Serving the High Plains

Quay likely to remain in red

Quay County is almost certain to remain in the red zone when the New Mexico Department of Health evaluates its coronavirus caseload Wednesday.

The state checks each county’s per-capita caseload and test-positivity rate every two weeks to see whether they can be allowed to partially reopen their economies.

Through Sunday, Quay County had recorded 53 cases of COVID-19 since Nov. 30. New Mexico Human Services Secretary David Scrase showed a graphic during a briefing Thursday that indicates Quay County can tolerate only 10 cases within a two-week period to stay below the gating criteria of eight daily cases per 100,000 people. The county already is at five times over that metric and has experienced two-thirds of all its cases since Nov. 1.

A Quay County Sun calculation indicates the county has a test-positivity rate of 10.8% through Sunday — more than double the criteria of 5%. Quay County would have to more than double its testing, with no new COVID-19 cases, before Wednesday to meet the 5% benchmark.

Quay County almost certainly won’t be alone in being stuck in the red zone for coronavirus risk. All of New Mexico’s counties but San Miguel were placed in the red zone during the last evaluation Nov. 30.

Quay County, however, showed signs the spread of COVID-19 in its boundaries was slowing. It had a test-positivity rate of 20.4% on Nov. 30 and may halve that by Wednesday.

In November, Quay County averaged 4.6 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day. In December through Sunday, that had declined to 2.4 per day.

The next county evaluation will be Dec. 30.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a briefing Thursday she anticipated several counties would land in the yellow zone on Wednesday.

Like Quay County, the state had shown signs of the pandemic slowing in recent weeks, though she cautioned New Mexico overall remained in “an extreme-risk situation” with its elevated caseloads of the virus.

“That’s exactly what was aimed for with the two-week reset” of greater restrictions in November, she said. “But two weeks don’t change the entire trajectory.”

She recommended residents to wear masks in public, avoid groups and gatherings, avoid unnecessary travel and encourage testing.

Here are the restrictions for counties in the red zone:

• Essential businesses (non-retail): No capacity restrictions but must limit operations to those only absolutely necessary to carry out essential functions;

• Essential retail spaces: 25% of maximum capacity or 75 customers at one time, whichever is smaller;

• Food and drink establishments: No indoor dining allowed and 25% of maximum capacity for outdoor dining; any establishment serving alcohol must close by 9 p.m. nightly;

• Close-contact businesses: 25% of maximum capacity or 10 customers at one time, whichever is smaller;

• Outdoor recreational facilities: 25% of maximum capacity (unless required to have less capacity under the state’s COVID-Safe Practices);

• Close-contact recreational facilities: Remain closed;

• All other businesses: 25% of maximum capacity or 75 customers at one time, whichever is smaller

• Houses of worship: May hold religious services, indoors or outdoors, or provide services through audiovisual means but may not exceed 25% of capacity of any enclosed space on the premises;

• Places of lodging: 40% of maximum occupancy for those that have completed NM Safe Certified training and 25% of maximum occupancy for all others; five guests maximum for vacation rentals;

• Mass gatherings limit: five persons and 10 vehicles.

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