Gating criteria released by the New Mexico Department of Health on Wednesday saw Eddy County move into the “yellow” category, as daily cases were reported at 16.70 out of 100,000 and the positivity rate declined to 3.79%.
Eddy County was one of 13 counties in New Mexico, more than a third of the state, that reached a less restrictive level, DOH said in a news release.
Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway said the change was extremely positive.
“Because it means that our local restaurants can re-open for indoor dining and because it means that we are finally beating this terrible disease. Our small businesses have had to deal with so much over the past year, but today is a good step in the right direction. We hope to continue with this momentum and make COVID-19 a thing of the past,” he said.
The state’s county-by-county system uses key health metrics – the per-capita daily incidence of new COVID-19 cases and average COVID-19 test positivity within county borders – to determine the level of public health risk and requirement for each county, read a DOH news release.
A county that meets one criterion may operate at the yellow level; a county that meets both may operate at the green level. A county that has met both for two consecutive biweekly map updates may operate at the turquoise level.
“I’m very happy that you can go inside and eat at a restaurant, that’s the big attraction if you will of yellow. Hopefully if things continue to improve across our state and across our nation and our world when it comes to COVID-19. We are moving to a point very quickly where most of our counties are going to be moving into the green or turquoise level,” said Paul Gessing, president of the Albuquerque based Rio Grande Foundation free market think tank.
He said even though businesses have reopened counties still must contend with some restrictions.
“The governor still has a lot of power. You still have a statewide mask mandate. There’s still no little league sports available at least legally to play here in New Mexico,” he said.
“It’s time for the governor to relinquish her power and essentially follow Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and allow life to return to normal. Let businesses, let individuals make decisions that are best for themselves. Keeping us in this perpetual state of emergency is not what was really intended.”
Southeast counties improve overall in COVID-19 data
Eddy County was one of four counties in the state under the highest level of restriction prior to Wednesdays announcement. Those included, Doña Ana, Otero and McKinley County, all of which were labeled yellow on Wednesday.
Chaves County was downgraded to yellow in February, and remained there as its positivity rate was 2.37 percent and the daily cases per 100,000 was 9.10, DOH figures noted.
“Thank goodness that it happened. That was crazy that Eddy was not in the yellow (two weeks ago) so I’m thrilled with that,” said Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh.
He was concerned Chaves County might have gone back to red after restrictions were loosened nearly two weeks ago.
“We don’t see all the numbers and that’s one of the irritating factors I have about this whole situation,” Kintigh said.
“I reality we really don’t know all of what’s going on. But we have seen a drop in active cases it’s continued for an extended period of time. I’m hopeful by the 24th (of March) this is reevaluated again, and we’ll be even more open.”
Kintigh is hoping that New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will abandon the color system by April.
He said strong efforts were undertaken in Chaves County to get citizens vaccinated with vaccinations being distributed by local hospitals and independent physicians.
Kintigh said the City of Roswell had a major vaccination effort nearly two weeks ago and another clinic is set for Saturday.
Decreased rates in positive cases in Lea County resulted in a “green” label. Lea County’s latest data showed a positivity rate of 1.44 and a daily case per 100,000 rate of 4.10, DOH said.
“It is well past time the governor stops creating fear and starts allowing those that choose life and freedom over fear and oppression to make choices for themselves,” said Lea County State Rep. Randall Pettigrew (R-61). “Abolish the color system and open up our state.”
Pettigrew said New Mexico should join 16 other states that have dismissed mask mandates and fully open.
Eighteen counties are at the yellow level as of March 10. Only one is at the red level, signifying very high risk, DOH said in a news release.
What can happen in Eddy County now?
- Essential businesses (non-retail): No capacity restrictions but operations must be limited to only those absolutely necessary to carry out essential functions
- Essential retail spaces: 33% of maximum capacity (indoor and outdoor)
- Food and drink establishments (if NM Safe Certified): 33% of maximum capacity for indoor dining; 75% of maximum capacity for outdoors dining; any establishment serving alcohol must close by 10 p.m. each night
- Close-contact businesses: 33% of maximum capacity or 20 customers at one time, whichever is smaller; 33% of any outdoor space on the premises
- Large entertainment venues: 25% of maximum capacity of any outdoor space on premises; indoor not permitted with the limited exception of operating up to 25% of maximum capacity for recording and broadcasting entertainment without any in-person audience
- Recreational facilities: 33% of any outdoor space on the premises; indoor not permitted
- Bars and clubs: May not operate
- All other businesses: 33% of maximum capacity (indoor and outdoor)
- Houses of worship: May hold religious services, indoors or outdoors, or provide services through audiovisual means, but may not exceed 33% of the maximum capacity of any enclosed space on the premises
- Places of lodging: 60% of maximum occupancy for those that have completed NM Safe Certified training; 25% of maximum occupancy for all others; 5 guests maximum for vacation rentals
- Mass gatherings limit: 10 persons; 80 vehicles
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at [email protected] or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.