New Mexico county leaders seek changes to reopening criteria after shifting backward

Coronavirus New Mexico

FARMINGTON, N.M. (KRQE) – While several New Mexico counties heard some good news with Wednesday’s ‘Red-to-Turquoise’ map update, others were forced to move backward. Now, some county leaders are asking the state for changes.

San Juan, Hidalgo, and Guadalupe counties are the three New Mexico counties that moved backward, according to the state’s ‘Red-to-Turquoise’ reopen framework. The shift backward forces businesses once again to limit capacity there.

“Overall good progress, obviously a disappointment to the three counties that are going back to yellow,” said Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the New Mexico Human Services Department. “But otherwise a good result for the state, and indicative of overall progress I believe,” he added, during a COVID-19 update from state leaders on Wednesday.

Guadalupe County moved from green to yellow on the state’s reopen map. Downgraded from Turquoise to yellow, were San Juan and Hidalgo counties.

“There’s certainly frustration in the community,” said Farmington Mayor, Nate Duckett. “I think nobody wants to move backward, obviously.”

Mayor Duckett said he’s asked the state to update its gating criteria. He argues the state’s metrics should account for the widespread vaccine now keeping COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths down, and to help local businesses stay afloat.

“I understand the science component of it, but we’re dealing with human beings and their lives, and I just truly think that there’s a better way of handling this,” Duckett said.

Moving into ‘yellow’ status means Farmington restaurants shift from 75% capacity indoors to 33% capacity. Yellow restrictions also include reduced capacity for retail, other businesses, and recreational facilities.

“Yeah, I mean it changes the ballgame completely if this lasts more than two weeks,” said Mike Ulrich, owner of Porters Restaurant & Smokehouse in Farmington. “When you’re going back and limiting that capacity, then the restaurant becomes unprofitable again,” he added.

Restaurant owners said they’ve been struggling to try to hire back staff, and were just starting to ramp up business. “Demand is there, there’s no doubt about that,” said Ulrich.

Hidalgo County has just four positive COVID-19 cases, enough to move the small county into yellow. “Frustrated is really the only word I can say,” Trisha Green, Hidalgo County Manager, said. “Obviously there’s not a spread throughout the community.”

Guadalupe County has eight positive cases over the past two weeks and a high vaccination rate. Fifty-four percent of its residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state Department of Health.

While San Juan County is much larger, Mayor Duckett argues overall the state’s metrics need to change. “Are case counts as important as hospitalizations? I don’t think they are,” Mayor Duckett said.

“I think that’s where we kind of have to shift this solution now that we have vaccines,” said Duckett. “It’s not healthy, it’s not mentally healthy, and it’s – it’s frustrating.”

The Farmington mayor said he is asking the state to account for vaccination rates in its gating criteria. More than 41% of San Juan County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“We’re seeing other states make some major adjustments to their criteria that is, in my opinion, better suited to deal with the ‘yo-yo-effect,’ so to speak,” Duckett said. “Ensuring that these counties, these cities, and certainly just individuals, in general, aren’t being constantly tossed back and forth from what they’re allowed to do or not allowed to do.”

The Guadalupe County Emergency Manager said that five out of its eight positive COVID-19 cases are in a long-term care facility. State health officials said they are reassessing the Red-to-Turquoise framework, but likely won’t change any gating criteria for another few weeks.

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