Albuquerque mayor says COVID-red status likely to remain in place for months

Coronavirus New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Following New Mexico’s two-week shutdown to slow a rising rate of COVID-19 cases, the City of Albuquerque is preparing to restart a host of its public services while also warning residents it may be summertime before the city sees a change in reopening status.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller offered the prediction at a news conference Tuesday. Keller says he “doesn’t expect things to change for the foreseeable future, for several months,” in regards to the limitations placed on Bernalillo County reopening per the state’s latest Public Health Order.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham introduced the new tiered county-by-county reopening criteria last Friday. The red, yellow, green color-coded system sets different reopening criteria based on a county’s COVID-19 test positivity rate and the rolling average number of new COVID cases per capita across a two week period.

According to New Mexico’s Department of Health, between November 10 and 23, Bernalillo County had 86.80 cases per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate: 17.90%. Those numbers place the county in the “red” category. The county needs to drop to 8 cases per 100,000 people, or show a 5% or less positivity rate to get to the “yellow” category.

As of Monday morning, all counties except for Los Alamos County were labeled red. The county-by-county case map will be updated every two weeks beginning December 2, 2020.

“Folks should just prepare for this style of existence and (inhabitancy in) our city for several months,” Keller said. “I don’t think there will be changes one way or the other.”

Red counties will have to follow many of the restrictions that are currently in place however, patio dining, close contact businesses, and outdoor recreational facilities can operate at 25% capacity. Alcohol sales must stop at 9 p.m.

Keller outlined four factors for his prediction, including the gradual rollout of a vaccine; the size of Albuquerque and its draw as the only big city within about 1,000 square miles; the county’s current high number of cases and test positivity rate and the winter months ahead drawing more people inside.

In terms of reopening city services following the two-week shut down, Keller says some recreational facilities including the Albuquerque Museum, the Balloon Museum, the BioPark Zoo and Botanic Garden will also start to reopen this week. Both above mentioned museums are slated to reopen on Thursday.

“A lot of the things we’re doing, we’re just going back to where we were right before the shut down where everything is reservation only,” Keller said. “Of course, all the public health order, all of the distance regulations are there.”

The BioPark Zoo and Botanic Garden are expected to reopen on Thursday from morning until dusk. Albuquerque libraries are expected to reopen by Thursday, as well. Capacity will be limited to 25% of occupancy and other rules may apply. The city recommends calling 311 or looking on its website for more specific details.

Mayor Keller also announced a new financial aid program for “families who are previously excluded from federal stimulus aid.” Under the program called the “Community Impact Fund,” the city is earmarking $2.5 million in CARES Act money for people who have been unable to get aid from “other sources.”

“The residents we’re really talking about today are folks in vital need of aid and who were unable to get aid from other sources,” Keller said. “This is sort our of our support fund of last resort, for individuals who weren’t ale to get any other type of support.”

Keller says the program will be administered in part by the city’s Office of Economic Development. Families will be able to receive awards of up to $2,000 per household under the program. The city says it will start accepting applications online on December 7 on the Economic Development Department’s website.

Examples of those who may be eligible for the program include families who made too little income to file an income tax return, mixed-status families, people who do not receive paid sick leave or paid vacation time, or people who’ve been laid off from workplace shutdowns or COVID-19. More details about who is eligible can be found at the following link: https://www.cabq.gov/economicdevelopment/city-of-albuquerque-community-impact-fund

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