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For the first time in nearly a year, people in some parts of New Mexico will be able to order a beer at a bar or take in a show at a theater under a new tier of COVID-19 business restrictions announced Wednesday.

The state has added a turquoise level to its county-based, color-coded system — the “least restrictive level where all categories of business can operate indoors with minimal occupancy limitations,” officials said in a news release.

Turquoise counties will be allowed to expand their indoor dining and operate theaters, bars and clubs.

While Santa Fe County is still in the yellow — falling short of green status by a fraction when it comes to the average daily case count — locals who work in the arts and entertainment world were jumping up and down at the news they may be able to reopen venues in the near future.

“Obviously, this is very exciting,” said Joel Aalberts, executive director of the Lensic Performing Arts Center. “The best part about this is that it is a good indication hopefully of a trend that we’re on.”

All of the arts organizations, Aalberts said, are “eager to get back to work in any way that we can.”

Joe Schepps, a local hotel owner who serves as the Lensic’s vice chairman, also was thrilled.

“The fact that the restaurants, the bars and particularly the performing arts are moving in the right direction is the best news I’ve heard in a year,” Schepps said. “I’m just happy. It just seems like there’s good news everywhere around town.”

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, those that met the two criteria, had the least stringent public health restrictions.

Catron, Harding, Sierra and Union counties will be in the turquoise category for at least the next two weeks.

Santa Fe County came close to moving from yellow to green, with a test positivity rate of 2.01 percent and a daily case rate of 8.3 per 100,000 residents, just above the threshold. There are 18 other counties in the yellow category, including Rio Arriba and San Miguel counties.

Los Alamos and Taos counties are now in the green, along with four other counties. And there are four counties in the red category.

“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 to the state’s color-coded system, 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. “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, wrote in an email.

Cowgirl BBQ in downtown Santa Fe is set to reopen the restaurant portion of its business Monday after being voluntarily closed for the past three months. And it might be able to reopen its bar relatively soon if the county continues to slow its spread of the coronavirus.

“There’s so much pent-up energy for all of us,” said Cowgirl co-owner and company President Patrick Lambert. “We would be out of our minds thrilled” to reopen both the bar and restaurant.

(19) comments

Alexander Brown

CDC, "the (opening ) efforts come with strong warnings from health officials against reopening too quickly, as worrisome coronavirus variants spread. On Monday, the head of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urgently warned state officials and ordinary Americans not to let down their guard, saying she is “really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures that we have recommended.”

This is core to success and lost on too many. Re: distribution many are grateful Texas is our neighbor. Well organized protocols that minimize dispute and frustration and get it done. Thank you Texas. Driving 16 hrs to get 2 moderna shots does seem a little over the top. Nothing is normal or likely to be anytime soon. Gestures of respect go a long way.

Margaret Eyler

Movie theaters are and have been open in virtually every other state (except NY and CA of course) with zero transmission associated with attending. New Mexicans and their government are like a child who rejoices when their overbearing mom grants them a piece of candy. They think that she, and only she, can be the bearer of such goodness....tunnel vision and codependency at their finest.

Mike Johnson

Well said, I would call it totalitarian dictatorship when one person makes all your life and business choices.

John Raifsnider

It was not one person who has been making the guidelines and recommendations. No one person has made the choices. The choices we have been making to protect the health and life of the population stem from a vast network of scientists, medical professionals, community leaders and the majority of educated citizens who have freely chosen to cooperate. Seeing evil where evil is not is a poor choice in a world where appreciation and gratitude are most needed to heal the suffering of all.

Mike Johnson

Sorry, you are incorrect. MLG has made ALL these choices for you, the legislature and courts have not made them, they have not been involved, except to say they felt she can make them legally, but make no mistake, she made them all by herself, no one else was even consulted or asked what they think. That is NOT how a democracy works, one person rule is tyranny.

Russell Scanlon


Barry Rabkin

John, don't you realize that our Governor doesn't have a cabinet of secretaries, or a team of epidemiologists, or modeling professionals from LANL, or data from the CDC? She is entirely alone and making her decisions based on wanting to gather as much power as she can. [HEAVY SARCASM]. In the real world, John, you are 100% correct.

Barry Rabkin

Almost all of our Covid problems are, of course, due to the highly infectious virus itself. The rest of our problems relating to the highly infectious virus lays at the feet of people who don't wear masks, remain socially distant, and wash their hands. The virus doesn't follow a 'playbook' and will move where it wants regardless of the political orientation of the person it infects. Opening businesses throughout the state at any level - say 25% - is a homicidal delusion by people who obviously don't care if others get infected, hospitalized, or die ... as long as businesses can remain open. There is NO guarantee of not regressing: sit down and talk to the highly infectious virus and ask it where and when it is going next.

Chris Mechels

Mr. Rabkin, where do you get all your wisdom??? Opening businesses "is a homicidal delusion". How dare you??? Your background seems to be in the insurance game, and on the East Coast? Why don't you comment on something you actually know something about, and stop screaming at us.

Barry Rabkin

Operating a business during a highly infectious virus is homicidal. People like you have no reluctance to putting others in the path of infections, hospitalization, and death. That is homicidal.

Barry Rabkin

Insurance is 100% about risk and managing risk. Our Governor is doing exactly what she should be doing: prioritizing saving lives and not overwhelming our healthcare system. Those colors are a way to manage risk - to open businesses slowly to strive not to expose people to infection, hospitalization, and death. The global pandemic is real and it has generated a global risk of people being close to each other. Each of us is a potential container of COVID-19: believing or wanting businesses to be open is homicidal.

Chris Mechels

What is missing of course is the Dept of Health Secretary, Collins. All of our Covid problems, and many of the deaths, trace to incompetence at DOH, and its incompetent leadership. The Governor appointed the incompetent Kunkel, and kept her of a year, while the Governor, and Dr. Scrase, who is her families doctor, ran the DOH. Michelle is and likely always has been a Miserable Micro-Manager, who can't keep her hands off the controls

Effective administrations have strong Cabinets; Michelle's Cabinet, and Staff, are pathetic, truly. This explains the problems with DOH, the prisons, Dept of Public Safety, Public Education; the list is long.

Michelle was the DOH Secretary from 2004 to 2007, when Richardson fired her. Her background is a problem. No management experience, a lawyer who never practiced law, and very bossy, like she is today.

She seems to think that she's a genius, even though she's not very bright, who can rush around solving any problem she sees; remember the "Energizer Bunny" and "Breaking Down Walls"? That's Michelle. A micro manager who can't keep her hands off; a nightmare to work for or with. Richardson was right to fire her, but wrong to let Michelle lie about it. She was fired in 2007, and her claim was she wanted to run for Congress, but that was in 2008. She then made a very poor showing in 2008.

We would have all been well served by electing someone else Governor. Michelle just can't help herself, and that means her Cabinet and Staff will always be a problem. Good people have left because of Michelle. She also violates our laws constantly, because she can; esp the Rules Act.

At this point, all we can do is what Richardson did, in 2007, fire Michelle and her minions. She's an absolute wrecker as Governor, and remains a lousy DOH Secretary.

Barry Rabkin

We would have had more people infected, more people hospitalized, and more deaths without her. Your thinking could be called "the full-time mortician's act."


There's MLG moving the goal post again. I, for one, am so tired of her cr*p. My wife and I WILL NOT be at her mercy any longer and yesterday went to Amarillo for our first shot. We will be leaving Santa Fe (home for 40 years) next month for a state where the only colors that matter are red, white and blue. God bless NM!

Margaret Eyler

We might not be far behind you!

Barry Rabkin

You're not at her mercy at all. But you are at the mercy of the highly infectious COVID-19 virus. A situation in which no person has the so-called 'freedom' to expose other people to infection, hospitalization, and death.

Lee DiFiore

Hate to see you go Philip. One less voice of reason in a state packed with folks like Barry R. on the other side of the political spectrum. Of course that's why NM is 49th at everything.

Mike Johnson

Indeed NM is last in most all things for a reason, the politicians. In fact, American Thinker just put out a good review of why NM is in last place......

Mike Johnson

Just more ignorant and stupid bureaucracy and government-speak. A year from now we will still be in lockdown, while the rest of the country will be wide open, all because of Dear Leader's power addiction.

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