because they want to know unless they have symptoms," Patten said. "As of today, you have to meet medical criteria."

Patten confirmed one presumptive case that was treated at Holy Cross. According to Patten, the patient and his family were traveling on the East Coast and were tested, treated and released from Holy Cross.


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