If all goes according to plan, the state will fully reopen by the end of June—and in the meantime, much of the state will be on the least restrictive, turquoise level after newly announced changes.
“We are conquering COVID,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a press conference on Wednesday in which she and top state health officials announced sweeping changes to the state’s COVID-19 rules, citing the state’s high number of COVID-19 vaccinations.
The state will lift most restrictions, including capacity restrictions, when it hits 60 percent of those age 16 or older who are vaccinated, which the state projects will happen by the end of June.
Beginning this Friday, the state will use less strict numbers for positivity rates and cases per capita in each county as well as including vaccination data by county.
Lujan Grisham made the announcement Wednesday and said she overruled the medical team for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic to move it forward to Friday instead of Wednesday, May 4 when the county-by-county, color-coded update was scheduled to take place.
Counties that are 35 percent fully vaccinated, 7.5 percent or lower positivity rates and fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents will be in the turquoise level. Counties that have two of the three criteria will be in the green level. The required vaccination level for each county will increase by five percentage points every two weeks, though counties that reach the turquoise level would remain at the turquoise level for at least four weeks.
Only three counties (Chaves, Catron and Valencia counties) will be at yellow level. Among the state’s five most populous counties, Santa Fe County will remain in the turquoise, while Bernalillo, Doña Ana, San Juan and Sandoval counties will be in the green.
Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said that positivity rates should be increasing as people are vaccinated, since they will not need to be tested if they have had contact with someone with COVID-19 and have no symptoms. He still encouraged anyone with COVID-19 symptoms to get tested for the virus.
As of Wednesday’s update, 57.5 percent of all New Mexicans aged 16 or older have had at least one shot, while 41.6 percent are fully vaccinated. This ranges from 61.2 percent in McKinley County (which has a high number of residents who have been vaccinated through the federal Indian Health Service) to just 22 percent who are vaccinated in Roosevelt County.
The state has encouraged people who have received their vaccinations in other states to inform state officials so they can be counted toward the state’s 50 percent goal. Early in the state’s vaccination efforts, there were reports of people traveling to neighboring states to access the vaccine.
Even after the state removes most restrictions this summer, Scrase said, some mask mandates, like those for indoor activities, would remain and would be “one of the last things to go.”
Wednesday’s press conference included a major change to the state’s mask mandate, which has been largely a constant since early in the pandemic. The state will now ease the mandate for those who are vaccinated when they are outside, following the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, also following the federal guidance, masks will still be required “for everything indoors.”
Officials also encouraged New Mexicans to get vaccinated.
“New Mexicans should continue to get vaccinated at the very first opportunity,” said Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins. “Not only will it hasten the end of the worst of the pandemic, it will enhance counties’ and communities’ ability to safely begin more and more commercial and day-to-day activities without endangering public health.”