A Del Norte High School freshman has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting state health officials to ask students and staff from that school to isolate themselves.
Meanwhile, a Bernalillo County infant is among the 14 new cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico, the state Department of Health announced Saturday. That brings the state’s total to 57 – more than half of them in Bernalillo County, where community spread has been detected. So far no deaths have been reported in New Mexico.
Albuquerque Public Schools said it was notified of the high school student testing positive Friday.
Public schools in the state were shut down as of Monday to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but members of the Del Norte community were told that they may have been exposed between March 4 and March 10, when the student who tested positive was at school.
Principal Ed Bortot notified parents, students and staff of the situation in a letter Friday.
“Del Norte High School is working with the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) in investigating a case of COVID-19 in a student of the school,” he wrote. “Some of the students and staff may have been exposed.”
A similar letter went out to families from Nex+Gen Academy, a magnet school adjacent to Del Norte.
The news has left parents and staff on edge.
“We’re very worried,” said Elizabeth Schneider, the mother of two teens who attend Del Norte – a son who is a senior and her daughter, a freshman. She said not knowing is the worst.
“I didn’t sleep all night last night,” she said. “I got up every hour and checked her temperature, every hour. Just freaking out.”
Schneider said her daughter has had a little cough, but “it’s completely nerve-wracking” because the teen is prone to allergies this time of year.
As both a parent and teacher at Collett Park Elementary School, she said the school is taking the proper precautions.
“I think this is because this is such a foreign situation, they did the best they can do,” Schneider said. “I know because of (federal health privacy law) they can’t tell us the student. I understand that much, but it’s very frustrating as a parent to not know if my child was in class with her or him.”
She said some of her daughter’s friends have been tested, and those tests came back negative. She’s hesitant to get her daughter tested, for now.
“I have been monitoring her…” Schneider said. “But I don’t want to overreact, because I don’t want to take up time from people who might really be showing signs.”
In the meantime, she said the entire family is staying home “like everyone else,” watching movies, doing puzzles and even a little online education.
“We’re just trying to pass the time,” Schneider said. “…On the 24th of this month, will be just 14 days from their last exposure, so I feel like we still have a road to go.”
A Del Norte staff member said the staff did everything they could with what they knew.
“… Guarantee it’s not just Del Norte, hence the reasons for the closures,” she said. “People are looking for blame with all this. There’s no one to blame. We’re all experiencing this firsthand. … I know the staff there are just as concerned with the students’ health and safety as they are their own families.”
The employee said she trusts in the hardworking people out there keeping ahead of the virus.
“If the rest of us lay low, I think we’re good, gotta have faith,” she said.
In a statement, APS said that “in an abundance of caution” DOH is suggesting that students and staff who spent time on the Del Norte campus isolate themselves for up to 14 days from their last exposure and contact the state if symptoms surface and medical attention is needed. Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Anyone with symptoms is asked to call the Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline at 855-600-3453.
Roughly 1,000 students attend Del Norte, located at Montgomery and San Mateo in the Northeast Heights. APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said the school also has 234 staff, while Nex+gen has 294 students and 34 staff.
Citing patient privacy laws, state health officials won’t say whether they’re investigating any other cases where students at other schools in the state may have been exposed.
“The New Mexico Department of Health does extensive investigations when a person tests positive for COVID-19,” David Morgan, a spokesman for the Health Department, told the Journal. “If someone who tested positive for COVID-19 had attended school, NMDOH may have contacted the school district and school administration with guidance as to how to proceed in aiding our contact investigations.”
Of the 14 new cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico, nine are in Bernalillo County. Besides the infant, they are: a woman in her 70s; a woman in her 60s; two men in their 40s; two men in their 30s; a woman in her 30s; and a woman in her 20s.
The other new positive cases are:
• A woman in her 20s in Doña Ana County
• A man in his 70s in Lea County
• A woman in her 40s in Sandoval County
• A man in his 50s in Santa Fe County
• And a woman in her 50s in Taos County.
In a news release announcing those new cases, the Governor’s Office noted that “it is likely other residents are infected but yet to be tested or confirmed positive.”
Morgan said that to date, the Health Department has only confirmed community spread in Bernalillo County.
“Detection of community spread, however, can be significant because it is a sign a virus may be spreading freely and could lead to an unknown number of more cases,” Morgan said. “That is why our evolving public health order has increasingly covered more and more things in an effort to minimize the number of people who get sick. Prevention remains our best weapon against the COVID-19 coronavirus.”
State officials have been aggressive in their efforts to fight the pandemic. Besides shutting down schools, they have closed restaurants and bars to in-person dining while temporarily shutting down theaters, indoor malls, gyms and resort spas. They are also urging people to minimize person-to-person contact.
The 57 positive tests for COVID-19 have been in:
• Bernalillo County, 32 cases
• Santa Fe County, 8
• Sandoval County, 7
• Taos County, 3
• Doña Ana County, 2
• Socorro County, 2
• And one each in Lea, McKinley and San Miguel counties.
Morgan said New Mexico has not reached the limit of its testing capacity. But he added that both the Health Department’s Scientific Labs and TriCore are “taking steps to expand testing capacity.
“We want to stay ahead of the curve as much as humanly possible.”
In its release, the Governor’s Office said people without symptoms do not need to be tested for COVID-19.
“This is allergy season, and allergy symptoms such as sneezing or itchy eyes, nose or throat do not indicate a need for testing,” the release stressed. “While the state is gratified that COVID-19 testing is increasingly available, we need to prioritize testing for persons with symptoms of COVID-19 infection – fever, cough, or shortness of breath.”