Observations of the New Mexico Environment Dept. Rapid Response List 012121
Useful if check the "All Rapid Responses,"not just "Watchlist"
This work was done by a Beat reader to explain the use of Rapid Responses in Grant County, and whether they are part of the Watchlist or not.
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) website posts valuable COVID-19 coronavirus information regarding the Rapid Response program (https://www.env.nm.gov/rapid-response-data/). While the "Red-Yellow-Green" county designations have been receiving the most attention lately, the Rapid Response program is still in effect. The NMED website has tabs for Watchlist (can search or download in Excel- such as by city or county name), Closures, Testing Agreements, All Rapid Responses (daily reports that can also be searched or downloaded in Excel), and "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions).
A Rapid Response is "initiated" by state agencies "when one or more employees tests positive for COVID-19; it is essentially a list of all the positive cases (All Rapid Responses tab and FAQ#1).
The goal of a rapid response is to protect employees and customers while minimizing disruptions to the workplace and helping them reopen as soon as it as safe to do so. Some agencies, including the Public Education Department, also initiate rapid responses when a student or students test positive." (FAQ #1)
NMED can receive reports of positive cases from Department of Health of from employers, as there is mandatory employer reporting (All Rapid Responses tab).
FAQ # 2 explains what happens when an employee is reported as positive:
A typical rapid response consists of (1) isolating positive cases, (2) quarantining close contacts for 14 days, (3) ceasing operations to the extent necessary to isolate affected areas, (4) disinfecting these areas, (5) implementing safety procedures, and (6) resuming operations. Typically, operations are ceased for less than 24 hours before it is safe to reopen.
Under the Rapid Response program, as described on the Watchlist tab:
"Any organization with two or more rapid responses conducted by the New Mexico Environment Department or the Public Education Department in the last 14 calendar days is included on the Rapid Response COVID-19 Watchlist.".
The Closures tab explains:
The current public health order mandates certain establishments close for two weeks if they have four or more rapid responses within the last 14 days. The closure requirement applies to food and drink establishments, retail spaces, places of lodging, close-contact businesses as defined in the Nov. 13, 2020 public health order, and essential businesses (other than healthcare operations, utility and media services). [emphasis added]
FAQ #10 explains that when 4 or more positives occur within 14 days, NMED refers the case to the Department of Health. The two Departments evaluate and decide on closure; the decision can be that an "essential business" can continue operating if determined to be a "necessary provider of goods or services."
An exception to the requirement to close when 4 or more positive cases are reported within 14 days exists if the business has an approved Testing Agreement and follows it. The Agreements are approved by both Department of Health and Environment Department; the conditions include "surveillance testing and contact tracing" (Closures tab and FAQ #11). However, the positive cases do still count toward the Watchlist;
In addition to the executed agreement, essential businesses subject to the closure requirement must submit and follow a facility-specific surveillance testing and contact tracing plan (Plan) to the Departments of Health and Environment.
Businesses must agree to test 100 percent of their employees on a regular basis. … Once both the Agreement and Plan are in place, a rapid response resulting from surveillance testing will not count towards advancement on the Rapid Response COVID-19 closure requirement. Those rapid responses will count toward inclusion on the state's Watchlist. [emphasis added]
A reader contacted the Grant County Beat in December with a troubling observation about the New Mexico Environment Department's (NMED) "Rapid Response" listings: the "Watchlist" was not showing all Silver City businesses that qualified for listing based on the criterion of 2 or more reports within 14 days (as posted on the All Rapid Responses tab). Walmart had 3 reports in 5 days (11/23, 11/25, 11/27) but was not on the Watchlist.
The reader left a voicemail for NMED's OSHA COVID Coordinator, hoping to see a correction in a few days, but none appeared. Albertson's in Silver City had previously been listed with 3 reports in 2 weeks, but only showed 2 cases on the Watchlist; an e-form submitted to NMED produced no update or other results. As of December 2, the Agreements listed on the NMED Rapid Response website's Testing Agreements tab included Albertsons and Walmart. However, the "FAQ" page (#5) confirmed the information above that an Agreement does not releases a business from listing on the Watchlist.
The Grant County Beat reached out to NMED for clarification on December 3, receiving a Public Information Officer (PIO) reply. It was confirmed that businesses with Agreements "are still included on the Watchlist"; however, those having Agreements do not need to close with "four (4) or more rapid responses within a fourteen (14) day period." In addition, the NMED PIO confirmed website information explaining that one report could actually mean more than one person testing positive in a single day.
The All Rapid Responses tab explains that if an employee is absent from the workplace while infectious (e.g., teleworking or on vacation) the positive case still shows up on the full list. The PIO clarified that if a positive employee was not present in the workplace while infectious (e.g., teleworking or off duty), then the report is listed (All Rapid Reports) but does not count toward the Watchlist. Since "transparency" is one of the reasons for the Watchlist (FAQ #7), the Grant County Beat suggested adding an asterisk (*) if the Rapid Response does not qualify for the Watchlist. This would help align the Watchlist with All Rapid Responses. While the PIO expressed appreciation for the feedback, no such feature has not been added to the All Rapid Reports.
The reader continued to conduct periodic monitoring of the Watchlist, Closure, and All Rapid Responses tabs. With the type of businesses reported and frequency of businesses having 2 or more reports within 14 days, it seemed increasingly unlikely, though still possible, that all instances of 2 or more reports within 14 days were due to employees not being at work. The reader's findings for Silver City Rapid Response listings in December and January appear at the end of this article.
As of December 2, the "Testing Agreements" tab, showed Albertson's and Walmart Agreements. The information on that web page identified that every location was supposed to be listed in the Plan. NMED's Public Information Officer advised that signed documents were posted on the website. As of January 21, Albertson's Plan does list individual locations as required by the State- including Silver City, and but Walmart does not include the required list of locations, either in the Plan or the Agreement. Both the posted Albertson's and Walmart Agreements are missing NM Department of Health signature.
Reader observations of 2 or more incidents within 14 days, not posted on Watchlist.
Only reports within 14 days of the posted date were evaluated each time.
SILVER CITY POSTED THROUGH December 28:
1. SUNSET VISTA ADULT RESIDENTIAL (3) - 12/20 (2 separate posts, may include duplication)
2. TOWN OF SILVER CITY (4) – 12/16, 12/24, 12/28 (2 on one post)
3. UPS CUSTOMER CENTER (5-6) – 12/10, 12/17 (2 on one post), 12/19, 12/20, 12/21
4. WALMART SUPERCENTER (2) – 12/17, 12/25
SILVER CITY POSTED THROUGH January 1
1. SUNSET VISTA ADULT RESIDENTIAL (3) – 12/20 (3 separate posts, may include duplication)
2. TOWN OF SILVER CITY (3) – 12/24 & 12/28 (2 on one post)
3. UPS CUSTOMER CENTER (2) – 12/20, 12/21
SILVER CITY POSTED THROUGH January 19:
NOTE: GRANT COUNTY HAD ONE ON WATCHLIST in Bayard – Cobre High with 2 reports.
1. ACE HARDWARE (3) – 1/17, 1/14, 1/16
2. SILVER CONSOLIDATED SCHOOLS (4-6) – 1/11 (2 separate posts of 2 cases each, may include duplication), 1/14, 1/18
3. SIXTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY (3-5) – 1/7 (2 separate posts – one for 2 & the other a single, may include duplication), 1/8, 1/17
4. WALMART SUPERCENTER (4-6) – 1/7 (2 separate posts, may include duplication), 1/9, 1/12, 1/14. ALSO – one at WALMART AUTO CARE CENTER 1/13 – listed as a separate business, same address.
5. WESTERN NEW MEXICO UNIVERSITY (3-4) – 1/7, 1/8 (2 separate posts, one for 2 and the other a single, may involve duplication), 1/14