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State officials announced on Wednesday that New Mexico will loosen the key health metrics used to assign risk levels to counties under the Red-Yellow-Green COVID-19 framework, as the state’s nation-leading vaccine distribution effort is over time likely to reduce the number of asymptomatic people seeking out and receiving tests for COVID-19.
The color-coded framework will now include a criterion that will benefit counties as their vaccination rates improve, incorporating an essential new metric that reflects increasing vaccination rates in counties all across the state as more supply becomes available. An updated Department of Health public health order is attached to this news release.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday also announced an important state target: When 60 percent of eligible New Mexicans have been fully vaccinated, which state modeling projects may occur as early as the end of June, the state will graduate out of the color-coded county risk system and remove most pandemic-related restrictions on commercial activities. Although a mask requirement while around others will remain in place, and certain COVID-Safe Practices will be required for specific activities, this target – made possible by New Mexico's nation-leading vaccination effort – will represent the most significant removal of restrictions since the onset of the pandemic.
The state’s intent under the revised color-coded framework, meanwhile, remains to align a local area’s decreasing risk level with loosened requirements, and vice versa, and to balance the need to prevent another surge of viral spread with the need for standard localized “openness” amid this stage of the pandemic, as we approach an environment where restrictions can be relaxed to an even greater extent or entirely over the summer.
Effective Friday, April 30, the health metrics that will be used to determine a county’s risk level will be:
A county that meets none of the criteria upon the biweekly Department of Health map update will be at the Red Level. A county meeting one will be at the Yellow Level. A county meeting two criteria is at the Green Level. A county meeting all three criteria, or having maintained the Green Level for two consecutive biweekly map update periods, is at the Turquoise Level.
In addition, counties that reach the Turquoise Level will move to a four-week update, as opposed to biweekly. In other words, once a county reaches the Turquoise Level, as of May 5, they will maintain the Turquoise Level for at least the next four weeks, whereas up until now the time period between updates has been two weeks.
Previously, the health metrics were more restrictive; the new per-capita case rate was 8 per 100,000 inhabitants and the average new positivity rate was 5 percent. Vaccination rates were not part of the equation.
“Our intention here is and has always been to ensure the color-coding of the map – and the associated requirements for each county – continue to match the actual risk level on the ground in each county,” said Human Services Secretary David Scrase, M.D. “As our models show test positivity is likely to become more elastic over time, and as fewer New Mexicans will require COVID-19 testing amid increasing vaccinations, we want to provide counties the assurance that they can continue to progress in accordance with the actual risk they face.”
“New Mexicans should continue to get vaccinated at the very first opportunity,” said Health Secretary Tracie Collins, M.D. “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.”
New Mexicans can register for their COVID-19 vaccination at vaccineNM.org.
State officials also announced on Wednesday that New Mexico will adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance on facemasks for those who are fully vaccinated. Masks will no longer be required when exercising outdoors alone or with members of the same household or attending a small, outdoor gathering of fully vaccinated individuals no larger than the applicable mass gathering limit for the county or twenty (20) individuals, whichever is less. Fully vaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear a mask when attending small, outdoor gatherings of vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals no larger than the applicable mass gathering limit for the county or twenty (20) individuals, whichever is less. Regardless of vaccination status, masks continue to be required in any public indoor space, with the exception of while eating or drinking, and in any public outdoor space where numerous vaccinated and unvaccinated people from multiple households are in close proximity.
The updated criteria for the statewide framework will go into effect on Friday, April 30, at which point the statewide map will be updated. The next biweekly Department of Health map update is scheduled for the afternoon of Wednesday, May 5.