Mar. 11—No more lines outside grocery stores.
More seats for restaurant diners indoors.
Santa Fe County has gone green — opening the door for life to get a lot closer to normal a full year after the coronavirus pandemic turned it upside down.
The state Department of Health announced Wednesday the county's spread of the coronavirus had declined below critical thresholds, allowing it to advance from the yellow status to green in the state's four-tier, color-coded system of business restrictions.
If case numbers hold steady or continue to decline over the next four weeks, the county could move up to the state's least-restrictive turquoise level.
It was exciting news for Violet Crown general manager Peter Grendle, who announced the Railyard movie theater will soon open for the first time since the state's initial COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020. The theater plans to operate on a new model, offering moviegoers a more personal viewing experience.
"We have been waiting for the ability to reopen," Grendle said Wednesday. "Today, we're green. We get to pull the trigger."
The city of Santa Fe also lauded the news and announced it was rolling back the mayor's COVID-19 emergency proclamation to keep it in line with the state's public health order for the county.
The change means the city will reopen its ice rink at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center on Saturday on a limited basis. Skaters can reserve a spot in a freestyle coaching session or adult hockey session. The rink also will be available for private group sessions, the city said in a news release.
"It's been a year of compassion and of sacrifice, a year of loss and of community service, Mayor Alan Webber said in statement. "My thanks go to everyone in our city — our healthcare providers and essential workers who have carried us through this unprecedented time.
"Today we made it to Green and our next goal is Turquoise," Webber added. "We'll get there the same way we got to Green: We'll keep wearing masks in public, use hand sanitizer and practice physical distancing."
Santa Fe County was one of 13 New Mexico counties that improved, while four counties dropped to a lower level, according to a news release from the Governor's Office.
Seven counties in the state now have low-risk turquoise status, and seven are at the medium-risk green level, while 18 are at the high-risk yellow level. Just one, Guadalupe, is in the very high-risk red zone.
Over a two-week stretch, Santa Fe County averaged 5.9 new cases daily per 100,000 people, compared to a state target of 8 cases, and had a fairly low rate — 1.4 percent — of positive coronavirus tests. The state's threshold rate for test positivity is 5 percent. A county must meet both criteria to reach the green level.
In the preceding two-week period, Santa Fe County narrowly missed advancing from yellow to green. It had a qualifying positivity rate of 2.01 percent but averaged 8.3 daily cases per 100,000 people.
The improvement comes as the state continues to roll out coronavirus vaccines at an increasing pace. More than 26 percent of state and county residents have received at least their first dose, state data shows, while 15.1 percent of people statewide and 14.4 percent in the county are fully vaccinated.
The numbers are likely to jump as the state works to get all educators, school staff and child care workers vaccinated before the end of the month as part of a Biden administration initiative.
Santa Fe County's green designation means essential retail businesses previously restricted to 33 percent of customer capacity can now operate at 50 percent of capacity.
Restaurants that have undergone the state's COVID-19-safe certification program can now offer seating at 50 percent capacity indoors, compared to 33 percent under the yellow status. They may continue serving customers outdoors at 75 percent capacity.
"That makes everybody's life a lot easier," said Kohnami manager Aaron Moskowitz. "The servers actually have a chance to make money, and hopefully the owners do, too."
Paloma did limited takeout during the shutdown and reopened March 2 with indoor dining, owner Marja Martin said.
"I feel deeply ready to reopen slowly and safely," Martin said. "It's hard to operate a restaurant profitably at 25 percent. It's hard to operate a restaurant profitably at 100 percent.
"We opened at 25 percent and felt busy," Martin added. "Tuesday to Saturday was super busy."
The green level allows the Santa Fe Opera to double its capacity from about 525 to 1,050 of the venue's 2,126 seats.
General Director Robert Meya said that for the indefinite future, however, ticket sales for summer season performances will keep seating at 25 percent capacity to allow for social distancing.
The Santa Fe Opera is selling tickets in pods of two to six people. Closer to the season's opening night, the ticketing computer will determine how to configure the pods to ensure all operagoers have 6 feet of social distancing.
Grendle said he was the only employee on board at Violet Crown from March 17 until late February. He's now ready to see the theater open "in a safe way," he said.
On March 19, it will launch RSVP Cinema, in which groups of up to 13 people can rent out a theater and choose from about 100 movies, including some current releases.
The Governor's Office cautioned that the virus remains a threat and that people should continue seeking out coronavirus tests — particularly if they feel symptomatic, have traveled or have been indoors with groups of people without wearing a face mask.
"Getting tested not only helps slow the spread," the office said in a news release, "it helps counties maintain their risk levels and advance to less restrictive levels when the viral risk in the community is sufficiently reduced."