Albuquerque VA Medical Center Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

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Albuquerque Veterans Administration Medical Center staff manned a security barrier at the San Mateo entrance. Access was restricted Tuesday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit: Bryant Furlow

An Albuquerque Veterans Affairs Medical Center employee tested positive for COVID-19 on March 12, a VA spokeswoman confirmed to New Mexico In Depth Wednesday morning — nearly a week after the hospital received that test result. 

The state Department of Health confirmed Wednesday morning that the infected employee was a physician. That physician was a close household member of a person who had traveled recently, a spokesman wrote in an email.

The VA on Wednesday morning declined to confirm the employee’s profession, citing privacy concerns. 

“The facility is currently awaiting confirmatory results from the Centers for Disease Control,” VA spokeswoman Paula Aragon wrote in an email following repeated requests for information. “Due to privacy concerns, we cannot provide additional information.”

However, the NMDOH announced last week that tests “no longer need to be verified positive by the CDC.”

New Mexico In Depth obtained a March 17 e-mail authored by Medical Center Director Andrew M. Welch to VA staff noting that both the employee and those VA staff and patients “who had significant exposure” to the employee were sent home for 14 days of quarantine and home monitoring by the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH).

No patients or staff who were similarly isolated at home because of contact with this employee have developed symptoms, Aragon reported Wednesday morning.

“The individuals that this person had contact with have been notified, are currently asymptomatic, and are being monitored as well,” Aragon wrote in an email.

A NMDOH spokesman initially denied Tuesday evening that any health care facilities had received positive COVID-19 test results. But he corrected himself Wednesday morning. 

“I’ve learned today the doctor is a close household contact of a travel case and is among the confirmed cases previously announced in Bernalillo County,” NMDOH spokesman David Morgan said. “In the rush to get answers for an unprecedented number of media and constituents, it was never communicated to my office the occupation of this specific travel-related case. I’ve since learned the health care worker was isolated appropriately and no patients were at serious risk of contracting the virus themselves.”

No VA patients have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday morning, Aragon reported. Of 25 patient tests the VA has submitted to the NMDOH, 21 remained pending on Tuesday afternoon. Four had come back negative for COVID-19. None were positive, Aragon said.

The Albuquerque VA Medical Center, the state’s largest veterans health facility, has 310 patient beds, including 184 acute hospital beds, according to an online VA facilities directory.

This is a developing story. We will provide updates.

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