Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Indoor dining makes a return


February 17, 2021

Ron Warnick

Pow Wow Restaurant waitress Melissa Martinez brings meals to customers Anthony Carroll and his wife Jackie, both of Tucumcari, on Wednesday evening. In the background are murals by local artist Doug Quarles of the restaurant's longtime customers. Quay County landed in the yellow zone for COVID-19 risk on Wednesday, allowing restaurants to bring back indoor dining for the first time in more than three months.

Barely two hours after Quay County went from red to yellow in the state's bimonthly COVID-19 risk assessment Wednesday afternoon, a waitress at the Pow Wow Restaurant in Tucumcari was arranging silverware and placemats on tables inside.

That's because the new designation immediately allowed indoor dining in the county for the first time in more than three months.

The Pow Wow and Del's Restaurant, also in Tucumcari, swiftly announced they would host indoor dining that night. Other restaurants in the county announced they would begin serving customers indoors Thursday.

Pow Wow general manager Jerry Mares said Wednesday evening he had been hopeful the county's coronavirus caseload would drop enough to allow indoor dining again.

"I didn't want to lose Valentine's Day," Mares said. "We're glad. We needed it."

During the indoor-dining shutdown, the Pow Wow continued operating not only with takeout orders, but by serving meals in an elaborate outdoor patio that contained heaters against the winter chill and a portable fire pit in was used to be a portion of the restaurant's parking lot. State restrictions allowed limited dining in outdoor areas.

Del's also set up an outdoor patio area, also in portion of its parking lot.

Mares said the Pow Wow's patio isn't going away.

"It helped us a lot," he said. "It was able to keep us going. We rode the storm out."

He said the patio also helped enable the restaurant to avoid layoffs like it experienced during the first indoor-dining shutdown last spring.

After a huge surge of COVID-19 cases, the state began evaluating counties Nov. 30 on two-week periods based on whether they met the metrics of 8 daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity of 5% or lower. Green counties meet both, yellow counties meet one, and red counties meet neither.

Quay County, for the Jan. 26-Feb. 8 data period, had a 4.17% test positivity rate and 11.9 cases per 100,000 residents.

The yellow designation meant the county immediately could operate under the relaxed public health orders, including indoor dining at 25% and outdoor dining at 75%.

Establishments serving alcohol also could stay open until 10 p.m. under those guidelines, as well.

Essential retail spaces could go from 25% to 33% capacity, and mass gatherings are defined in yellow counties as 10 people or 80 vehicles, compared to five people and 40 vehicles in red counties.

A total of four counties landed in the green designation - Catron, Sierra, Harding and Union. A total of 15 counties, including Quay and Curry, landed in the yellow.

Fourteen counties remained in the red, including seven in the state's southeast region.

De Baca and Socorro counties saw increases in their test positivity rates, though Socorro is on the threshold of the yellow zone at 6.26% of tests returned positive. Socorro County is the only county to regress to a more restrictive level during the two-week period.

Here are the yellow-zone guidelines for Quay County:

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

• Essential retail spaces: 33% of capacity;

• Food and drink establishments: 25% of maximum capacity for indoor dining; 75% of maximum capacity for outdoors dining; any establishment serving alcohol must close by 10 p.m. nightly;

• Close-contact businesses: 25% of maximum capacity or 20 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 125 customers at one time, whichever is smaller;

• Churches: May hold religious services, indoors or outdoors, or provide services through audiovisual means, but may not exceed 33% of the capacity of any enclosed space on the premises;

• Places of lodging: 60% of maximum occupancy for those that have completed NM Safe Certified training; 25% of maximum occupancy for all others; five guests maximum for vacation rentals;

• Mass gatherings limit: 10 persons; 80 vehicles.

The next state assessment for coronavirus risk will be Feb. 24.

The state also announced Wednesday it no longer will require a self-quarantine for visitors or New Mexicans arriving into the state from "high-risk" states, or states with a 5% positivity rate or greater over a seven-day rolling average or a positive test rate greater than 80 per 1 million residents.

Visitors from anywhere outside of the state instead will be strongly advised to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days and to seek out a COVID-19 test upon their arrival in or return to New Mexico.

Kevin Wilson of the Eastern New Mexico News contributed to this report.


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