ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Mayor Tim Keller and City of Albuquerque officials held a news briefing Wednesday to provide an update on the City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state amended the Public Health Order on Wednesday, increasing capacity inside essential retail spaces. The change applies to grocery stores and certain large big-box retailers that generate a percentage of their revenue from consumable food and drink products.

Previously, essential retail spaces could operate with either a limit on maximum occupancy or a specific number of customers at one time, whichever was smaller. According to the state’s red-to-green system of measuring viral spread in each county, the changes establish that essential retail spaces:

  • May operate at 50% of maximum occupancy at the Green Level
  • May operate at 33% of maximum occupancy at the Yellow Level
  • May operate at 25% of maximum occupancy at the Red Level

On Tuesday’s briefing, Mayor Keller said the new capacity rules regarding stores are helpful and good news for the state and businesses but people should not let down their guard when it comes to COVID-safe practices like mask-wearing and social distancing. New numbers show Bernalillo County is still far away from meeting the criteria needed to move to the yellow phase.

“The good news is, it’s sort of a 20% improvement from last week and so that’s very good, but you can also see that we are still 10 times higher than we need to be to move to yellow when it comes to positive cases per 100,000,” Mayor Keller said.

He also said the city is preparing for vaccinations in three phases. Phase one prioritizes vaccinations for frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents; Phase two, when more vaccines are ready, will overlap with phase one and then prioritize high-risk populations, public and government facilities set by the CDC. Lastly, Mayor Keller said phase three can overlap with phase two, and if vaccines continue to be distributed then the general public will be next.

No exact timelines for those phases were given but Keller says he expects it to drag into late 2021. “Hopefully about a six-month road to get out of these heavy restrictions. But it’s gonna be a year road to get everyone vaccinated,” Keller said.

Mayor Keller said testing remains key to mitigating the spread of the virus and the more people test, the more businesses it helps. He said testing around the state aims to be accessible and easy. Mayor Keller announced the Sunport will host a COVID-19 testing site. He said you do not have to be traveling to get tested and it is open to anyone who may need one.

The mayor said the city has partnered with Bueno Foods to provide a testing site in the South Valley. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney said the testing site is located in an area that has been seeing high numbers of people testing positive for the virus. Kenney said the testing location offers instructions in both English and Spanish. He also says about 300 people were tested in a four-hour window over a two-day span.

Meanwhile, the city also provided an update on city compliance with the public health order. Fire Marshal Gene Gallegos said they are working with restaurants on what constitutes outdoor dining. He said restaurant tents have to have three walls to be considered an outdoor venue. Gallegos said over the past week 347 compliance interactions were conducted with 18 specific to wearing a face covering. Lastly, Mayor Keller said the city plans to make an update next week on the holidays.

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