Matthew Reichbach is the editor of the NM Political Report. The former founder and editor of the NM Telegram, Matthew was also a co-founder of New Mexico FBIHOP with his brother and one of the original hires at the groundbreaking website the New Mexico Independent. Matthew has covered events such as the Democratic National Convention and Netroots Nation and formerly published, “The Morning Word,” a daily political news summary for NM Telegram and the Santa Fe Reporter.
While over two-thirds of New Mexicans age 16 or older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, the number who are fully vaccinated remains below the state’s 60 percent goal. As of Wednesday’s update, Department of Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said 67.6 percent of all New Mexicans age 16 or older had received at least one shot, while 58.7 percent are fully vaccinated, with either both Pfizer or Moderna shots or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “We need 21,307 boosters or [Johnson & Johnson] shots to go before we hit 60 percent,” Collins said. There are currently 85,000 people who are eligible for the second shot, while anyone who hasn’t received a vaccination shot yet is eligible for the Johnson & Johnson shot. The state also has been contacting those who received COVID-19 vaccination shots in other states to confirm that they are fully vaccinated.
New Mexico state Representative Melanie Stansbury announced her resignation from the state House. The resignation will be effective Monday, the same day Stansbury will be sworn into the U.S. House after a landslide special election victory earlier this month. “Serving in the New Mexico House of Representatives has been one of the greatest joys and honors of my life,” the Albuquerque Democrat wrote, while thanking the governor, colleagues and legislative staff. Stansbury won an election with four names on the ballot, with 60 percent of the vote, well ahead of the next-closest candidate, Republican Mark Moores, who received 36 percent of the vote, while Independent Aubrey Dunn and Libertarian Christopher Manning received a combined 4 percent. Two write-in candidates also participated.
The seven members of the state’s redistricting committee are set, as the state prepares to do its decennial redistricting process. The Legislature passed a bill to set up a redistricting commission earlier this year.
Legislative leaders and the state ethics commission selected the members of the redistricting committee. The ethics commission picked retired state Supreme Court Justice Edward L. Chavez as chair last week. It was required by law to choose a retired state supreme court justice or appeals court judge as the chair according to the redistricting committee law. The committee could only have three members with the same political party and members could not have changed their party registration in the previous two years.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made it official on Thursday: She is running for a second term in office. At an event in Old Town New Mexico, she announced that she would run for a second term. No New Mexico governor has lost a reelection campaign since 1994 when incumbent Bruce King lost to Gary Johnson. Every governor since then has won a second term. “We’re gonna protect New Mexico and no amount of noise will deter, intimidate or create a vacuum in leadership.
Every county in New Mexico is now at the turquoise level, the least restrictive level of restrictions. “Given the state’s vaccination progress and continued positive outlook with respect to new virus cases, counties will remain at the turquoise level barring exceptional circumstances,” Department of Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said. Those exceptional circumstances could include an unforeseen mass outbreak of COVID-19 infections. Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said this was because of not only improvements, but also changes to the way the state’s color-coded county-level restriction system works. Without the changes put in place by the governor, according to Scrase, five largely rural counties would have been at the yellow level.
New Mexicans who are vaccinated and part of the state’s vaccinenm.org registration system will be entered in a sweepstakes with a chance to win part of a $10 million prize pool—including a $5 million grand prize. The Vax 2 the Max Sweepstakes is New Mexico’s version of an effort by states across the country to encourage vaccinations. Those who wish to be entered for the prizes must opt in at the state website. Those who enter must be 18 years of age or older. “Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do — for yourself, for your family and for your state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
Those who are fully vaccinated can now go without masks in most situations in New Mexico—indoors or outdoors. The state Department of Health followed federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance in making sweeping changes to its suggested mask use. Getting vaccinated is the ticket to a safe and healthy COVID-free future,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “We are close and getting closer. But that all depends on New Mexicans continuing to protect themselves and their community by getting vaccinated – please find vaccines near you at vaccineNM.org and get your shot!”
The guidance does provide for some situations where those who are vaccinated will still need to wear masks, like on buses, trains or airplanes or other mass transit as well as health care settings and congregate settings like homeless shelters or correctional facilities.
Nearly every county in New Mexico, including the state’s most populous counties, are set to be in the turquoise tier, which has the least capacity restrictions. “It’s exciting what’s happening to the color of the state,” Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said, referring to the restrictions by county. He said that the success was largely due to vaccinations, but also easing of other criteria. This signals an even wider expansion of the state’s reopening as vaccinations increase and as cases and hospitalizations remain at a plateau. The advancement to turquoise could happen by either hitting all three guidelines on categories (fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 per day, a test positivity rate of 7.5 percent or below and a vaccination rate at or above 40 percent) or by being at the green level (which requires two of the categories) for two consecutive periods.
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.
A top state health official said he believed all counties in New Mexico could be at the green or turquoise level by the end of May. “Maybe I shouldn’t even say that, but my way of thinking, we will be an almost completely green and turquoise state by the end of May at the latest,” Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said. This all comes as Scrase said the state is finalizing a new red-to-green tier system, which he said could be ready as early as in two weeks, for the next red-to-green update. With New Mexico’s new red-to-green status, 14 counties are in the turquoise level, including Santa Fe County, three are in green, 15 counties are in yellow, including the other four large population counties, and Colfax county is in the red level. Counties at the turquoise level have the least restrictions related to COVID-19, while the county in red is in the most restrictive.