New Mexico modifies county color code system

Feb. 24—New Mexico has added a new turquoise level to its county-based, color-coded system of COVID-19 businesses restrictions, state officials announced Wednesday.

Under the modified system, turquoise will be the "least restrictive level where all categories of business can operate indoors with minimal occupancy limitations," officials said in a news release. Any county that reaches the turquoise category will be able to offer expanded indoor dining and operate theaters, bars and clubs.

To reach the turquoise level, a county must have a test positivity rate below 5 percent and a per-capita case rate of fewer than 8 per 100,000 for four consecutive weeks.

Before the modification, the state used a red-yellow-green system in which green counties had the least restrictive public health restrictions.

For the next two weeks, Santa Fe County will still be listed as yellow on the state's color-coded map, but Los Alamos and Taos counties have advanced to green along with four other counties.

Catron, Harding, Sierra and Union counties have reached the turquoise level, meaning they have been in the green for at least a month.

"I know New Mexicans are tired of COVID-19 — I am too," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "We have made very solid progress in recent weeks and months, and we have all together saved lives and protected our family members and neighbors."

Still, she warned residents not to let their guard down.

"We can introduce a little more risk, based on our progress, and start to feel a little bit closer to normal — but only if we keep making those safe choices to protect our families and one another," Lujan Grisham said. "I know New Mexicans are up to the task."

In a statement, Senate Republicans applauded the changes, though they said they wished the modifications were more sweeping. They said they sent the governor a letter last week asking her to revise the state's framework so all restaurants would be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity.

"I am thankful for the Governor's response and her willingness to retool the framework," Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell said in the statement. "Though this represents a small step in the right direction, it is worth noting that restaurants in 14 counties still cannot offer indoor dining. Moving forward, I hope we will take additional steps to allow small business owners to find stability and consistency, and to eventually reopen at full capacity."

Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, added: "As immunity increases and cases decrease, our small business owners deserve the opportunity to open without the constant threat of regression. Currently there is no path to that goal. I respectfully urge the Governor and health officials to continue to rework this framework in a manner that sends a clearer message that New Mexico is on the road to recovery."

Rod Montoya, the House GOP whip, wasn't impressed with the changes, saying in a statement: "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."

The New Mexico Restaurant Association was more complimentary of the modifications. Under the revised guidelines, restaurants in turquoise counties can offer indoor and outdoor dining at 75 percent maximum capacity.

"We are encouraged by the changes in the public health order. Adding the turquoise level is promising for everyone since we were only 50% open previously at the green level and had nowhere to go from there," Carol Wight, the restaurant association's CEO, said in an email.

"The new turquoise level also gets bars, clubs, and large entertainment venues open which must be a considerable relief to those businesses that have been closed for the entire year," she continued.