Covid Cases Rise Sharply in New Mexico Despite Widespread Vaccination

New daily cases per person are up 48 percent over the past two weeks, compared with a 6 percent increase nationwide.

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Cases rise sharply in New Mexico despite a relatively strong inoculation rate.

A billboard bore a warning in August in Rio Rancho, N.M., near Albuquerque.Credit…Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press

By Todd Gregory and Isabella Grullon Paz

Nov. 10, 2021, 9:19 a.m. ET

Coronavirus cases are surging faster in New Mexico than in any other state, despite its relatively high vaccination rate, and some hospitals there are overwhelmed.

After a quiet spring and summer on the coronavirus front, the past couple of months have been difficult for the state as cases rose rapidly, plateaued and are now rising again.

New daily cases per person are up 48 percent over the past two weeks, compared with a 6 percent increase nationwide, according to a New York Times database. Neighboring Colorado, which is facing its own surge, activated crisis care standards on Tuesday; that allows the National Guard to support overwhelmed hospitals and allow medical facilities to move staff around.

New Mexico was an early leader in vaccinations, and 63 percent of its population is fully vaccinated, compared with the national average of 58 percent. It has kept its mask mandate going, although it is set to expire soon without another extension.

1,000

2,000 cases

Apr. 2020

May

Jun.

Jul.

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

Nov.

Dec.

Jan. 2021

Feb.

Mar.

Apr.

May

Jun.

Jul.

Aug.

Sept.

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7-day average

1,245
Source: State and local health agencies. Daily cases are the number of new cases reported each day. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data.

Experts aren’t warning of a catastrophic winter, with New Mexico nowhere near the peak caseloads it reached late last fall. But increasing hospitalizations are causing concern in a state with fewer beds per person than almost any other state.

New Mexico led the way in vaccinations in the United States in the spring, and health officials in the state have been tracking whether that means residents who haven’t gotten booster shots could now be more vulnerable to infections. Although over 70 percent of the state’s hospitalized Covid-19 patients are unvaccinated, early vaccinations could be a factor in the current surge, Dr. David R. Scrase, New Mexico’s health and human services secretary, said in an interview.

The State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.

A growing number of employers, universities and businesses are now issuing some form of a vaccine requirement. Here’s a closer look.

Private Sector: The Biden administration set Jan. 4 as the deadline for large companies to mandate vaccinations or start weekly testing of their workers, but a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the rule.Federal Government: A mandate for the vast majority of federal workers applies to employees of the executive branch, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the military.City Workforces: Some major cities — New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — are requiring municipal workers to get vaccinated.Schools: California issued a mandate for all educators and plans to add the vaccine as a requirement to attend school. New York City has a mandate for teachers and staff in public schools.Colleges: More than 400 colleges and universities require students to be vaccinated.Hospitals: Many medical centers are requiring employees to get vaccinated. Mandates for health care workers in California and New York State compelled thousands of holdouts to receive the shots.

“We’re the first ones to vaccinate, we’re going to be the first one to experience the waning immunity,” he said.

In Farmington, in northwestern New Mexico, the San Juan Regional Medical Center instituted “crisis standards of care” last week, meaning that some patients may be denied health care services because of a shortage of resources. It also brought in additional health care workers to manage the rise in patients.

Laura Werbner, a spokeswoman for the facility, said that 88 patients there had been hospitalized with Covid-19 on Wednesday. That is not the most the hospital has cared for in one day — that was 100 patients on Dec. 30 — but the difference now is “that resources are stretched so thin,” she said.

Numbers provided by the hospital indicate that vaccinations were still protecting many patients who had received shots. From Oct. 1 to Nov. 2, it cared for 289 Covid patients, 81 percent of whom were not fully vaccinated.

“Right now, this is a disease of the unvaccinated,” Ms. Werbner said.

The reasons for the increase in cases around the state are complex.

Kathryn A. Hanley, a professor of biology at New Mexico State University whose laboratory is studying the coronavirus, said that “New Mexico has been terrific about implementing regulations, mask mandates and social distancing regulations, and people have been good about complying with the regulations.”

The problem, she said, is that the Delta variant hit as residents’ immunity began to wane.

Demographics are also at play. New Mexico has more children per household than many other states, which makes it vulnerable because many children remain unvaccinated, Dr. Hanley noted.

“A lot of the communities here are closely connected, with a lot of family visitation,” she said, and that makes for conditions that are conducive to the transmission of the virus.

Sarah Cahalan contributed research.

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