BY SARA SCOTT
Los Alamos County Council Chair
In this final note of 2020, I’d like to offer a truly heartfelt wish to you all for a safe and Happy New Year. We’ll need to continue to be vigilant into the coming year – staying home as much as possible, wearing our masks, keeping our distance and limiting gatherings – but as we start to vaccinate those in our community, and around the state and nation, I feel hope permeating through our perception of the year ahead.
The County remains at the red “very high” risk level but we’ve got two new important tools to use to lower the COVID-19 risk to the health of our community and enable broader openings of our businesses, facilities and programs.
First, there are new opportunities to increase testing, continuing to promote broader testing is critical because it helps us better understand the scope of infections and, with associated isolation, will reduce transmission. I’d like to emphasize that both of these new options, described below, utilize saliva sampling rather than nasal swabs. As announced by the Governor on Dec. 22, free at-home COVID-19 tests are now available to all New Mexico residents who want one. Once requested, tests will be sent out via expedited UPS shipping; the Governor’s press release notes that results will be available within 24-48 hours of receipt of the sample back at the participating laboratory. This service does require internet connectivity and utilizes zoom as part of the sampling process. This is the result of a public-private partnership between the state and Vault Health, please see learn.vaulthealth.com/nm/ to order a test.
Additionally, according to current New Mexico Department of Health planning, a drive through COVID-19 testing event will be held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29 at Los Alamos Middle School. The testing will be supported by the National Guard. I look forward to my family attending this event and encourage all who have considered getting tested to take advantage of this opportunity. Based on utilization and need, there may be opportunities to schedule future events.
The Los Alamos Public Health Office also remains available to provide a COVID-19 test to anyone that wants one (call 662-4038 for an appointment). My understanding is that turnaround times have improved, and results are currently being provided within 4-6 days.
For all types of testing if you don’t hear back regarding your test within 4 days – call the COVID hotline at 1-855-600-3453 to get a verbal report of your results.
While testing will remain critical, the other exciting development is that we are starting to vaccinate health care workers and fire fighters (because of their Emergency Medical Technician role) in the County. As of Dec. 23, Los Alamos Medical Center has received 125 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and these were used to vaccinate front-line staff – those directly interacting with patients; about 50-75 additional doses are anticipated each week.
Using the same type of vaccine, the Public Health Office has vaccinated 69 fire fighters, 10 visiting nurses (nurses that do home visits) and three helicopter ambulance personnel as of Dec 23. An additional 250 doses have been requested; this will allow for the vaccination of 53 more fire fighters and additional health care workers, medical first responders, and other personnel identified by the New Mexico Department of Health as phase 1a vaccination recipients, around town. According to the County’s Emergency Manager, residents and workers in long-term care facilities will receive vaccinations in accordance with their enrollment in the federal Long-Term Care Facilities partnership program.
It is clear that both testing and vaccinations are ramping up rapidly, and we are approaching the light at the end of what has been a long tunnel. Please accept my most sincere thanks for all that you’ve done over the last 9 months. Taking needed public health practices seriously has and will continue to have a significant impact on the level at which businesses, schools, and other services can operate. And I know we’ll continue to find ways to help those in need and support our local businesses – and with patience, understanding, an extra bit of kindness and care for each other and ourselves keep working through this together. 2021 – We are Los Alamos and here we come!