State taking county-based approach to schools
Last updated 8/29/2020 at 2:43pm
SANTA FE — The state is planning a county-based approach for a return to in-person school, with data showing more than two-thirds of New Mexico counties meet the necessary gating criteria to go face-to-face after Labor Day.
Curry and Roosevelt counties do not meet the current criteria, but state officials said during a Thursday press conference there is still opportunity in the next week to make progress in the COVID-19 pandemic prior to Labor Day.
Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said he’s been encouraged by lower positivity rates and the precautions he’s seen schools taking in virtual and in-person visits he’s made around the state.
However, he echoed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Human Services Secretary David Scrase in noting the work is far from over.
“The more we can wear masks,” Stewart said, “the more we can practice social distancing, the more we can turn these red counties to green.”
The state has four color-coded designations for counties:
• Green: Less than eight daily cases per 100,000 and test positivity below 5%. This applied to 25 counties, including De Baca. These counties can begin to phase in face-to-face instruction, starting with lower grades.
• Orange: Less than eight daily cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity above 5%. No counties fit this criteria.
• Yellow: More than eight daily cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity below 5%. Curry was one of two counties in this designation.
• Red: More than eight daily cases per 100,000 residents and a test positivity at or above 5%. This applied to six counties, including Roosevelt and Quay.
The eight daily cases per 100,000 residents baseline — or 80 new cases per million — is the same measure by which the state has established a goal of 168 daily cases statewide.
Stewart said the state will look at data over two-week periods to make sure schools can operate effectively instead of daily checks if a county is just floating around a threshold.
In cases where school districts have made decisions to go online-only beyond Sept. 8, the PED will not require those schools relax those standards. Albuquerque Public Schools, for instance, has already voted to go online-only for the entire fall semester. Lujan Grisham said if she were to order districts to go face-to-face, she would have to assure them they couldn't contract COVID-19 and she doesn't see a path to do that without a vaccine.
The state had announced on Wednesday a few relaxed occupancy mandates. The public health order that takes effect Saturday will allow indoor dining at 25% capacity and outdoor dining at 75% capacity, houses of worship at 40% capacity and museums with static displays at 25%. Also, the state will change the definition of a prohibited mass gathering from five people to 10.
With a return to indoor dining, Lujan Grisham asked New Mexicans to wear face coverings whenever they’re not eating or drinking. She noted restaurants have done an incredible job following COVID-safe practices, but the environments are higher risk through no fault of the establishments.
“The more you wear the mask,” Lujan Grisham said, “the fewer droplets that are being provided to the indoor space. You have to do your part.”
The state did not alter the public health order requiring out of state travelers to quarantine for 14 days, despite the removal of the recommendation from CDC guidelines. Lujan Grisham said she is optimistic the state could make a related amendment in the upcoming week.
Regarding a question on why new positive test numbers will be around 70 some days and 200 other days, Lujan Grisham said there are different reasons, and that’s why test positivity and rolling seven-day averages are key data points.