Local leaders say they’ve been preparing for the likelihood COVID-19 would show up on Santa Fe County’s doorstep. When it arrived Wednesday, they said they were as prepared as they could be.

But that doesn’t mean they are without questions — and worries — about the next days, weeks and months.

Mayor Alan Webber, County Manager Katherine Miller, the leaders of the city’s largest hospital and the superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools acknowledge they will have to adjust on the fly as the day-to-day and minute-to-minute realities about the virus change. Even in the nine hours after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the state’s first positive coronavirus cases, the picture changed again — a woman from Santa Fe County tested positive for the respiratory disease, becoming the fourth New Mexican to do so.

“This is a continuing situation,” Webber said a couple hours after Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency for New Mexico. “The more we learn about it and more we deal with it, the more informed decisions we are going to make.”

Leaders of some of the city’s key institutions say that while there is plenty they have and will do as the crisis continues, they will need to learn more from state officials before they can make critical decisions in the future, such as whether to close schools or shut down access to public and tourist events.

State decisions will affect what local and regional governments, plus medical care providers, do in turn.

“I think the [state] departments are trying to consider how to go to the next level,” said Lillian Montoya, CEO of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.

Christus St. Vincent’s 200-bed facility is at capacity, a factor state officials will need to consider depending on how quickly and deeply the virus spreads. Montoya said she is interested to know more about where state health officials will want to place seriously ill coronavirus patients.

“We’re trying to find ways to meet a community need, ensuring coordination of care on a regional basis, so [those] diagnosed with COVID-19 can get the best possible care,” she said Wednesday.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email Wednesday that the state Health Department plans to “coordinate medical surge and address triage on-off site … with healthcare providers.”

Meanwhile, Webber, Miller and Montoya said the well-being of those who respond to and care for coronavirus patients cannot be overlooked.

They said their agencies have retrained those employees on the proper use of personal protective equipment — masks, gloves and other gear, for example.

“We want responders and caregivers to not get exposed,” said James Marx, executive director of quality, patient safety, reliability quality and performance improvement at Christus St. Vincent.

Other questions abound, particularly for the school district, which must consider whether to shut down if a confirmed case were discovered at one of its 30 sites. García said she would confer with colleagues, school nurses and the state’s education and health departments before making a decision.

Marx and García noted COVID-19 is not the first contagious disease officials have had to prepare for, recalling the H1N1 flu virus of 2009.

As a result, Marx said, “this didn’t catch us off guard. When there was a pandemic of influenza [H1N1] in 2009, we were able to respond.”

But, he added, “We are taking this very seriously. … It could become very serious.”

Marx said he believes some people will go about their business as usual without worrying about contracting the virus, while others may stay encamped at home.

“You have to make your own decision based on the information,” Miller said.

“We’re not panicking, but we need to be prepared,” García added.

Nonetheless, Webber said it’s not always easy to do when the facts at hand can change at any moment.

“What looked OK last week,” he noted, “may be off the table now.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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