An end to COVID-19 testing at Eddy County public health offices in Carlsbad and Artesia led to a possible three-way government partnership for more testing in the County.
Eddy County Emergency Manager Jennifer Armendariz said the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) stopped regular COVID-19 testing Sept. 13 at the two Eddy County health offices.
“That put us in a hard spot as far as testing. Right now, you’ve got all these mandates being required by different companies (stating) if you’re not going to get vaccinated you have to get tested and now we’re limiting the testing,” she said.
DOH Spokesperson David Morgan said the department began outsourcing testing for COVID-19 to contracted private companies in response to the increase in demand for testing.
“Outsourcing allows DOH to maintain focus on both vaccinations and routine public health services,” he said.
“We worked diligently to deliver increased testing capacity throughout the state. The public health offices in Eddy County, as well as in the Southeast region, took the initiative with constrained resources and provided testing until DOH was able to ramp up testing.”
Armendariz said drive-thru COVID-19 testing was offered Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the front of the Walter Gerrells Performing Arts Center in Carlsbad and Tuesday’s at the Bulldog Bowl parking lot in Artesia from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
She spoke during the Sept. 21 Eddy County Board of County Commissioners meeting and mentioned a possible partnership between Eddy County, City of Carlsbad, and Carlsbad Municipal Schools (CMS) and Curative for increased COVID-19 testing in Carlsbad, Artesia and Loving.
“We’d like to have as much as five days of available testing,” said Eddy County Manager Allen Davis. “We were thinking a couple of days in Carlsbad, a couple of days in Artesia and maybe a day in Loving.”
He said Eddy County would have to supplement the staff for Curative, the company that conducts COVID-19 tests in Eddy County.
Morgan said DOH established a Curative mobile testing van that travels to Carlsbad, Artesia, Lovington, Hobbs and Roswell.
“We initially set up appointment for four hours at each location to determine testing demand,” he said.
“The Curative testing site in Artesia conducted 179 COVID-19 tests on Sept. 14, and 79 test on Sept. 21. The Curative testing site in Carlsbad conducted 46 tests on Sept. 13, and 52 tests on Sept. 20.”
Morgan said testing turnout was relatively low in Eddy County.
“If testing demand increases, we will assess the situation and increase testing capacity as needed,” he said.
Manpower for testing questioned
Dr. Gerry Washburn, CMS superintendent, said possible use of school staff was talked about for potential testing sites involving Eddy County, Carlsbad and CMS.
“That piece may not work out unless we hire some additional people. If the County gets something working where we need to have some observers to make the program work, we will certainly supply people where we can make that happen,” he said.
Washburn said CMS hired new health and safety officers to help with contact tracing and relieve some of the COVID-19 burdens of CMS nurses.
“We might be able to deploy them. It’s just going to be a function of us looking at once we get down to the brass tax of what kind of people it’s going to take to support a testing program for this happening on a more consistent in the County,” he said.
Washburn said once a testing commitment is guaranteed, CMS would supply personnel for the COVID-19 testing work.
“The County has been a good partner for us. We’re going to do everything we can to make this work for the County and for the citizens of Carlsbad,” he said.
Davis said at least two observers were needed as the tests are self-administered.
“But they observe and make sure of administration of the test and make sure its done properly and they get the back and Curative takes care of it,” he said.
“If we had more testing available, I think we could help continue the downward trend of positivity we’re experiencing here in Eddy County,” Davis said.
Washburn said implementation of intra-government COVID-19 testing in Eddy County could take time.
“My hope is a matter of weeks, but it could be a month or so,” he said.
Morgan said DOH monitored COVID-19 positivity rates daily throughout New Mexico and if rates increased his department would consider reopening public health offices for testing.
‘We are positioned to provide increased testing capacity should the need arise again,” he said.
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at [email protected] or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.