FARMINGTON – San Juan County and the city of Farmington filed a request with the New Mexico Department of Health to verify the latest COVID-19 positivity rate results that keep San Juan County 0.01% away from the Yellow Level.
NMDOH released an updated map of the counties to show which counties were in green, yellow or red. San Juan County is and has been in the Red Level.
The Green Level means that the county has both a new COVID-19 case rate of less than 8 cases per 100,000 in the closest two-week period, and must also have an average percent of positive COVID-19 test results to be less than or equal to 5%. The perks of the Green Level include retail capacity at 50% and restaurant establishments open up to 50%.
The Yellow Level requires either cases of no greater than 8 cases per 100,000, or average percent of positive tests results less than or equal to 5%. Yellow Level does not require both conditions to be met in order to move to this level. The perks of this level are that restaurants and retail spaces can open back up to 25% and 33% capacity, respectively.
The Red Level is characterized by having greater than 8 per 100,000 new cases and more than 5% positive test results.
With the new county maps out, San Juan County tallied in with 23.4 new cases per 100,000, but only a positivity rate of 5.01% – less than a tenth of a percent away from yellow.
Devin Neeley, spokesman for San Juan County, said in a statement that the positivity rate dropped from 12.17% reported on Jan. 27 to 5.01%, which he called a “drastic decrease,” and added that it “proves that not only are residents of San Juan County committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19, but COVID safe practices are being implemented and working.”
“Both governments (of Farmington and San Juan County) believe that the residents of San Juan County deserve fair, accurate, and transparent reporting when the threshold is missed by what could amount to a rounding error, one less positive case, or 15 more negative tests,” Neeley said.
Neeley added that as of Thursday morning, San Juan County was listed as second in the state for total vaccines delivered.
“Representatives of Farmington and San Juan County have been in touch with various state officials to try and gain some insight into the data and continue to advocate for San Juan County’s struggling small businesses,” Neeley said.
According to the statement, NMDOH has three days to respond to the county and city.
NMDOH’s spokesman Matt Bieber said the state has an “intensive” review process used for accuracy for tests and cases, adding that one positive test result is only counted once even if that same person takes multiple tests and gets multiple positive results.
Neeley said the county had done its own math from the data on the NMDOH site based on data from Thursday itself and found the county to be in the 5% or less range. Bieber said the daily statistics aren’t taken into account like the two-week numbers are.
“While the dashboard represents ‘data based on info we received today,’ the red, yellow, green analysis provides a highly accurate picture for a two-week period of time,” Bieber said.
For that reason, Bieber said the department looks at two-week data instead of day by day.
“We recognize that on occasion, counties may fall just above or below a threshold, but the standard is still the standard,” Bieber said. “San Juan County has made incredible progress and may well move to Yellow next time.”
But that answer isn’t good enough for the county, according to Neeley. He said the percentage the county has is different from that of the state, even using the same test data provided by the state.
“Our numbers don’t match the state and we want to know why,” Neeley said Friday. “If they are using different data why is it not available?”
Neeley pointed out that the state standard is 5%, not 5% rounded to the second decimal place and that just one less case or 15 additional negative tests would have pushed them under by state data.
But that difference shouldn’t even matter, according to Neeley, since the calculations done by the county are different.
Data collected by the county, which was put out by the New Mexico Department of Health, shows that even with a two case variant between county and state data, the positivity calculations are closer to 4.098% to 4.113%.
Neeley said the state failed to explain where the data is coming from and the concern is why.
“The residents deserve clarity from the state,” Neeley said. “We will continue to operate in the red, but it is our duty to advocate for the residents and business owners.”
Farmington Mayor Duckett has also been on the frontlines of the battle to yellow as he has been in communication with the Department of Health and has made the same plea about the 5% vs 5.01% matter.
“When you talk with them about it there is no consideration for the thousands of jobs that are being pushed aside for another two weeks possibly,” Duckett said. “There’s no consideration for the human element of people’s livelihoods that have been crushed by the state of New Mexico and these absurd rules.”
Duckett pointed out that as less people are getting tested due to San Juan County being the second highest to get vaccinated. So with less people getting tested, it messes with the gauging criteria.
“Then that brings up to the idea that we should be gaining the system by asking healthy people to go waste time, money and energy just to get tested so we can play by their rules when what we ultimately want is a healthy society,” Duckett said.
Duckett said that for the state to see that it was just one case but keep San Juan County in the red is “shameful,” but he didn’t want to diminish the hard work by the residents to keep safe and healthy.
“Of course seeing the improvements in numbers is what we want to see,” Duckett said. “It’s just when these ridiculous things come up that it’s frustrating.”