Tuesday, September 26, 2023

How Does Bernalillo County Get to Green and Reopen?

New Mexico’s Coronavirus Numbers Are Trending Upward


It's phase three of New Mexico business restrictions and if the most recent numbers are any guide, we're not getting out of red anytime soon.

Beginning in December, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham rolled out a new "Red-to-Green" grading system tying public gatherings and business capacity to rates of Covid infection. Every 15-days since the governor has us updated on where the state stood in terms of progress. After initially showing progress towards a lower infection rate, the most recent data shows that in Bernalillo County we can’t get ahead of the curve.

The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) released the most updated numbers for the state on January 13th. The map shows 30 of 33 counties in the red. Harding County, the state's least populated county, is the only one to reach the green level with zero cases. And it gets worse. 20 counties saw a higher average daily per-capita rate of new cases, 17 counties saw a higher test positivity rate and 16 counties got worse on both metrics. Only 12 counties improved in these categories, but Bernalillo County is among them down from a positivity rate of just under 14% two weeks ago.

Bernalillo County posts improving (but still red) rates under the state's red-to-green framework, Jan 13, 2021, NMDOH

So why is New Mexico having a difficult time turning green?

Bernalillo County is the most populous county in the state, which means more opportunity for large gatherings and more places to gather. Albuquerque has had its share of controversial mass gatherings. This past holiday season, Albuquerque saw Calvary and Legacy churches hold gatherings far over the 25-percent capacity. A large amount of the audiences were shown with no mask standing shoulder to shoulder. The state fined the churches $5,000 apiece; but in social media statements, Legacy Church maintains that it did nothing wrong and would continue its peaceful protest against the governor’s orders. Clearly not what the governor was hoping for in getting the state to a green level.

Gov. Lujan Grisham released a statement before the holidays expressing the importance of celebrating the holidays at safe distances, yet New Mexico saw a surge of COVID cases after the holiday season. In addition to the COVID-19 strain, the NMDOH announced the state’s first cases of the B117 coronavirus variant from the UK earlier this week. 

Currently, Albuquerque and the rest of Bernalillo County stand at a high of eight cases per day, with approximately 51 percent of 100,000 cases in the area. That’s easily the most cases in the state.

If the county wants to begin the process of reopening with fewer restrictions, meeting the criteria begins at the yellow level. To get to this level, Bernalillo County must either have a new COVID-19 case incidence rate of no greater than eight cases per 100,000 citizens or an average of less than 5 percent positive COVID-19 test results. That would require county residents to cut infection rates by more than half the current rate, and reduce daily cases from 344 today to 8 (a 96 percent drop).

Bernalillo County
Averages from 12/29/2020 to 1/13/2021
Goal: Average Daily Cases 8 or more per 100,000 and Test Positivity 5% or greater.
Actual: Cases per 100,000: 51.50, Positivity Rate: 10.54%

NMDOH, 1/1/21

If the county manages to get to yellow, then we might be able to get to green. We can’t even get the green light until we’ve been in the yellow zone for at least two weeks. As we hear every day, the only way to get there is to avoid mass gatherings and wear a mask when we leave the house.  

With the COVID-19 vaccine in distribution, and UNM Health naming the The Pit as a location to mass distribute the vaccine, it seems like there might be hope on the horizon.  In order to combat the rise of cases in the county, the site will be a location to track and vaccinate the county’s most vulnerable citizens. 

Albuquerque has already announced it's plan to distribute the vaccine once it is publicly available.

If you haven’t already, you can register to get the vaccine online. The vaccination process is currently in “phase 1B”, which includes individuals 75-years-old or older with underlying medical conditions, frontline essential workers unable to work remotely and populations vulnerable to the virus. “Phase 1C” will begin in the spring for citizens 60 or older and other essential workers.

To see the most updated hotspots, check out our COVID hotspot map. 

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