BY SARA SCOTT
Los Alamos County Council Chair
I hope you and your families are doing well. Today I’ll provide some local perspective regarding the pandemic – including updates from the Los Alamos Medical Center and Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as the availability and disbursement of CARES Act funds. Regarding CARES Act funds, please, if you know someone who is in need and could use help with childcare, utility, or virtual learning expenses as a result of the pandemic –help get the word out that the County will be issuing a second call for individual CARES Act grants this Friday. The County staff stands ready to personally help those wanting to apply, if needed; additional information is provided later in this note. In addition, the State of New Mexico has recently initiated a new grant opportunity for housing (rental or mortgage) expenses – please see http://www.housingnm.org/static/covid-assistance for more information.
However, first I’d like to say thank you to all the local candidates who put themselves out there for an opportunity to serve the community and state, it takes time, energy and a real commitment. A special welcome to our three new Council members – Denise Derkacs, David Reagor, and Sean Williams – I look forward to working together with you, the County staff and the community to keep Los Alamos and White Rock the amazing places they are and will continue to be. Also, congratulations to our County Clerk Naomi Maestas on her reelection and many thanks to her and her staff as well as all of the volunteers that made the voting process run so smoothly in the face of a number of challenges. Not only were voting numbers up, about 12,300 as compared to 11,000 in 2016, but the Clerk’s office put COVID safe procedures in place and even went the extra mile and implemented a drive through ballot drop off as an added measure – the community really appreciated this service.
The situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be extremely serious. In addition to statewide infection and test positivity rates well above the gating criteria, neighboring states are facing a significant growth in infections that pose additional concerns and risk. As a result, most of the hospitals in New Mexico are nearing capacity (this is not the case for the Los Alamos Medical Center which does have bed availability). Locally, we are now averaging more than one new case per day and have 58 reported cases as of Nov 4; we’ve had about 30 folks recover from a COVID-19 infection and more than 20 active cases in town. We must continue to be vigilant and stay home when we can, gather only in groups of no more than five, and wear our masks and keep six feet apart when we are out.
The Los Alamos Medical Center continues to be proactive with respect to operations for testing and treating patients. At this point, they have a 45-day supply of Personal Protective Equipment, continue to have a zero-visitor policy (with exceptions), and have a physically separate area in the hospital that is used for treatment of COVID-19 patients. Every patient that comes in either for a procedure or for admission to the hospital is tested. The CEO and staff attend calls with state and federal agencies two times/week regarding preparations for vaccine distribution; while there is no certainty regarding when a vaccine will be available, the early planning to assure readiness is ongoing. If you are in the medical field and interested in supporting vaccination efforts, or any other medical event, please register at https://volunteer.nmmrcserves.org.
Regarding current Laboratory posture and procedures, TRIAD continues to take the health and safety of their employees, our community, and the New Mexico Public Health Order seriously; all operational decisions are made thoughtfully and carefully based on information, data, and guidance from the state. In the context of the statewide spike in cases, communication from the Director is reinforcing the need for caution and adherence to safe practices. Additionally, a majority of staff continue to telework so as to limit the number of staff working on site at any time, thereby reducing the risk to all. Teleworking to the maximum extent appropriate is being planned for the foreseeable future while the pandemic continues. The Laboratory’s in-house testing and contact tracing capabilities are an important part of the Lab’s safe operations and they are ramping up to allow for ~800 tests/week for those onsite.
Also, in recent conversations with the Laboratory I received an update on another issue of interest to our community. The impacts of COVID on the Laboratory’s operating posture have enabled a different view of their workforce needs, including transportation related issues. LANL is participating in a regional transportation study to explore the feasibility of using commercial bus service to deliver more of their workforce to Los Alamos. Teleworking, now being used to protect the workforce from COVID, is proving highly effective and is significantly reducing the daily traffic congestion and on-site parking challenges. Finally, the Laboratory’s new authority to lease space outside their existing boundaries and create teleworking hubs further changes transportation requirements. Based on these changes, my understanding is that the Laboratory is moving away from their posture regarding the need for a new bridge across the Rio Grande. I look forward to further discussion of these and other issues of mutual importance, e.g. ways to mitigate potential impacts on businesses, during TRIAD’s upcoming presentation to Council.
The County continues to keep a focus on protecting employees and the community while providing essential services. The County Manager is reinforcing the importance of observing COVID safe practices while at work and encouraged all employees to double down on their efforts to wear masks, distance and avoid gatherings during their time away from the workplace. This is critical for employee’s health and the health of their families but also in assuring continued provision of County services. Please recall that anyone who wants a COVID-19 test can get one at the Los Alamos Public Health Office (call 662-4038 for an appointment) and if you need support, the County help line (662-8333) is one option for helping you find needed resources.
County staff is now working hard to get the federal CARES Act funds the County received out to individuals and businesses. More than $1,000,000 for our local businesses and $150,000 in individual grants are being processed and disbursed. I’d like to commend staff (and community partners) for their successful efforts to obtain these funds, set up an application process, and get the money out as quickly as possible to those in need. As noted earlier, funds for individual grants remain and can be used for help with childcare, utility, or virtual learning expenses as a result of the pandemic; this additional call for applications will be advertised this week. Those interested in applying can find needed information by clicking the “Apply for CARES” quick link button on the County homepage or email (Caresassistance@lacnm.us), or call 663-1966. This second call for individual CARES Act grant applications will close the Friday preceding the Thanksgiving holiday.
Let’s keep using the tools we have to fight the virus together. We are a community of kindness and generosity and attention and commitment to using these tools is an extension of these values. We will continue to support our kids, businesses and each other – but we can’t let our guards down now – thanks for all you have done and will continue to do as we navigate this challenging situation.