San Juan County moves to Green Level as COVID-19 cases drop

Farmington's mayor optimistic about business and recreational facility openings this summer

The Daily Times staff

FARMINGTON — San Juan County has moved into the state’s less-restrictive Green Level of COVID-19 business restrictions, meaning more indoor dining, higher occupancy in hotels and fewer restrictions on houses of worship.

Some businesses must complete state-mandated safety training before reopening.

Mayor Nate Duckett was optimistic that entering the Green Level could mean a better summer for the Farmington community than last year.

“I’m excited to see us open up a little bit more,” he said. “But we’ve still got work to do, so stay vigilant and let’s keep moving forward.”

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Duckett said the green category will allow more of the services that have been closed during the pandemic to reopen, such as the swimming pools. Duckett expressed hope that Farmington will be able to open the Bisti Bay Water Park this summer as well as the Beach at Lake Farmington.

The green category could also pave the way for a public ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly renovated downtown.

San Juan County moved to the Green Level in the state's Red to Green framework according to this map published March 10, 2021.

And, if cases remain low, Duckett is hopeful that the Connie Mack World Series can return this year and Farmington will be able to host the state’s Outdoor Economic Conference. Duckett anticipates that conference will bring hundreds of people to Farmington.

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Duckett is also excited to see schools reopening on April 5 and is hopeful that the Class of 2021 can have in-person graduations.

He encouraged people to focus on supporting local businesses and to be welcoming.

“We’ve seen a great bounce back even since becoming yellow,” he said.

He said customers are visiting retail stores and restaurants.

“When Main Street is packed, you know that it’s a good day in Farmington,” he said. “And that’s what we’ve been seeing day after day. Main Street is full of traffic, which tells us there’s a lot of good business happening.”

There are 14 counties operating at the state’s two least-restrictive levels of COVID-19 business restrictions as of March 10, with seven of those counties at the newly implemented “Turquoise,” the most-relaxed level.

There are now seven New Mexico counties at the less-restrictive Green Level and seven at the Turquiose Level. Seven more, which geographically cover around one-third of the state, are in the Yellow Level.

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'Over the moon with happiness'

The news about the elevation in San Juan County's status was especially welcome news to Jamie Church, president and CEO of the Farmington Chamber of Commerce.

"My reaction is over the moon with happiness," she said, laughing. "I'm very pleased about it."

Church said she had been monitoring the county's numbers closely and had a feeling such a change might be coming.

"But it's still good to get the official word," she said.

Church pointed to the impact the change in status will have on a number of business sectors, mostly notably the dine-in restaurant industry, which has suffered badly during the pandemic. She said the fact that eateries that rely heavily on indoor dining will be able to have half their indoor tables occupied now is very good news, and she hopes it results in some employees being hired back.

She was just as excited about the change that will allow gatherings of up to 20 people to take place, which she said means that a lot of meetings that have been taking place virtually will now be able to be conducted in person. While larger gatherings are still forbidden, Church said, "This helps those of us who are trying to plan events down the road."

She said she is hopeful the chamber will be able to resume its Business After Hours networking gatherings in May.

"It's good to see the numbers drop so drastically," she said. "We'll celebrate our new status for a few days, and then many of us will be setting our sights on getting to (the) Turquoise (Level)."

While some counties that have advanced to the Green Level have later moved back to Yellow, Church said she believes the coming of spring and the fact that people will be spending more time outside will help San Juan County avoid that.

"I think the positivity rate is heading in the right direction," she said, adding that she also is pleased by what she is seeing in terms of the number of residents who have been vaccinated. " … I don't think we're going to backslide like we did in November. I would not see that happening unless there's some new variant none of us were anticipating."

Four Corners Economic Development, Inc. CEO Arvin Trujillo said it’s a great accomplishment for the county to reach such low numbers and achieve Green Level status, but there’s more work to be done to get to the more-relaxed Turquoise Level.

Early on as the tiered restriction levels were announced, Trujillo said many thought about how San Juan County was going to get to the lower case levels and positivity rates, “but we see we were able to do it.”

“There’s much to be proud of,” Trujillo said.

What Green Level means for businesses and churches

Average daily cases needed to be no more than eight per 10,000 people and test positivity rates needed to drop to no more than 5 percent to get San Juan County into the Green Level.

Between Feb.23 and March 8 there were no more than 5.80 cases per 10,000 people and the test positivity rate dropped to 1.55%, the state health department announced March 10 in its updated COVID-19 public dashboard.

Green Level restrictions mean:

  • Essential non-retail businesses have no capacity restrictions “but operations must be limited to only those absolutely necessary to carry out essential functions,” according to the state health department. Essential retail stores can allow 50% of the businesses’ normal indoor and outdoor customer capacity.
  • Hotels and motels can operate at “75% of maximum occupancy for those that have completed NM Safe Certified training; 40% of maximum occupancy for all others; 10 guests maximum for vacation rentals,” according to the health department.
  • Bars and clubs can serve at 25 percent capacity in outdoor spaces but no indoor service is allowed. Establishments that serve food and drinks can serve at 50% capacity indoors and 75% outdoors.
  • Houses of worship can “hold religious services, indoors or outdoors, or provide services through audiovisual means, but may not exceed 50% of the maximum capacity of any enclosed space on the premises,” according to the state.
  • So-called “mass gatherings” are limited to 20 people or 120 vehicles.
  • Businesses defined by the state as “close-contact businesses” are limited to 50% of maximum indoor or outdoor capacity.
  • Large entertainment venues can operate at 25% of maximum capacity in indoor or enclosed space on the venue’s premises and at 50 in outdoor spaces on the venue’s premises.
  • What the state defines as recreational facilities can fill 25% of maximum capacity for indoor or enclosed spaces and 50% in outdoor spaces.
  • For all other businesses the state says there are limits of 50% maximum capacity use, both indoors and outdoors.

The State of New Mexico is continuing to urge people to get tested for COVID-19 if they feel symptomatic, have traveled or have spent time around people outside of their household who were not wearing masks, particularly in an indoor environment. Testing information can be found at togethernm.org.

New Mexico is working to get people vaccinated against the coronavirus. People can register for the vaccine at cvvaccine.nmhealth.org.

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Reporters Hannah Grover and Mike Easterling and Editor John R. Moses contributed to this report.

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