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COVID-19 cases jump at southern NM lockup

Medical personnel screen patients at the Presbyterian drive-up COVID-19 testing site. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

State health officials say 55 additional state inmates and nine more federal inmates have contracted COVID-19 at the Otero County Prison Facility, which has had four deaths related to the virus and nearly 650 cases.

The New Mexico Corrections Department says 362 of its 497 inmates at Otero County prison have COVID-19 – or 73%. Four are hospitalized with the virus.

The numbers were part of a Saturday update in which health officials reported 172 additional cases of COVID-19 and two deaths in the state – bringing the total to 10,430 cases and 466 deaths.

A woman in her 60s and man in his 50s, both from McKinley County, died of the virus. They were both hospitalized and had underlying conditions.

The new cases include 30 in McKinley County, 15 in Bernalillo County, 10 each in Doña Ana and Sandoval counties, eight each in San Juan and Lea counties, seven each in Rio Arriba and Curry counties, five in Santa Fe County, two each in Luna and Eddy counties and one each in Valencia, Torrance, Colfax and Cibola counties.

There are 145 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 48 on ventilators, and 4,628 designated as having recovered from the virus, according to a Governor’s Office news release.

The Otero County Prison Facility – which separately houses both federal and state inmates – and its neighbor, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-run Otero County Processing Center, has been besieged by COVID-19. Three state inmates and one federal inmate have died of the virus.

A spokesperson for the federal side of the Otero County prison, which is run by the private company Management and Training Corp., did not respond to questions.

New Mexico Corrections Department spokesman Eric Harrison said the spike among state inmates is a result of “aggressive testing” of “negative” inmates every four days.

However, since inmates with COVID-19 have been separated, Harrison said it’s likely the virus once again infiltrated the “negative” inmate population.

“The negatives are separated from the positives, asymptomatic from the symptomatic. … So we have to see where the contagion is coming from and going,” he said.

Harrison said the Corrections Department received the results of facility-wide testing on Saturday but had not separated the results to determine how many staff members may be infected. He expects those numbers to be available in the coming days.

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