ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Every New Mexico county is now out of the red category under the state’s “red to turquoise” reopening criteria. However, that wouldn’t have happened for one of the state’s smallest counties this week had it not been for the state to change the rules.

With one new COVID-19 case and just 18 new tests taken in the latest two-week period, the sparsely populated Harding County in northeast New Mexico was set to be downgraded to a “red” reopening status on Wednesday. A red status means a county has more than eight tests per 100,00 people and a test positivity rate above 5%.

However, Harding County managed to stay in the yellow reopening category. In a news conference shortly after the release of the latest “red to turquoise” reopening data, state health officials announced updated measurement criteria for Harding and other small New Mexico counties.

The state’s change directly affects how small counties measure the number of new cases they’re allowed to have per 100,000 residents. Harding County only has 657 people total. The state is now giving them a different “baseline population” to measure cases per 100,000 residents.

“We’re just going to count those ultra-small counties as having that population of 6250 people,” said Dr. David Scrase, secretary for the New Mexico Human Services Department. “So that will affect their cases per 100,000 people, it will not affect test positivity rate and that’s just to give us some room to make the changes we need making the next four weeks or so we don’t have those small counties bouncing around.”

The state’s seven least populous counties, including Harding, DeBaca, Catron, Union, Hidalgo, Guadalupe, and Mora County are all subject to the new baseline population measurement. Each county has an actual population of 4,566 people or fewer.

By measuring each county’s total new COVID-19 cases in a two-week period against a population of 6,250 people, the state is allowing for the smaller counties to each have more confirmed COVID cases per measurement period than in the past. The new rule allows for up to seven newly confirmed COVID cases to be measured in a county’s two-week measurement period before they fail the “cases per 100,000 people” metric.

More changes to the “red to turquoise” framework are expected in the next few weeks to account for the growing number of vaccinations in New Mexico. The state thinks as more people get vaccinated, fewer people will get COVID-19 tests.

A significant drop in COVID-19 tests could mean counties seeing their test positivity rates go up even as they don’t see a large spike in the total number of new cases. The state says it expecting that symptomatic people will primarily be the ones getting tested for COVID-19 as time goes on and vaccinations continue rolling out.

The state now estimates for every new case of COVID-19 in New Mexico, 72 people are getting vaccinated. It’s also aiming to open vaccination to everyone in April.

“The goal is to continue prioritizing our at-risk groups,” said Dr. Tracie Collins, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health. “What I’m planning is that in mid-April, we’re going to open up phase two, so I think, just about when we’re looking at counties that are not going to have enough people that want the vaccine, we’re going to open it up.”

New Mexico is about to get another big bump in vaccine shipments next week. The state is expecting more than 116,000 total doses to come to the state. That includes more than 12,000 doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Over the last week, the state has administered roughly 96,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses. That represents a weekly high since the vaccine rollout started.

New Mexico state health officials also said Wednesday New Mexico has confirmed about 100 COVID-19 cases in people who’ve been vaccinated. As of Wednesday, 668,551 New Mexicans have received at least one-shots of a COVID-19 vaccine.