The state will shift to a three-tiered system next week in which it will impose COVID-19 restrictions in each county based on its level of outbreak rather than curtailing activities statewide to slow the virus’s spread.

The new system, which will go into effect Wednesday, will enable local communities to ease restrictions after public health data shows an outbreak is waning within their borders, state officials said.

The restrictions will be based on three colors: red — denoting the highest risk of spread — yellow and green. Of the state’s 33 counties, Los Alamos was the only one not coded red as of Friday.

The good news is that even a red coding is less restrictive than the current lockdown, state officials said.

Nonessential businesses will be able to operate at 25 percent capacity as the holiday shopping season gets underway, whereas now they only can offer delivery and curbside pickup.

“We must remain as vigilant as ever to contain and beat the virus,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “We also must look for ways to lessen the burden on our communities wherever possible, while never swerving from our top priority — protecting New Mexicans and saving lives.”

Caseloads have risen at an alarming rate in recent weeks, putting a greater strain on hospitals and increasing the mortality rate, state health officials said. Counties that make progress in slowing the virus’s spread should be rewarded with lighter restrictions, they said.

The public health order, which compelled nonessential businesses to shut their doors and put tight limits on all retail activity, will be revised Monday for the tiered system. Current statewide restrictions will remain in place until the new system takes effect Wednesday.

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

All counties will be ranked beginning Wednesday. A county can’t improve its coding until the state does its biweekly update of the colored map it created for this purpose. Counties that exceed a threshold when the map is updated are downgraded within 48 hours.

Counties coded red will see the following restrictions: All retail businesses can operate at 25 percent capacity or 75 customers, whichever is smaller. Restaurants can offer outdoor dining at 25 percent capacity but no indoor dining. Lodging establishments that have passed safety training can have 40 percent occupancy, and all others can have 25 percent occupancy.

A yellow code will allow retailers to have 25 percent capacity or 125 customers, whichever is smaller. Restaurants can have 25 percent capacity with indoor dining and 75 percent outdoors. Lodging establishments can have 60 percent occupancy if they pass safety training.

Green allows 50 percent capacity for retailers, places of worship and indoor dining. Lodging establishments that are certified safe are approved for 75 percent occupancy.

Santa Fe retailers welcomed the news Friday of the state shifting to a less-restrictive system for dealing with the pandemic.

“It’s Black Friday and we’re not doing anything,” said Mark Suleiman, owner of Diva Diamonds and Jewels. “We just need to open back up. We’re OK as long as we have our doors open.”

Suleiman said his shop has a 40-person capacity, so 25 percent would be 10 customers — more than enough to keep him going.

He added that this tiered system is something the state should’ve done months ago.

Jennifer Forman, owner of Toyopolis, said having no walk-in customers at her shop wasn’t working. She barely gets any phone orders from people wanting to pick up toys, she said.

Even going back to 25 percent customer capacity would help her greatly during the holidays, she said.

“We’re kind of old-fashioned,” Forman said. “I feel like that’s part of the experience is being able to come in and get firsthand advice and … opinions on what’s new, what’s exciting.”

Monty Goodson, who manages Overland Sheepskin’s downtown store, said it’s doing all right with online and catalog orders but has missed walk-in shoppers.

It’s better if people can feel the leather and try on the clothing, he said.

“We’re a touchy-feely kind of store,” Goodson said.

(22) comments

John Edwards

Based on historical data, rates go up and down. This approach will cause see-saw openings and closings. Can a businesses properly make plans and would employees feel confident going to work knowing that everything is temporary?

Laura Bailey

Never doubted it for a minute things would change after the elections

Paul Davis

Good! That wasn't too hard to doubt, since the announced policy from the governor stated that it would change on Nov 30th. This was clear from the announcement at the outset.

Kelly Dicello

What changed?

John Egan

This administration should be applauded for its efforts. New Mexico is on the cutting edge of taking the rational and empirical steps needed to deal with this crisis. It is unfortunate that they must do so, but it is the predictable consequence of the last 40 years of ‘marinating in the crazy sauce’ that started with Reagan’s famous ‘I am from the government’comment and continued to the current nihilistic death cult that we see at the federal level. Whoever thought that the demise of expertise would have negative consequences when expertise was needed? It is what it is.

John Cook

I would like to know the number of cases a County can have and still get below 'red'. This article says: 'A county will be coded red if it has more than eight cases per 100,000 residents in a 14-day period'. That pretty clearly can't be right. Santa Fe County has about 150,000 people. That means we can have only 12 cases, total, in a 14 day period. Less than 1 case per day in the County. Not likely. Even if the order actually means an average of 8 cases per day per 100,000 people it would be 12 cases per day. Santa Fe County is at something over 150 cases per day. I'd like to know what the Governor's order really means. The order itself refers to an 'incident rate' of more than 8 cases per 100,000. That also is clear as mud. I wonder what the requirement actually is?

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] Well said, as usual, explanations are not clear in health orders, you do wonder who writes these things?

John Shott


I believe that the limit on new cases per day IS an average of 8 new cases per day per 100,000 residents. So, yes, for Santa Fe, that is approximately 12 new cases per day countywide. While that seems possible now ... although we have begun to come down, Santa Fe county met that goal for several consecutive months prior to about October 1. However, we don't have to meet that specification to get to the next orange level, because we can meet it if we meet EITHER the 8 new cases per day per 100,000 residents OR if we meet the 5% testing positivity requirement. Just this past week, the county added a new testing site at the County Fair Grounds which should increase the number of tests performed. While new cases will need to fall somewhat, we will likely see the testing positivity percentage fall below 5% well before we drop to below 8 new daily cases per 100,000 residents ... but, once that test positivity falls below 5% we become eligible to move to "orange".

To make this easier to track NMDOH needs to begin to publish those numbers on a daily basis ... which I assume they will.

Stay safe!


John Cook

Thanks, John. I suspect you are right. It's tempting to go get tested every day to try to bring our positivity rate down! But that doesn't seem like a very good use of scarce resources of time and personnel.

Mike Johnson

The real question is why wasn't this kind of rational, incentivized system put in place in March. If it had been, our economy would not be the worst in the US. Instead, for the last 9 months, the Guv. has had an irrational, draconian, one-size-fits-all counties kind of travesty. Better late than never, but maybe too little too late as well. Typical for the sorry excuse for "leadership" we have in this state.

Eric Zuckerman

Perhaps if there was any leadership at the federal level this new system would have been enacted nationally at an earlier point in time.

Mike Johnson

The feds cannot tell individual states how to handle their own emergency health act laws. 10th Amendment, read it.

Jim Klukkert

Correct Mike, of course, but....

Perhaps looking back at this point is only so much nitpicking. It does seem very much correct that national leadership, meaning Trump & his sycophants, were seriously distracting [at best] from advising the States as to any sort of measured Covid response such as what we see now in NM.

Though you and I have often disagreed, I think we are on the same page in calling for a measured response on from the State and the Feds.

I am hopeful, though who today but the unhinged are optimistic?

Chris Mechels

Mike, we must be reading a different piece. What I see is extreme micro-management and utter confusion. For instance, the occupancy of 75 or 25%. For small stores no problem. For Smiths or Walmart, big problem, and long lines. And with a two week lag of measurements, you're always reactive, not proactive.

So, what COULD make a difference, and is not mentioned?? REAL masks; stop using "face coverings" and emphasize REAL masks, i.e. N95 or KN95. Use IR temperature scans at the entrance to all stores, or at least the groceries and Big Box stores. Real things that might actually work, and are proactive.

Instead we get our micro-managing Governor shoving the controls back and forth and hoping the dials will show a change. Don't be misled by the jargon.

The Real message here, we're staying open for business, because we can't just keep paying folks to stay home. More people will die, esp old people (like me), but the Governor accepts that, and lies about the fact. And this is called leadership. What really grinds on me; sending 16 year old students to carry Covid into the Nursing Homes, due to a secret change at DOH. That is near criminal.

Mike Johnson

I agree Chris, that this is not at all perfect, nor sufficient, but at least to recognize that different counties can behave differently is progress of a sort. The issues will be as before, as you mention the glaring deficiencies in masks, and there will always be the long time lag between testing and results of those tests, rendering the time periods here moot and primitive at best. We are still driving while looking in the rear view mirror.

Chris Mechels

Mike, there are other ways to deal with this, as the Europeans show, but we seem unwilling to learn from them. For instance, leave the economy open, and shelter and feed the elders, so they don't have to visit grocery stores for their Covid.

We're "feeding" the wrong people. The Governor does her lockdowns, etc., and puts folks out of work, then we must feed them. Meanwhile, the elders, those most at risk, MUST go shopping, and encounter Covid. We should at least try letting those less at risk keep working, and isolating the elders for their own protection. Seems pretty obvious, and the Europeans are trying some of these ideas.

Then, of course, there's the Chinese, who have shown us how to stop Covid in its tracks, and we just trash talk, and alienate, them because they're competent. We could have a lot of KN95 masks from China, but instead we insult them. All a bit crazy making. Our country seems lost in illusion, very dysfunctional.

Paul Davis

> different counties can behave differently is progress of a sort

Is it? This is the type of thinking at the state-to-state level that was in play for the first 7-8 months (and to some extent still is), based on ideas that some e.g. the Dakotas were "different". So they went about "behaving differently", and where did it get them?

Chris Mechels The Reality. Younger people are at lower risk, and need jobs. This endangers the old folks, who are high risk. Merry Christmas, enjoy the shopping, say goodbye to Granny.

Jim Klukkert

Anecdotal Chris Mechels, to be sure, but know a previously healthy 30 year old on East Coast who after a 'mild' Covid dose in March, now suffering hair loss and severe headaches.

The point: we don't yet understand this nasty little virus, and our lack of understanding demands acceptance of 'best efforts' on the part of many well intended authorities, working out to be less than silver bullets or even a good analysis.

If that was your progeny on the East Coast, would you advise your other kids to go out job hunting.

Best to you.

Paul Davis

IR scans have been fairly convincingly been shown to be ineffective as a detection mechanism, and are even more ineffective if proper masks are being worn. So, that's not a "real thing that might actually work", but hey, kudos for acknowledging the need for real masks.

Paul Davis

1) because in March the nature of the pandemic was not well understood. There are still gaps in our understanding, but we know a lot more than we did back then.

2) No doubt you would still have complained about it anyway. I find it confusing that you suggest that this might be "too little too late" when for the last 6-8 months, you've been in the comments here complaining that more or less action by a city, county or state was "too much".

3) If the policy for the last 9 months has indeed been "draconian", why has the case load in NM gone though the roof in the last 4 weeks? If it's ineffective, how it is "draconian" ? If people aren't following the policy, what to do?

Stefanie Beninato

I hope the city will reopen the pools even at 25 percent of capacity (10 swimmers)...

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