Troubling signs of a worsening pandemic were evident Saturday morning as people pulled into a COVID-19 testing site at a fire station off Cerrillos Road.
Out front in a cowboy hat, Bill McCamley, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, directed traffic for those awaiting tests, including essential workers and elderly Santa Feans.
“Please stay home for Thanksgiving,” McCamley said. “It’s just going to make things worse, and we can’t let this get any worse.”
McCamley said his agency is aiming to commit one volunteer in Santa Fe and three in Albuquerque every day to help ease the burden on health care workers at testing sites. Employees and Cabinet secretaries from the departments of Cultural Affairs; Taxation and Revenue; General Services; and Children, Youth and Families also have offered to help the Department of Health amid a surge of new cases and deaths across the state.
New Mexico on Saturday reported 25 more deaths to bring the statewide total since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to 1,350.
“It’s pretty scary to know that some people are still not taking it seriously,” said Emma Quintana of Pecos after being tested. “I just try to act like everyone always has it.”
Quintana said a co-worker at the State Employees Credit Union tested positive, so her workplace was shutting down for two weeks while everyone was asked to isolate and be tested.
Nicholas Granados also got tested Saturday after a co-worker tested positive. Unlike Quintana, he was worried about having to return to work at a Santa Fe gas station if his test results came back negative, even though public health guidelines call for two weeks of isolation.
“I wish the corporations or the government would be a little bit more lenient and help pay people to stay home,” said Granados, who has a daughter. “I sort of feel pressure to go back to work if I test negative. I need the money. I think that a lot of people are facing that decision.”
Through the end of the year, employers can seek reimbursement from the IRS for two weeks of sick leave for employees who come into contact with COVID-19, McCamley said. He was hopeful a special legislative session starting Tuesday could see an increase in unemployment benefits offered by the state through his department.
“They’ll be considering unemployment benefits in the special session, but yeah, Congress should really do something,” McCamley said. “From my department’s point of view, we need to tackle the virus first, and then we can get jobs back and get people off unemployment.”