As New Mexico prepares to shift from a two-week shutdown to fight a surge in COVID-19 to a new three-tiered, color-coded system of restrictions, the outlook isn’t good for most counties hoping to reopen businesses.

“Basically, the whole state is red,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Monday in a virtual news conference streamed live on Facebook.

Los Alamos was the only county with low enough rates of new cases and testing positivity for a spot in the middle, or “yellow,” category, allowing it to ease some business restrictions when the new system takes effect Wednesday. In counties that earn a green status, businesses can further expand operations and residents can hold gatherings of up to 20 people.

The Republican Party of New Mexico quickly blasted the new plan, arguing in a statement it is “nothing more than a colorful mirage in a land where hope is fading.”

Citing an analysis by New Mexico-based biostatistician Hubert Allen that examined the daily number of new cases in each county, the GOP said many counties may never make it out of the red zone.

Allen said the state will “be in the red … for 20 to 30 weeks.”

New Mexico Human Services Secretary David Scrase, who also spoke at Monday’s news conference, acknowledged “it could be 30 weeks if nobody does anything different.”

Three New Mexico cities have appeared on a national list with the highest case counts per capita, Scrase said. Roswell was at the top of the list, followed by Gallup at No. 2. Hobbs ranked 20th in the nation.

More than 97,000 people in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus, including nearly 1,700 cases announced Monday. Health officials also reported another 28 New Mexico residents, including a Santa Fe woman, had died from COVID-19. Two of the deaths announced Monday were people “in their 30s with no underlying conditions,” the governor said.

Following a sharp rise in case numbers over the two months, health officials said some hospitals in the state already have reached their capacity and medical staff are strained ahead of what is expected to be another spike in illnesses due to holiday gatherings.

“We are in a very dangerous, critical situation,” Lujan Grisham said. “We really need to get to green. We get to green by exhibiting safe COVID practices.” Green, she added, “means we’re saving lives.”

As daily counts of COVID-19 cases climbed to unprecedented levels, Lujan Grisham tightened business restrictions and ordered many operations to close for what she called a temporary “reset” that took effect Nov. 16. The shutdown will last through Wednesday.

The governor announced last week her plan to ease restrictions in counties that meet certain testing criteria. On Monday, she said some restrictions also will be lifted even in counties with a red status. Restaurants can resume serving customers outdoors, for instance, and nonessential retail stores can open at 25 percent capacity. Close-contact businesses, such as gyms, also can operate at 25 percent capacity.

The state will release a current status for each county Wednesday and will then review testing and case count criteria, and update the county’s status every two weeks.

A county will be coded red if it has more than eight cases per 100,000 residents per day in a 14-day period and has more than 5 percent of tests coming back positive. It improves to yellow if either of those metrics falls below the threshold and moves on to green if it decreases both of them.

State Department of Health data showed Santa Fe County with 87.7 cases per 100,000 residents Monday and a test positivity rate of 15 percent.

The governor said the goal of the new system, rather than continuing to impose restrictions, is to empower communities to reopen economies by taking actions to slow the virus’s spread.

A county that moves up to a yellow or green status can implement less-restrictive standards for businesses immediately, she said, while those that improve and then suffer more severe outbreaks later — and must move back into red from a yellow or green status — will have 48 hours to comply.

Ultimately, she said, the state wants to add a “green-plus” tier that shows the county has managed the virus.

While daily counts of COVID-19 have fallen from a peak of more than 3,600 one day earlier this month, officials fear higher levels of travel and family gatherings in recent days will lead to more record numbers.

“I’m very worried about Thanksgiving,” Scrase said. “I think there were a lot more people getting together.”

It often takes up to two weeks for symptoms to develop.

Scrase said, “My biggest fear is that our health care workers will be working very, very long hours between Christmas and New Year’s.”

Lujan Grisham said the only way to slow the virus’s spread is for New Mexico residents to work together and to “take this much more seriously than we have” by staying home, wearing masks and following social-distancing guidelines.

“Think of this like a semi,” she said. “It can’t stop on a dime. So it’s the rules about tailgating — you don’t want to do that, you don’t want a truck right behind you.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(36) comments

Pam Walker

Alert, Alert masks don't work. I see them everywhere I go and the numbers still are rising like crazy. So tired of people blaming everyone when the majority are all following every order put out there.

Matt Ponteri

It's amazing how people in country's across the globe managed to get on the same page, no matter what political party they belonged to, in order to help contain covid. They actually realized working together would benefit everyone, and they could go back to fighting over differences after the health crisis was resolved. Imagine that, what a thought. Not here. We got nuts from every category, believing, not believing, mask, no mask, covid is a hoax, covid is real, Democrats created covid, trump using covid to kill people in blue states (like us here in NM.). At this point, if you still believe covid is not real, you need to remove your head from your bu**. If you still think trump did all he could for the prevention of covid, your head must really be stuck up there. And if you can't do the smallest of things, wearing a mask, and just start rattling off all the tired old reasons for not doing so, well, you're just pathetic, and probably one of those still giving money to that orange orangutan in the WH, whose gonna use your money to buy another gold toilet. Don't know how that toilet helps your cause, but good luck. All the rest of us with common sense, and no issue with helping resolve covid, can do is pray the rest wake up. They'll never admit maybe they made a mistake, I really don't care, as long as maybe we can one day resolve this together. Then, we can go back to fighting over political differences inside, at a local diner, or bar, or VA hall, without having to argue over who's wearing a mask, and what idiot voted for trump, again.

Sandra Anderson

That should have been Grisham------got a little emotional there..........

Sandra Anderson

From some of the comments--easy to see why we have not gotten out of this situation.

Let's use the governor's plan as an incentive and move forward. Good to parcel out the

plan by county. Don't leave us Governor Lujan-Richardson. We need you for Covid

and ALL else you do for our state. We gave our trust to you to do a job---so keep doing it.

Mark Stahl

It’s pretty sad that some people find it “disgusting” that the governor has offered up a plan that aims to limit the spread of a deadly virus and reduce the rate of fatalities.

Comment deleted.
mark Nickson

@ Mark Brown: How's your man D. Trump doing these days? Is he still insisting he won election by a landslide? He only hires and surrounds himself with the "Best"... oh, like Mayor R. Giuliani and Eric T., his son. His followers, like you, are also of high caliber, I'm guessing.

David Romero

Nm is one of three state slated to begin receiving vaccine treatments this month. First responders, hospital and nursing home workers will receive the vaccine first. Then high risk people. No mention of this in the Governor's plan. Makes you wonder if she really has grip on the problem or is just spewing out a bunch of nonsense hoping the people will buy it?

mark Nickson

@ David: Dave, I thought you were smarter than this. You honestly believe CV19 vaccine will be rolled out in NM in December 2020? Huh? Tell you what, tell us all how vaccine was after you receive Round one in December 2020. Let us know of any neurological or liver effects.

Comment deleted.
Barry Rabkin

The restrictions should stay in place. Her objectives - saving lives, not overwhelming our health care system - are more important than businesses going bankrupt.

Mike Johnson

This is the logical reaction to this draconian, incomprehensible, and irrational scheme....

Lee Vigil

What a bunch of crybabies. I can't believe all the complaining and whining. Do what you need to do to get the cases down. Suck it up, stay home, and stop complaining. The state's in the position it's in because people haven't been taking this seriously and haven't followed the guidelines. It's pretty simple.

Barry Rabkin

Lee: you're 100% correct.

Michael Froman

Easy to say when you're on the dole. Those of us who pay NET taxes by the sweat of our brown face 2x the peril from economic privation than any stupid virus.

Bill Cass

Hard to believe that the nation that stormed the beaches of Normandy when attacked is now cowering in fear over a virus. Yes, it is serious and deadly. But so are mortars and bombs and we didn't let that stop us before.

Mark Stahl

This is a ridiculous comparison. More people have already died by the virus than in the invasion of Normandy and it’s only getting worse. And don’t you think the military took sensible precautions to limit casualties?

paul pacheco

The governor keeps telling us that New Mexicans need to work together! But telling us to stay home; to wear masks; and to practice social distancing is not enough! She needs to “step out of the box” and take a look at her state from outside the box! Essential vs. non-Essential businesses is working but some are taking a beating! Does she understand that? Are the ones that voted for her suffering the most and are they happy with her strategy? Questions I would like to ask her and let’s see if I get some real answers: Does she go to the gym and work out? Does she attend Mass service? Will you have breakfast out with me and will you be wearing your fur/mink coat? Who does your grocery shopping (doesn’t look thin to me!) How often does she get out each day? Does she have a life since movie theaters, concerts, sporting events, brick & mortar shopping & more are closed up? As governor of the state of New Mexico please don’t play games with the people! Sounds to me like she brushed up on the board game Life to get some ideas but she’s losing! As for me, my life is very full! Covid? No way! Went for firewood yesterday, the Mesa was fantastic. Then I graduate from NMHU this coming week (Go Cowboys/students) Life is good, the board game too!

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] Well stated, and she will never answer any questions about any of that. She is well above us peons, in her guarded, pampered, and isolated mansion, and life, on the hill overlooking the pitiful masses.......

mark Nickson

@ Paul: well articulated. How's MAGA for you these days? Still wearing the red hat?

Bill Cass

How utterly narcissistic. She spent a large part of her speech telling us why she would be a good pick as Secretary of HHS.

mark Nickson

@ Bill: well stated MAGA Bill. Donald is proud of you.

Bill Cass

@Mark barner: Not a Trump voter. But nice try.

Comment deleted.
Mike Johnson

[thumbup] Typical MLG and her incompetent health advisors. Just more bureaucratic double speak, meant to mislead and confused the public. I applauded the concept, now that we see the details it is a travesty of government bureaucracy and incompetence. Not only will few if any counties ever get to green, but the "rewards" for doing so are almost non-existent. And no doubt they will move the goal posts whenever it suits her personal whim and mood. Disgusting what we have running our lives and state.

Amy Earle

New plans can be tried until the cows come home but unless we get to the root problem of why our state is in this scary and sad state not much will change. Just yesterday in the Abq Journal I read a story about Eddy Country. Even though the focus was on how the pandemic has affected the oil and gas business there was discussion of people totally ignoring public health guidelines. How many other counties are doing the same? Unless people understand and buy into all the safety measures the governor and Dr Scrase say at every pandemic update we stay stuck. There are many creative people in SF. Surely an engaging public health campaign can be designed to blanket local radio and TV. We will not have any national strategy to fight the virus until Jan. 20. Large parts of our state are Trump supporters and we have to overcome the destructive messages he gave his followers about not wearing masks, doubting science, and a misunderstanding of what freedom means. This is a mobile state and country. No man is an island and we affect each other by our actions. I don’t see how we overcome this if we don’t all get on the same page to fight this thing. That is not the case now.

Stefanie Beninato

Yes, I agree that the mask wearing, distancing etc need to be accepted and followed statewide. The posters below who are sneering are part of the problem and causing us all to suffer more.

My concern is that this system does not allow recreation facilities to open even at limited numbers no matter what color zone you are in. Swimming is an isolated activity in a body of water that is killing germs....Why not reopen indoor pools at limited capacity? It is getting to be winter--certain outdoor activities are not going to be easy--running and biking among them--not when it gets much below freezing unless you have the money for lots of high tech gear. I think we need to stay healthy--exercising is good for body and mind. The governor treats rec facilities as non essential when in fact they are wellness centers. Santa Fe has been slow to take this issue to the governor although that was promised well over two months ago.

Brad Doubles

Hey Steph, I have been wearing my mask, distancing and following all of the rules. I have not stopped working since this began. My kids were in school, successfully I might add... We have NOT gotten sick or infected others...yes we have been tested...Who are the people you blame this on? Every time you comment on a story here, you are assiging blame to somebody. Maybe its time to get a different hobby?? Merry Christmas to you😁

Stefanie Beninato

I do not understand your comment at all. I share observations about what I see out there. I don't know who you are so how would I be able to comment on your activity. Glad you are taking responsibility and care for others--that is if your business is following safe procedures.

Lee DiFiore

Classic bait and switch. She sounds magnanimous but basically nothing has changed with the business and employment crushing restrictions continuing, looks like well into the future.

Barry Rabkin

And nothing will change until a reasonable % of us living in NM get vaccinated. The virus won't disappear with the color-coded system, people will still mistakenly believe they have the 'freedom' to expose others to infection and hospitalization, and some people will display their stupidity by traveling to counties that become 'yellow' or 'green.'

Robert Bartlett

This won't work either, because the governor's team is not connected to the people of New Mexico in any tangible way. They do have total obedience from the SFNM though.

Brad Doubles


Angel Ortiz

Let me guess Bradley....Texas or Oklahoma roots?

Brad Doubles

Actually Angel, my roots are in common sense, personal responsibility and logic. Unlike many New Mexicans who eat this governors garbage up like the Holy Gospel. Her new color scheme is nothing more than an extension of her two week "reset." Control the sheep, keep them focused on the fear and we can do whatever we want while in power. ...Words to live by for politicians....but folks like you don't care as long as my hard work and taxpaying gets you your monthly check ....sad and laughable at the same time

mark Nickson

Brad = Local MAGA Chapter vice-president

Khal Spencer

Content-free comment.

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