For Santa Fe area businesses, a turquoise designation Wednesday from the New Mexico Department of Health was better than a shot in the arm.
Turquoise meant Santa Fe County had made one more stride in its fight against COVID-19.
As a result of improved coronavirus statistics, the county won a turquoise designation and consequently the right to allow more customers into restaurants, entertainment venues and other places. The picture statewide, too, looked better than it did two weeks ago.
Business owners and managers in Santa Fe responded with enthusiasm.
Turquoise is a welcome hue for Santa Fe’s tourism sector. “It’s a beautiful color,” Tourism Santa Fe Executive Director Randy Randall said.
The state’s mass-gathering limit multiplied from 20 to 150 with the shift from green to turquoise.
“The key is to not make the assumption that things are perfectly normal,” Randall said. “The way we stay turquoise is to assure that visitors continue to wear masks and socially distance. It will be our own fault if we fall backwards.”
Hotels that are New Mexico Safe Certified (officially trained in COVID-19-safe practices) now can fill all their rooms for the first time in a year. Group bookings are in play, but Hotel Santa Fe managing partner Paul Margetson hasn’t seen interest yet in groups larger than 20.
He is well aware the COVID-19 colors can change every two weeks. “We won’t book groups of a large size until we get some consistency,” he said. “It’s taken a year to get here. Let’s make it happen.”
Violet Crown Cinema reopened Friday under the green designation with a 25 percent occupancy limit and now can increase to 33 percent.
“I’m crying with both eyes,” Violet Crown general manager Peter Grendle said. “We suddenly got the news of going green, and turquoise comes right on the heels of that.”
Grendle estimates Violet Crown can add three to four people to the 13 people now allowed in each theater. Violet Crown is operating with group rentals of theaters in its new RSVP Cinema program.
“I am working on expanding staff to accommodate turquoise,” Grendle said.
Restaurants can now fill 75 percent of seats indoors and out.
“I have been preparing to open more fully,” said Kadimah Levanah, CEO of Apothecary Restaurant and Oxygen Bar. “I have a waiting list for the weekend. I have stayed open the whole time to keep the staff intact.”
The state’s color-coded system enables counties to unload some restrictions, and it gives communities the right to conduct more activities when their health data shows the virus is in decline.
Thirteen counties qualified Wednesday for the turquoise level, up from seven March 10. Ten made the green level, up from seven; 10 belonged in the high-risk yellow category, down from 18; and there were none in the very-high-risk red category, down from one.
For the next two weeks, Santa Fe County restaurants can serve at 75 percent capacity, up from 50 percent in the green category. Attendance at large entertainment venues can be at 33 percent of capacity, up from 25 percent. And bars can serve at 33 percent indoors; in the green category, only outdoor seating was permitted.
For March 9-22, Santa Fe had 6.3 cases per 100,000 people and a virus positivity rate of 1.75 percent.
The state also said Wednesday that long-term care facilities can start to relax visitation rules. Outdoor visitation remains preferred, but indoor visits will be allowed with restrictions that hinge on room size and number of occupants.
And the state keeps distributing coronavirus vaccines. “More supply is coming,” said Dr. Tracie Collins, health secretary for the state.
Dr. David Scrase, the state’s health and human services secretary, said that even with New Mexico’s progress, residents must remain cautious. “We may be wearing masks for a long time,” he said.
New Mexico still sees five to 10 deaths a day from the disease, he said. “So the pandemic is not over.”