The state’s decision to relax its criteria for determining a county’s level of pandemic-related restrictions has led to a surge in turquoise on the Department of Health’s color-coded map of COVID-19 risk.
All but one county in New Mexico is either turquoise or green — the least restrictive designations, allowing for more expansive business operations — and eight counties have advanced to an improved status, health officials announced Wednesday.
The news comes as the state inches closer to its goal of inoculating 60 percent of New Mexicans against the coronavirus by the end of next month. As of Wednesday, 45.4 percent of eligible residents were fully vaccinated.
Once the state reaches a vaccination rate of 60 percent, health officials will retire the county-by-county color-coded system.
“We are on track” to reach that mark, Dr. Tracie Collins, the state’s health secretary, said Wednesday at an online news briefing. “That will be a really great day.”
Chaves County in the southeastern part of the state is the only county that is still in a yellow status, and Catron and Valencia counties are green. The rest of the state is turquoise — with no high-risk red counties.
The 30 turquoise counties include Bernalillo and Doña Ana, the state’s two most populous areas. Santa Fe County has been turquoise for more than a month.
The new map compares with one two weeks ago showing 15 counties in yellow status and one in red. There were 14 turquoise counties at that time and three green.
A week ago, however, the state eased its qualifying criteria, raising the threshold for new cases to an average of 10 per 100,000 people from eight and lifting the positivity rate target to 7 percent from 5 percent. Following the announcement of the new criteria, the state updated its COVID-19 risk map Friday, boosting the number of counties that could operate under the less stringent rules for turquoise and green designations.
Wednesday’s update continued that trend.
New Mexico recently made the coronavirus vaccines available to residents who are 16 and 17 years old. Around 30 percent of residents in this age group have received at least one shot, “which is really great news,” Collins said.
The state soon will offer vaccines to residents who are 12 to 15 years old, and nearly 10,000 people in this younger age group have already registered to get their shots. The Department of Health has urged families to register youth in this group in preparation for their eligibility for the shots, possibly next week.
To speed up the vaccination process, medical workers will go to businesses, religious organizations and schools to administer the vaccine rather than have residents travel to a designated vaccination site.
“That means we’re coming to you to get shots in arms,” Collins said.
The state also is asking primary care physicians to help in the inoculation effort by volunteering to administer the shots to their patients. The Department of Health “will get you the doses you need to reach your patients,” the agency said in a statement.
New Mexico has detected 158 cases of a coronavirus variant that originated in the United Kingdom and 74 cases of a variant that was first linked to California. Both of these variants are more likely to spread.
“I don’t think there’s any cause for people to panic about this, but it should reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated,” Dr. David Scrase, the state’s human services secretary, said.
“The best defense against any new variant is getting as many New Mexicans vaccinated as we can and having as many of us wear masks as we possibly can,” he added.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of new cases was 227 as of April 29, up from 219 two weeks ago.
“There is a little bit of upward trend there and we have to watch that closely … but we’re still basically vaccinating 50 people a day for every new case we see,” Scrase said. “If we can keep up that pace, I think we got a good shot of keeping this pandemic under control.”