Governor Lujan Grisham

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham echoed a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week that even vaccinated individuals should resume wearing face masks while indoors.

“In accordance with the latest official guidance from the CDC, [we recommend] fully vaccinated New Mexicans wear a face-covering in indoor settings out of an abundance of caution,” said Nora Sackett, press secretary for the governor, in an email.

Government officials in many other states are also pushing the recommendation to wear a mask again as the highly-transmissible COVID-19 Delta Variant causes case numbers to spike again across the United States.

Case rates rising

As part of its regularly scheduled pandemic updates, the New Mexico Department of Health held a press conference Wednesday (July 28) to inform the public about the state’s vaccination program and rising case rates.

The national COVID-19 case rate was 109 cases per 100,000 people from July 20–26, up from 67 the week prior. In New Mexico, case rates increased 38 percent, to 58 cases per 100,000 people over the same time frame.

“About 75 to 80 percent of all cases in New Mexico are now the Delta Variant,” said New Mexico Human Services Department Secretary David Scrase.

The Delta Variant is a highly transmissible version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The original virus, the Alpha Variant, accounted for 98 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases just 2 months ago, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The average daily case count in New Mexico increased 54 percent, to 222 cases per day, from July 20–26. There were 19 new cases in Taos County during that same time frame, bringing the total number of cases to 1,800, according to Town of Taos GIS Analyst Tim Corner.

One Taos County resident died from COVID-19 from July 20–26, bringing the total number of deaths in the county due to the pandemic to 56.

“While we see some people getting the Delta Variant who’ve been vaccinated, we’re not really seeing much in the way of excess hospitalizations, and not seeing much in the way of deaths,” said Scrase. “So that’s good news — the vaccine dramatically lowers hospitalizations and deaths.”

Shots in arms

“New Mexico does remain among the vaccine leaders in the whole United States,” said New Mexico Department of Health Acting Secretary Laura Parajón. “We have 73 percent of New Mexicans (18+) having received at least their first shot, and 65 percent of New Mexicans (18+) are now fully vaccinated.”

Parajón announced that, nationwide, 86.9 percent of distributed vaccine doses have been administered as of July 21, but in New Mexico, 99.9 percent have been administered — the largest share of any state.

She went on to say that children are now getting vaccines at increasing rates. Children age 12–15 were 30 percent fully vaccinated, and children age 16–17 were 42 percent fully vaccinated across the state.

“We are a little bit worried about the 18 to 24-year-old age group going back to school. That’s the lowest [percentage] for fully vaccinated — 40 percent,” said Parajón.

“Another exciting development is that Pfizer and Moderna are going to expand their clinical trials for children ages five to 11-years-old. That’s exciting, because we really want to protect our kids.”

Parajón also addressed the fact that COVID-19 cases are highest for Black and Hispanic populations. New Mexico’s vaccine rate for the Black and African-American population is ranked sixth in the nation — for the Hispanic and Latino population, it’s ranked fifth.

However, both the Black and Hispanic populations 16-years-old and older are being vaccinated at a rate of under 50 percent. In contrast, Native Americans in New Mexico are being vaccinated at a rate closer to 80 percent.

Questions & answers

The NMDOH update on Wednesday was held on the department’s Facebook page, and included questions from members of the press.

“The CDC has these new color-coded maps showing areas at the county level of high or substantial transmissibility. New Mexico’s guidance is that this is a statewide recommendation that people mask up indoors. Do you want to say anything to residents in blue counties or yellow counties who might feel like ‘I live in an area of low transmission, and therefore I’m not going to.mask up?’” asked Algernon D’Ammassa with Las Cruces Sun-News.

“I think out of an abundance of caution, everyone in New Mexico should follow those guidelines. I mean, these curves are going up pretty steeply,” said Scrase. “This week is going to be different from next week, and probably higher. New Mexico is small enough and Delta transmission is high enough that I think you’re not gonna see these sharp distinctions from those counties soon.”

'Get vaccinated'

“Anyone with symptoms needs to get vaccinated for COVID. So that’s just a reminder. Vaccinated individuals, unvaccinated individuals,” said Scrase.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include headaches, nausea, runny nose, aches, fatigue, a loss of sense of smell and taste and more.

The NMDOH said it is making vaccines as easy to get as possible. Appointments are available statewide and the vaccine is free. No medical insurance or immigration status will be required to receive a vaccine. Pop-up vaccine clinics can be made available to communities by request.

The NMDOH reports that unvaccinated New Mexicans prefer to get vaccinated at their doctor’s office. The agency also encourages people to catch up on any health care they may have deferred during the pandemic.

“Get vaccinated for yourself, get vaccinated for your community, get vaccinated for your family, and particularly if you have regular contact with anyone with a risk factor, it’s a great reason now to get vaccinated,” said Scrase. “The more vaccinated we are, the fewer variants will be able to take hold in our state.”

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