SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is moving soon to a county-by-county system for responding to COVID-19 that allows local communities to shed restrictions if the virus retreats.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham scheduled an online news conference Monday to discuss the system and the current trajectory of the pandemic.
At this point, only one of New Mexico’s 33 counties — Los Alamos County — would be eligible to shed some restrictions on mass gatherings and to resume indoor dining at restaurants, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. The new system is scheduled to take effect Wednesday.
The color-coded system for virus restrictions would rate counties with low rates of virus infection or positive test results as “yellow” or “green.” Tight restrictions will continue in “red” counties with high rates of coronavirus infection and positive test outcomes.
The pandemic and companion health restrictions are taking a heavy economic toll on New Mexico’s economy and public education.
The state’s unemployment insurance fund is depleted and running on federal loans; lines are forming each day outside grocery stores due to capacity limits; students remain stuck at home learning online; and hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed.
Top officials with some of the state’s largest health care providers said Monday that hospitals are full and modeling shows capacity will continue to be surpassed over the coming weeks, despite the state’s lockdown on many businesses. The officials indicated that much of the increase in cases is not based on businesses being open but rather from family and friends gathering indoors.
Behavioral changes have to come from within, said Dr. Rohini McKee, chief quality and safety officer at University of New Mexico Hospital.
“We can shut down businesses temporarily to help reduce the spread, but it is changing those behaviors I think that’s going to make a big difference and keep our cases down,” she said.
Still, they urged caution if some counties are allowed to ease restrictions in the coming weeks, saying it wouldn’t take much for spread to ramp up again.
For the week ending Sunday, one person in every 155 people in New Mexico was diagnosed with COVID-19. The rate is calculated by dividing the state population by the number of new cases over the past week.
The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in New Mexico from COVID-19 has increased over the past two weeks from 13.9 on Nov. 15 to 22.4 on Sunday, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
The average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 1,331 to 1,932 on Sunday. Comparing seven-day averages of new cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.
Last week, state lawmakers passed and Lujan Grisham signed a $330 million relief package aimed at helping out-of-work New Mexicans and certain businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
A former state health secretary and first-term Democratic governor, Lujan Grisham serves on the transition team of President-elect Joe Biden and is seen as a contender to lead the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
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