Bill McCamley was giving a report on the state’s unemployment situation when he suddenly announced he was going to work an extra day this weekend.
“The state’s asking all employees to help with [COVID-19] testing,” the secretary of the state’s Workforce Solutions Department told members of the Legislative Finance Committee on Friday morning during a budget presentation. “Employees at different state agencies, myself included, are going to training today.”
He shortly left the meeting to undergo instruction at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque.
As the number of COVID-19 cases rises — there were 2,993 on Friday with 23 deaths, including two in Santa Fe County — officials are looking for ways to increase testing opportunities. Toward that end, the state Department of Health asked workers from other state agencies to help.
Those who aren’t medical personnel, such as McCamley, will not be giving tests but are being tasked with much-needed support duties: opening test kits, unloading boxes, running test results to medical personnel and managing traffic, said Marisa Maez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.
“They’re out there in the trenches doing what they have to do to make sure that everybody is getting tested,” Maez said.
She said state workers who offered to help will be paid — unless they are exempt employees like McCamley.
Employees and Cabinet secretaries from other state departments — including Cultural Affairs; Taxation and Revenue; General Services; and Children, Youth and Families — offered to help, Maez said.
“It doesn’t matter what their title is,” Maez said, noting Billy Jimenez, acting secretary of the Department of Health, also is a volunteer. “People are stepping in.”
During her weekly briefing on the pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said there aren’t enough medical professionals to administer tests as more and more New Mexicans request them.
“We don’t have the people to do that,” the governor said Thursday. “When you have an exponential increase [in virus cases], we run out of the necessary people to carry out operations like testing and getting information to the laboratory and making calls for contract tracing and navigating placement for people in units.”
Officials also need more people to conduct contact tracing. Maez said the state recently posted employment opportunities for contact tracers and received 500 applications. But she said it takes time to train those workers, unlike the one-day training for state employees learning how to support those conducting the tests.
“Demand is high,” for those workers, she said, referring to contact tracers. “I imagine the process [of hiring] would go quickly.”
Of the roughly 200 state workers who are helping in various pandemic assistance tasks, some have already been trained to help with contact tracing.
The Department of Health can process about 3,000 test results a day, Maez said. She said there are nearly 95 test sites in nearly 30 counties around the state.
She said the state employees helping with testing will be in full personal protective gear.
For McCamley, the job is traffic control. In his training on Friday, he learned all about directing vehicles, checking to make sure drivers were wearing masks and placing traffic cones in the right spots.
Over the summer, when his department was overwhelmed with calls from New Mexicans who needed help with their unemployment benefits because of the pandemic, McCamley said employees from other state agencies stepped in to help.
“For anyone who makes a comment about state employees being lazy or not willing to step up — it’s false, a lie,” he said. “This is a real testament to how much they care about their neighbors and communities. If we want to make sure everyone who wants to be tested gets tested, these are the things that need to be done.”