BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County residents can expect to know at noon today the status of the County under the governor’s ‘red to green’ system for New Mexico counties in the next phase of COVID-19 response. A map showing the current status of counties may be viewed at https://cvprovider.nmhealth.org/public-dashboard.html. As of early Wednesday morning, Los Alamos County is the only county in yellow status, however, there is a possibility that status could change due to high numbers of confirmed cases reported by the state in the last few days.
County Manager Harry Burgess told County Council members during their regular meeting Tuesday evening that staff has been working to transition to the governor’s red-green paradigm starting Wednesday.
“There are some of our facilities that will be altering their hours and we will be doing the same every two weeks as we proceed. My understanding is that there will be a new map issued Wednesday so there may be some slight adjustments depending on any changes that may be made between this evening and tomorrow. Staff has been discussing that and will be prepared to be responsive to whatever direction our numbers dictate,” Burgess said.
Councilor Antonio Maggiore asked if there was an inside scoop on whether Los Alamos County would be yellow or red on the map. Burgess said he did not know which direction the County is going except that the County has seen a day with 10 new cases. Maggiore noted that there had been 23 cases in the last few days and that the situation is “starting to get a little worrying”.
Council Chair Sara Scott noted that she had spoken to the folks at the governor’s office about the red/yellow/green ranking and what that means specifically for operations in Los Alamos County. Councilor James Robinson noted that in Monday’s press conference the governor emphasized that the system would give communities local control over reopening, saying that if Los Alamos County went to green, it could choose whether or not it wants to fully reopen. He asked what that would mean in the County and if Council was leaving the decisions up to Burgess seeing as he knows the best day-to-day metrics or is that would be a discussion for Council.
Burgess said that all along throughout the COVID-19 event, his comments to Council have been that the County will be following the governor’s orders.
“We’ve been responsive and I anticipate the same moving forward. Via our charter, I assumed that was my decision as I’m responsible for operations and opening and closing these facilities,” Burgess said if Council had a different perspective he had not heard one yet.
Councilor Maggiore said his interpretation of what the governor said was it was up to individual businesses in each county to choose, that it was not set by the county government to open or close, it was up to the individual business. Chair Scott noted that Burgess was talking about County facilities like the aquatic center and that the material provided by the state is very clear about businesses and what can open at what levels. She said if a county doesn’t feel comfortable opening certain facilities, that is their discretion but that business are under the specific guidance issued by the governor’s office.
Burgess noted that Council had talked early on in the pandemic about County authority. He said because the citizens had not given their approval certain things in the County charter such as limiting people’s actions, they are not in the County’s purview.
Meanwhile, whatever is announced by the state at noon Wednesday will be in place until the map is again updated Wednesday, Dec. 16. Under the order, if a county fails to meet the specified metrics for a given level when the map is updated, it will begin operating at the next most restrictive level within 48 hours. If a county meets the specific metrics for a less restrictive level, it may begin operating at that level of restrictions upon publication of the DOH’s biweekly update of the map. The two key health metrics used to determine where a county sits within the tiered framework identified in the state’s gating criteria.
On Tuesday, the state reported nine new COVID-19 cases in Los Alamos County for a total of 155 confirmed cases. On Monday, Los Alamos National Laboratory reported 321 case with 161 completely recovered. Two LANL employees have sadly succumbed to the virus to date.
As of Tuesday, Los Alamos Public Schools listed 7 staff and 23 student cases.