Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
State health officials announced a dramatic surge – 116 new cases – of COVID-19 at a state prison in southern New Mexico, bringing the total in that facility to 162.
The news comes one day after the state announced the first death of an inmate from that lockup – the Otero County Prison – related to the virus.
Morgen Jaco, a New Mexico Corrections Department spokesman, said four inmates from the prison are hospitalized in El Paso. One of them is on a ventilator.
“The remainder of the positive cases are asymptomatic,” Jaco said.
The outbreak at the prison made up the majority of the 227 new cases recorded in a Tuesday afternoon update, bringing the statewide total to 8,024.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office, also reported five additional deaths in Bernalillo, McKinley, Cibola and San Juan counties. Each person reportedly had underlying medical conditions. Those who died are:
⋄ Two men from McKinley County, in their 30s and 50s.
⋄ A Bernalillo County woman in her 90s. She was a resident of Uptown Genesis facility in Albuquerque.
⋄ A Cibola County man in his 80s. He was a resident of Good Samaritan Society facility in Grants.
⋄ A San Juan County woman in her 50s.
Sackett said the new cases include 42 in San Juan County, 30 in McKinley County, 15 in Bernalillo County, four in Santa Fe County, three each in Doña Ana, Sandoval and Valencia counties, two each in Lincoln, Curry and Cibola counties and one each in Chaves, Luna, Rio Arriba, Socorro and Taos counties.
There are 182 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state and 2,960 designated as having recovered by the New Mexico Department of Health.
Aside from the spike in cases at the Otero prison, Sackett said, there is also a case at the Penitentiary of New Mexico outside Santa Fe that had been previously, erroneously, attributed to Bernalillo County numbers.
The Otero prison, which houses both state and federal inmates, has had 228 COVID-19 cases. The neighboring Otero County Processing Center, which houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, has had 92 cases.
Jaco said the new cases at Otero prison came to light after four prisoners “reported feeling unwell” over the weekend. All four tested positive for COVID-19.
She said that 164 prisoners who “may have had any form of contact” were tested and that 116 of them tested positive.
Jaco did not say how they believe the initial four inmates got sick but said the remaining 379 inmates at the prison were retested Tuesday. Those results are pending.
She said the Corrections Department is taking “aggressive steps” to protect staffers and inmates, including keeping infected inmates isolated and all housing units separated from one another.
“All affected areas are tested every three to four days, and other areas of the facility will be tested weekly,” Jaco said. “Staff members working in affected areas will also be tested weekly and will continue to be closely monitored for symptoms.”