The COVID-19 case rate (cases per 100,000 people per week) increased by 48 percent across New Mexico between July 7-12, according to the town of Taos, which referenced data from the New Mexico Department of Health and Johns Hopkins University.
The case rate increase in Taos County from the previous week was nearly three-fold, jumping from 34 to 92. The county case rate had peaked in November 2020 at 627 cases per 100,000 people per week.
"In terms of counties in New Mexico, there was a pretty noticeable increase in cases," said David Elliot, Emergency Manager for Holy Cross Medical Center in Taos. "Though we are also one of the top-most vaccinated counties."
Taos County reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 from July 7-12. The county also reported two deaths -- the first reported deaths since the end of May.
Of those who contracted the novel coronavirus, 40 percent are under 20 years old and 20 percent are between 60 and 70 years old. Eighty percent of those affected live in the Taos, Ranchos de Taos and El Prado zip codes.
Hidalgo County was the only county in the state with a higher case rate from July 7-12. Rio Arriba County had one of the highest rates in the state, but recently saw a decline.
The NMDOH reports that the state has seen more than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020, with a death toll of 4,379. Johns Hopkins University reports that more than 600,000 people have died in the US due to COVID-19.
According to the town's recent COVID-19 presentation, prepared by GIS Analyst Tim Corner, Taos County residents (aged 18+) are 74 percent fully vaccinated and 82 percent partially vaccinated.
For the state as a whole, 64 percent are fully vaccinated and 72 percent are partially vaccinated. For younger New Mexicans (aged 12-17), 36 percent are fully vaccinated and 45 percent are partially vaccinated.
On July 1, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced all pandemic occupancy restrictions on commercial and day-to-day activities were lifted, along with the county-by-county case-rate tracking system commonly known as the "Red to Green" framework.
The governor has continued to encourage New Mexicans, and those traveling into the state, to get vaccinated. "Protect yourself, protect your family and friends. We especially encourage out-of-state visitors to take advantage of this opportunity," said Lujan Grisham in a statement when announcing a vaccine pop-up clinic in Taos on June 28.
"Getting your shot is easy, simple and safe," said the governor.
The state saw thousands of attendees at the annual Memorial Day celebration and motorcycle rally in Red River this year, and thousands more at the Fourth of July celebration and Los Lobos concert in Kit Carson Park in downtown Taos.
"The weather -- that has something to do with an increase in people in our area who are not vaccinated, or the community opening up," said Elliot. "And people being around each other more without masks on. Some of those people may or may not be vaccinated."
Lujan Grisham and the NMDOH recently launched the state's Vax 2 the Max Sweepstakes, a $10 million cash giveaway funded by federal stimulus money designed to incentivize COVID-19 vaccinations. Winners receive $250,000 for their participation in the public vaccine effort.
"It's not just whether there's more cases. It's about what type of COVID is getting people sick," said Elliot. "Half of the cases, more or less, nationwide, are this new Delta variant. And it's not a friendly strain of this virus, that's for sure."
The Delta variant, a highly transmissible version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, began to spread throughout India in the spring of 2021. It now accounts for 82 percent of COVID-19 cases in the US (up from just 2 percent two months ago), according to Johns Hopkins University.
The states with the highest percentage of Delta variant COVID-19 cases (between .9 and 1 percent) are Kansas, Missouri and Nevada. In New Mexico, the percentage of Delta variant cases is less than .1 percent.
"In terms of incentivizing safe behavior or creating restrictions to limit bad behavior, I don't know that the governor or the state or any of our local jurisdictions have taken anything off the table in terms of public response," said Elliot.
"It would be challenging, both practically and socially-emotionally, for people to go back," he continued. "I think people are just barely feeling the pressure release of not living in such a restricted world, that something pretty severe would have to happen for that to be a thing."
Elliot stressed that people should understand that as new evidence emerges, tactics for fighting the ongoing pandemic should also change in response. "We're supposed to change our opinions as new evidence comes out," he said.
"So, if, in the coming weeks or months, we learn something about coronavirus, or how the vaccine works, or what we're supposed to do, and smart people that we trust change what they're saying -- that's not a bad thing. That's not admitting fault or being wrong. That's how science works."
"And hopefully, the smartest people in our communities are unafraid to say, 'actually, we think we should do this to be safe now.' And we, as a community, should support those people," said Elliot. "As opposed to attacking people for changing the story, which I don't think gets us anywhere."
Will Hooper contributed to this report.