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New Mexico jails suspend in-person visitations, test inmates

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — County jails across New Mexico have suspended in-person visitations and are rapidly testing inmates to minimize the spread of the new coronavirus.

Officials at Albuquerque’s Metropolitan Detention Center — the state’s most populous county jail — announced last week it will temporarily discontinue all in-person visits to the secure area of the facility. Inmates will continue to have access to the tablets, telephone and mail for contact with their attorneys and families, officials said.

The jail is actively working on expanding remote visitation through the tablets, the center said in a statement.

“Thus far, MDC has not experienced any positive results for COVID-19,” said Metropolitan Detention Center Chief Ralph Fernandez. “MDC is currently screening inmates as they arrive and has been doing so since Feb. 13. Over 2,000 people have been screened to date.”

In addition, the Santa Fe County Department of Public Safety also has discontinued visitation for residents at the jail facility. Incoming inmates are being screened for all infectious diseases, including COVID-19, the agency said.

Officials with the San Miguel County Detention Center have suspended in-person visitation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Warden Matt Elwell told the Las Vegas Optic the suspension of visitations would last at least three weeks, and that officials will review the policy at that point.

“We’ve canceled our public visitation, and (are preventing) our volunteers from entering the facility,” Elwell said. “That’s twofold. One, that’s to stop any introduction of the virus, and if we had (the coronavirus) inside, to prevent them from taking it back to the community.”

Elwell called the measure temporary and said the San Miguel County Detention Center was following the lead of other government agencies.

State health officials announced Sunday that four more people have tested positive for the coronavirus, pushing New Mexico’s total to 17. They said the latest cases all were men from Bernalillo County — one in his 20s, two in their 30s and one in his 40s.

Previous cases were reported in Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe, and Socorro counties. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said more cases are likely to emerge as testing ramps up via drive-thru screening centers.

The virus usually causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can be hit with more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter train service from Belen to Santa Fe is suspending service through April 3 due to the coronavirus.

Terry Doyle, director of Rio Metro Regional Transit District, says there’s no indication that anyone has contracted the virus through riding the train or the train service has transported anyone who has been infected.

There are no plans at this time to suspend or curtail service provided by Rio Metro buses and shuttle services.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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