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The Las Cruces City Council has created what is perhaps the state of New Mexico’s first COVID-19 vaccination task force “to coordinate a community response to the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.”
The council voted unanimously at its Jan. 4 regular meeting to create the task force, which Assistant City Manager Eric Enriquez said likely will be the first of its type in the state.
The council also awarded an additional $150,000 to local nonprofits and businesses to address the impact of COVID-19.
The task force was created “to ensure that timely and efficient delivery of vaccines occurs from state distribution sites to local administration sites,” according to the resolution passed by the council. The city will develop a memorandum of understanding with the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) to “create a public site to administer vaccinations as they become available,” the city said.
Enriquez said the city may also coordinate with New Mexico State University on the vaccine delivery.
Part of the task force’s role will be to “help determine the best way to inform residents about the vaccination strategy to promote efficient and equitable distribution (and) to identify individuals and communities with higher levels of need for vaccination,” the resolution said. The task force also will assist in building trust in the vaccination with local residents, including engaging community leaders and “trusted messengers” to support outreach and engagement efforts. The task force also will “coordinate messaging with neighboring cities to ensure uniformity and amplification.”
“This is the catalyst to get us to green,” Councilor Gabe Vasquez said, referring to the state’s red-yellow-green system for tracking the spread of COVID-19. (As of NMDOH’s Dec. 15-28 report, 32 of the state’s 33 counties, including Doña Ana County, remained in the red category, which means those counties have more than eight positive cases per 100,000 population and a positive-test rate greater than five percent. Only Catron County had reached the yellow level, which indicates the county has either more than eight positive cases per 100,000 or a positive-test rate greater than five percent. To reach the green level, a county must have eight or fewer cases per 100,000 and a positive-test rate less than or equal to five percent.)
“This is really proactive thinking on our part,” Councilor Johana Bencomo said. “I think it’s important that we set up our own infrastructure.”
Mayor Ken Miyagishima suggested 13 individuals be appointed to the task force, including Enriquez, interim Las Cruces Fire Chief Jason Smith, city Quality of Life Department Director Lynn Gallagher, a representative of the city legal department, three members of the city council, two local faith leaders, local hospital officials, County Clerk Amanda Lopez Askin, Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Karen Trujillo and New Mexico State University Chancellor Dan Arvizu, or their designees.
Funding for emergency assistance programs to address COVID-19 impact
The council also unanimously approved a resolution that will allow city staff to develop contracts with local nonprofits and restaurants (the city’s meal voucher program) to provide services “to the sick and indigent to address the community impact of COVID-19,” the resolution said.
The city’s meal-voucher program is “helping those that are less fortunate and helping the restaurants,” Miyagishima said. “We need this. We’re very fortunate that we can do this. We can run this for weeks and weeks and weeks and just keep doing it. We need to make it happen.”
City staff will draft a budget adjustment for council approval at a future meeting that will list specific funding amounts to be awarded.
The council has allocated $3.2 million in the past year in direct financial assistance for housing, utilities, rent, food, economic development initiatives, PPEs to help nonprofits, restaurants and other businesses deal with the impact of COVID-19.