Institute quarantines 26 others
New Mexico Military Institute is dealing with a small number of new COVID cases among staff and cadets and is reminding parents and visitors to refrain from visits to the school, according to information released Saturday morning.
Seven people, three staff members and four cadets, have tested positive for the coronavirus during the past week. Another 26 people have been placed in quarantine and tested as a precaution, according to an announcement made by Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, president and superintendent of the Institute.
“If there is good news, the cadets identified as positive appear to be asymptomatic at this time,” Grizzle wrote.
These are the first COVID cases at the campus since July, when cadets and staff first began arriving back to the campus, or Post, for the fall semester.
At the start of the year, 15 cadets who were asymptomatic tested positive, the Saturday announcement stated.
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“We have known our highest risk was for the virus to be carried onto the Post, not from the corps itself. We managed those cases, so these cases are not our first rodeo,” Grizzle’s statement read. “However, we all must remain diligent and aware of our personal situations and the ability for this disease to spread.”
The recent cases began Wednesday when a staff member became aware that he or she had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID.
That employee tested positive and was quarantined off campus. He or she identified three other staff members in the same department as close contacts. Those three were tested, with two receiving news of positive results on Friday. All three are quarantining or self-isolating off campus.
On Thursday, the Institute also identified a team of 15 cadets who had been in contact with the staff members. They were tested, with four having positive results. All 15 have been placed either in quarantine or isolation.
Another 14 cadets who could have been in contact with the first team of 15 cadets are in quarantine as the Institute awaits the results of their tests.
“We are working with our on-site infirmary staff, a local lab, the NMDOH (Department of Health), NMHED (Higher Education Department) and NMEVD (Environment Department) with regards to testing and reporting,” Grizzle wrote. “We are addressing various common spaces to engage with the deep cleaning and disinfecting protocols.”
Grizzle also said the situation reinforces the need to follow established COVID-safe practices for the remaining six weeks of the fall semester.
Grizzle said in answer to a question that the original 15 diagnosed positive in July were isolated for 10 days and given twice daily health screenings before the state authorized their release.
Chief of Staff Col. David West added that no cadet has had to withdraw due to COVID and that academics and corps training have not been significantly impacted.
Given the military and corps training that is part of the Institute learning model, NMMI has been allowed to offer in-person training and education to its high school and junior college cadets, which number about 800 this semester.
However, the schools’ practices also have earned the scrutiny of the state Higher Education Department. Acting Secretary Stephanie Rodriquez has notified the Institute in two letters about the need to enforce mandated rules better. She wrote that photos, information from contact tracing and other reports the HED has received indicated that state orders weren’t being followed.
Grizzle responded with two letters that disputed some of the facts alleged and explained why the Institute’s reopening plan that had been submitted to the Higher Education Department prior to the start of the semester deviated from state public health orders in some instances.
He also stressed in his responses and subsequent interviews that the Institute had put in place sound policies that include daily monitoring of cadets’ and employees’ health using laser monitors, temperature-check stations and other measures. He said he has personally talked with cadets about the importance of obeying the rules and made clear that disciplinary actions or dismissal could occur if cadets do not comply.
New Mexico state officials have indicated in their regular COVID press conferences that the resumption of in-person education at public schools has led to increased cases statewide. The New Mexico Public Education Department, which has authority over public K-12 schools, has reported 285 total COVID cases at public schools since Aug. 17, 195 being staff members and 90 being students.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.