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New Mexico adds least-restrictive COVID-19 tier

February 24, 2021 GMT
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives her weekly update on COVID-19 in New Mexico and the state's effort to contain it during a virtual news conference from the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., on Thursday, July 23, 2020. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives her weekly update on COVID-19 in New Mexico and the state's effort to contain it during a virtual news conference from the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., on Thursday, July 23, 2020. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico on Wednesday revised its color-coded risk system by adding a new color that signifies when counties can ease even more pandemic-related restrictions.

The red-yellow-green system now includes turquoise. Counties can reach that category by meeting certain health criteria for four consecutive weeks. State officials said that will allow for expanded indoor dining and the operation of entertainment venues like theaters, bars and clubs.

All but four of the state’s 33 counties already have seen test positivity and new case rates decline and have emerged from the strictest lockdowns — earning favorable yellow, green and now turquoise ratings on the color-coded map.

State health officials and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have pointed to ongoing efforts to drive down transmission rates — mask-wearing and limiting social contact — along with vaccinations for the reasons New Mexico has seen its daily case numbers and spread rates decline in recent weeks. The governor on Wednesday called it “solid progress.”

“We have to keep it up,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’ve seen what happens when we ease up too quickly or let our guard down all at once — our hospitals fill back up and more New Mexicans lose their lives. We can and we must keep making safe choices in our day-to-day lives.”

Republicans have been critical of the Democratic governor’s handling of the pandemic, saying countless businesses have been forced to close and unemployment continues to climb as a result. State lawmakers are considering proposals that would provide economic aid amid the ongoing pandemic.

Senate Republicans sent a letter to the governor last week, urging her to revise the framework for reopening more of the state. They called the latest changes a small step in the right direction.

House Republican Whip Rod Montoya said Lujan Grisham still needs to do more: “It is time for the governor to stop playing with crayons, when she should be getting kids back into the classroom and New Mexicans get back to work.”

Under the state’s system, a color is assigned based on the risk level in a particular county. The risk is determined by two key metrics: a test positivity rate below 5% and a new per-capita case rate of fewer than 8 per 100,000.

A county that meets one of the benchmarks over a two-week period may operate at the yellow level. A county that meets both is considered green, while those that fall short of both are red.

The state also announced it was recategorizing businesses that had previously been considered close-contact recreational facilities and were closed no matter a county’s color. Now, those businesses will be allowed to operate at limited capacities depending on their new category and the risk level of the county in which they operate.

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For entertainment venues such as racetracks, concert halls, movie theaters and sports venues, they can operate at 33% capacity indoors and 75% outdoors under the turquoise level. Lower capacities would be allowed at the green and yellow levels.

Separate from the revised tier system, state parks, which had previously been open only for day-use for New Mexico residents, will now be open to all for camping with reservations and day-use.