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.