Home News COVID-19 Situation Chaves County back to Yellow risk level

Chaves County back to Yellow risk level

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In this file photo, New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase participates in an online news conference on Dec. 8. Scrase and other state officials, during a press conference Wednesday, said changes to New Mexico’s COVID-19 risk assessment system could be announced in two weeks. (AP Photo)

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An increase in average daily cases pushed Chaves County back into the high-risk Yellow Level from the low-risk Turquoise level in the state’s COVID-19 risk assessment framework.

Wednesday’s update to the COVID case outlook map on the New Mexico Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard shows Chaves County had an average of 10.5 cases per day per 100,000 people from March 6 to March 19, double what it had in the previous two-week period. The threshold for staying in Turquoise Level is eight or fewer cases per day.

The test positivity rate also increased by 1.33 percentage points to 3.66%, still below the state’s target of 5%.

Unlike the immediate change in restrictions when a county moves to a less restrictive level, a county that moves to a more restrictive level has 48 hours to implement the tighter restrictions.

In returning to the Yellow Level, the capacities for many activities and businesses will reduce to 33% of maximum capacity. That includes essential retail spaces, indoor dining, close contact businesses, recreational facilities and houses of worship.

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Food and drink establishments that serve alcohol must close by 10 p.m. and bars and clubs are not permitted to operate at the Yellow Level.

Places of lodging are restricted to 60% of maximum occupancy if they have passed the state’s Safe Certified training. In the Turquoise Level they had no restrictions. Those that have not passed the training are limited to 33% occupancy.

Mass gatherings are limited to 10 people or 80 vehicles in the Yellow Level.

Chaves County was not the only one to regress. Seven others went from Turquoise Level to Yellow Level: Catron, Eddy, Harding, Lincoln, Rio Arriba, Sierra and Socorro. Colfax County went from Turquoise to Red, the highest risk level.

Fourteen counties are in either the Turquoise or Green levels, with five advancing to a less restrictive level.

In its daily case update, the New Mexico Department of Health announced 187 new COVID-19 cases in 20 counties including three new cases in Chaves County.

Bernalillo County had 69 new cases, followed by San Juan County with 32 and Santa Fe County with 20. Doña Ana had 17 and Sandoval County had 13. The remaining counties all had five or fewer cases.

The total number of cases is now 195,783 including 8,841 in Chaves County. The county’s total has been adjusted by one case determined to be a duplicate.

There were 10 deaths related to COVID-19, with seven in Bernalillo County and three in Doña Ana County.

The state’s total number of deaths is now 4,020 including 167 in Chaves County. As of Wednesday, there were 124 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Mexico.

Changes to COVID risk system expected in 2 weeks

State health officials did not reveal any changes to New Mexico’s COVID-19 risk assessment system in a press conference Wednesday but said they were still on schedule to do so in two weeks.

As more people become vaccinated, the state expects fewer people will seek testing for COVID-19, which could drive test positivity rates up, Dr. David Scrase, New Mexico secretary for human services, said in Wednesday’s livestreamed update.

Test positivity and the daily average of new cases per capita are the metrics the state uses in its Red to Green COVID-19 risk assessment framework.

The state’s target for test positivity is 5%, but health officials are looking at raising that to compensate for the decrease in testing as well as incorporating a county’s vaccination rate, Scrase said.

Including vaccination rates is something that county leaders, mayors and the state’s Economic Recovery Council have pushed for, he said.

One issue the state is having to contend with is including vaccination rates from those provided by the federal government as opposed to New Mexico Department of Health, he said.

“IHS (Indian Health Services) vaccines are much more prevalent and being given in much larger numbers in counties like McKinley, San Juan, Socorro and other places,” Scrase said. “So we want to make sure those vaccines are fairly credited to those counties.”

The Veterans Administration, Department of Defense and Bureau of Prisons are other federal agencies that administer the vaccine in New Mexico.

“In the federal vaccines, we don’t always get county or ZIP code data. We think we have a method, we’re testing it this week,” he said. By Monday, the NMDOH vaccine dashboard should show both federal and state distribution of vaccinations to counties and the vaccination rates should reflect both sources, Scrase said.

Health officials are also considering how to revise the framework to keep counties in the Turquoise Level longer.

Once a county reaches Green Level, if it maintains those metrics for four consecutive weeks, it moves into the Turquoise Level with even fewer restrictions.

The governor will make the final decision on the revisions, Scrase said, and he expected to be able to present the changes at the next livestreamed update in two weeks.

He denied, however, that the revisions have been delayed. Scrase first talked about revising the assessment system in the March 24 update, saying the state would have an announcement in two to four weeks. He said in a later update the revisions might be run in conjunction with the current system for a short time but did not give a timeline for doing so.

“The delay is a perceived delay based on people’s impatience to want to see something different. We think we’re right on schedule with this one. We knew this would take time and we wanted to get it right,” he said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

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