Rio Ranchoans Summer Durling, left, and Amy Luna celebrate Durling’s birthday with lunch — especially enjoying the nachos — at Turtle Mountain Brewing Company on Thursday, the first day owner Nico Ortiz could open his indoor dining. “After two months of being outside in the middle of winter, even though it’s been mild — it’s been ridiculous,” Ortiz said, noting he’d spent an inordinate amount for propane to warm those eating outdoors. But, he said, even with 25 percent occupancy indoors, “I will take it.” Gary Herron photo.

The news on the COVID-19 front continued to get better last week, per four health-care leaders on a Zoom conference with the media.
Sandoval County also moved to the “Yellow” status after its rate of positive COVID tests dropped below 5 percent, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. With a rate of 4.66 percent, county residents and businesses can operate under lighter public-health restrictions for at least the next two weeks.
Health metrics after that period will determine whether the loosened restrictions continue, according to state public-health orders.
“The wave of COVID seems to be lifting,” said UNM Health System Executive Physician Dr. David Pitcher.
Positive-test cases — comparable to what the state experienced in October — hospitalizations and deaths are on the decrease, according to DOH numbers.
“We’re getting back to a more normal state,” Pitcher said, adding that in light of these “optimistic trends … the hard work is not yet done.”
Three others agreed with Pitcher’s summation, and all four said the battle would be even closer to having been won if there was enough vaccine to go around.
“Demand exceeds supply,” said Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales, who noted that 10 percent of the state’s adult population has received at least one dose. “We know how stressful it is to wait.”
Pitcher said with the re-opening of The Pit in Albuquerque last week, another 1,600 folks were expected to be vaccinated each day, although he said he expected fewer doses to be available this week with less vaccine anticipated to arrive.
Each doctor advised New Mexicans to keep wearing masks, avoid large gatherings, maintain social distancing, stay home when sick and get vaccinated.
Dr. David Scrase, the secretary of the state Human Services Department, said Feb. 10 that the decrease of 16 percent in case count was due to vaccinations, “solid evidence the vaccine is working.”
But, he later added, “Be particularly careful in the month after receiving your vaccine.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during her Facebook update Feb. 10, that progress was illuminated with an average daily case count of 475 in the previous week, representing a 66 percent drop from the average case count during the “same week” in January.
As of Feb. 10, the state had received 394,000 doses of vaccine, with more than 365,000 shots administered, or about 93 percent of what had been received. Lujan Grisham said, the state is third nationally in percentage of residents having received their first shots, sixth in those with their second shots administered and fourth for percentage of vaccinations used.

Four go green, 15 hit yellow
The NMDOH on Wednesday announced the updated statewide COVID-19 map for the two weeks beginning Feb. 10, with 15 New Mexico counties at the Yellow Level and four at the Green Level.
Sandoval County and neighboring Bernalillo County were among the 15 rising to Yellow. All 33 New Mexico counties saw improvements in their average daily per-capita rate of new cases over the previous two weeks, and 30 counties saw improvements in their test positivity rate.
Sandoval County recorded three deaths through the first 11 days of February, and none Feb. 6-11.
Socorro County had an increase in test positivity rates and was the only county to move to a more restrictive level, according to the DOH.
The state’s county-by-county system uses the per-capita daily incidence of new COVID-19 cases and average test positivity within county borders to determine the level of public health risk and requirements for each county. A county that meets one criterion may operate at the Yellow Level; a county that meets both may operate at the Green Level.
“We have the power to control the virus; we just have to stay vigilant,” Lujan Grisham said, hoping there wouldn’t be a surge soon from large Super Bowl gatherings.

Travel restrictions change
On Feb. 10, the state of New Mexico announced a change in its mandatory self-quarantine requirement for visitors into the state and residents returning from out-of-state travel.
As of Feb. 11, the state no longer requires self-quarantine after out-of-state travel, although people are “strongly advised” to self-quarantine for two weeks and to get a COVID-19 test upon their arrival in or return, according to the release.
“Please consider continuing to limit travel to only what is necessary for your work and family,” said Lujan Grisham. “This is the best way to ensure our progress is sustained, and we can continue to save lives and protect New Mexicans’ health and livelihoods.”

Another vaccine soon
Johnson & Johnson intends to distribute vaccines to the U.S. government immediately following authorization, and expects to supply 100 million doses to the nation in the first half of 2021, according to the company’s website.
On Feb. 4, Johnson & Johnson announced on its website that Janssen Biotech Inc. submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requesting Emergency Use Authorization for its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine has been shown to be 72 percent effective in the U.S. and 66 percent effective overall at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 28 days after vaccination, according to the website.

Local pharmacies gear up
According to USA Today, national pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Sam’s Club, are participating in a new federal COVID-19 vaccination effort beginning this week.
On Feb. 9, the Biden administration unveiled the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, through which 21 pharmacy networks representing more than 40,000 stores will attempt to increase vaccine accessibility. That initiative’s first phase began Feb. 11.

What ‘Yellow’ means

Source: New Mexico Department of Health

Essential retail: 25 percent of maximum occupancy or 125 customers, whichever is smaller.

Friends Bud Light and Artie Ann Ortega enjoyed lunch Thursday afternoon at O’Hare’s Grille & Pub, which opened to indoor dining at 25 percent capacity that day. Light, a Rio Rancho resident since 1999, said O’Hare’s is one of his favorite places to dine. Anyone wanting to go back inside to eat today can find M’Tucci’s Moderno, Joe’s Pasta House, Hot Tamales, Weck’s, Turtle Mountain, O’Hare’s, Slate Street and Dairy Queen in the city open for indoor dining again. Gary Herron photo.

 Food & drink establishments: Indoor dining allowed at 25 percent of maximum occupancy; outdoor dining allowed at 75 percent of maximum occupancy; establishments serving alcohol must close at 10 p.m.
Places of lodging: 60 percent of maximum occupancy for those that have completed the N.M. Safe-Certified program; 25 percent for establishments that have not completed the program; five guests maximum for vacation rentals.
Essential businesses: Must limit operations to only those absolutely necessary to carry out essential functions.
Mass gatherings limit: Ten people; 25 vehicles.
Close-contact businesses: 25 percent of maximum occupancy or 20 customers at one time, whichever is smaller.
Outdoor recreational facilities: 25 percent of maximum occupancy.
Close-contact recreational facilities: Remain closed.
Houses of worship: 25 percent of maximum occupancy.
All other businesses, including non-essential retail stores: 25 percent of maximum occupancy or 125 customers at one time, whichever is smaller.
The county-by-county status and information is updated every two weeks. When a county moves to a less restrictive level, it may begin operating at that level immediately upon the update to the map. If a county moves back to a more restrictive level, it will begin operating at that level of restriction within 48 hours after the update to the map.

 

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer