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Nurse at Santa Rosa prison has COVID-19

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A graveyard shift nurse at the privately run prison near Santa Rosa tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, but inmates and other employees who came in contact with her have tested negative.

The positive coronavirus test came to light as the state is fighting a petition to the state Supreme Court filed by criminal defense attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico to reduce the state prison population because of the threat posed by COVID-19.

Department of Corrections spokesman Eric Harrison confirmed that the nurse tested positive Tuesday but had not been at the prison since finishing a shift last Friday.

Harrison said the officials at the 590-bed prison traced the nurse’s contacts by using video recordings and identified 13 employees and inmates who had come into contact with her over five days before and including her last shift.

The 13 employees and inmates were tested, and all the tests were negative, he said.

“This is our first scare,” Harrison said.

The Guadalupe County Correctional Facility, two miles south of Santa Rosa, is run by The GEO Group Inc.

Harrison credited the staff at the prison for acting quickly and following department policies for dealing with the coronavirus.

The department has suspended all in-person inmate visitation through May 15 and has been screening all prison staffers before the start of their shifts.

In other prisons, a total of 17 employees and five inmates have been tested, and all the tests have been negative.

All new inmates entering the system are medically screened – men at the prison in Los Lunas and women at the prison in Grants.

Last week, the ACLU, the law Offices of the Public Defender and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association sued Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero, asking that inmates at risk from the virus because of age or medical conditions be released from prison.

They also are seeking that inmates who were sent to prison for technical violations of their parole or probation be released.

Attorneys for the state have asked that the petition be dismissed, arguing that there is no legal authority for such a request.

Lujan Grisham has already ordered that certain inmates within 30 days of their release date can be released early.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled for May 4.

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