Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The number of new COVID-19 cases in New Mexico has ticked up to its highest rate since March, driven by elevated infection rates in several counties with lagging vaccination rates.
While statewide infection rates are still far lower than the mid-November peak, the recent increase in cases comes amid a nationwide spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which has also made its way into New Mexico.
State health officials reported 478 new cases Tuesday and one additional virus-related death. The new cases included an outbreak of 94 new infections among detainees held at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia.
Statewide, a 94% of the new confirmed virus cases since Feb. 1 have been among unvaccinated individuals, according to state Department of Health data released Tuesday.
Of the 537 deaths during that period, a 527 – or about 98% – were among unvaccinated individuals, and unvaccinated individuals made up 93% of the roughly 2,500 who were hospitalized, according to the DOH data.
Meanwhile, four New Mexico counties averaged more than 30 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week – Hidalgo, Eddy, Roosevelt and Lincoln – while several other counties were not far behind.
Those counties all had COVID-19 vaccination rates below the statewide rate of 65.1% of residents who had, as of Tuesday, received all necessary shots to be fully vaccinated.
The recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations comes after the elimination of statewide business restrictions July 1 and prompted Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to implement a requirement that all state workers be vaccinated or be tested every two weeks.
Other institutions have followed suit in recent days, as New Mexico State University leaders said Tuesday that they would reverse course by requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September or undergo weekly testing.
A decision on whether NMSU students will face a similar vaccination or testing requirement is expected to be announced in the coming days.
The New Mexico State University system continues to prioritize being agile and adaptive in its response to the changing pandemic landscape and evolving guidance from state and federal officials,” NMSU Vice Chancellor Ruth Johnston said in a Tuesday letter.
The vaccination policy mirrors the approach taken by the University of New Mexico, which announced Monday that all students, faculty and staff would also face a vaccine requirement by the end of September if the university’s board of regents adopts UNM President Garnett Stokes’ recommendation.