SANTA FE, New Mexico -- Gov. Lujan Grisham and state officials announced on Friday that New Mexico will transition into a tiered "red to green" Covid-19 risk system that will determine when counties can reopen based on their virus spread rate.
The transition to the new system will begin Dec. 2, when counties will be able to shed burdensome public health restrictions as soon as they meet key metrics related to positivity and spread rates within their boundaries.
“The county-by-county framework enables counties, and the businesses and nonprofits within their borders, to operate with fewer restrictions when they slow the spread of the virus and drive down test positivity rates,” said Lujan Grisham.
The counties will operate under one of the three levels: Red signifies very high risk where average daily cases are 8 or more per 100,000 and test positivity is 5% or greater. Yellow is high risk and green is medium risk.
As of Friday, 32 of 33 counties in New Mexico were at the red level. Only Los Alamos County in north-central New Mexico was anywhere near meeting the benchmarks. All other counties, including the state’s most populous ones, will have significant ground to make up, meaning it could be many more weeks before they see relief.
New Mexico has some of the toughest public health restrictions in place, with closures extending to all restaurants and many other businesses. Essential businesses such as grocery stores are still open but can have only a certain number of customers inside at a time — a restriction that has led to waiting lines.
Face masks are mandatory, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited and there’s no indication when schools will be able to bring students back to the classroom.
The governor was facing a deadline Monday for deciding how to proceed after what state officials termed a two-week “reset” to address spiking Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The current public health order was set to expire Monday, but officials said its provisions will remain in effect until the new framework takes effect.
Under the system, counties where the virus is more prevalent will operate under more restrictive measures while those where spread is suppressed will face fewer restrictions.
The map will updated every other week to capture an average over time that more accurately conveys the spread rate, officials said.
When a county fails to meet the benchmarks for per-capita incidence of new cases and average test positivity for a given level, officials said it will begin operating at the next most restrictive level within 48 hours. When a county’s risk level drops on the map, officials said it can immediately begin operating with fewer restrictions.
New Mexico has reported more than 91,850 Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll stands at 1,504, with an additional 35 deaths reported on Friday.