CDC: New Mexico ranks fifth in the country for new COVID-19 cases per capita

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico ranks fifth in the country for new COVID-19 cases per capita, according to the CDC.

CDC statistics show New Mexico is only behind Alaska, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Those states are some of the least densely populated states in the nation. Surprisingly, New Mexico is trending up while those other states – with far worse vaccination rates – are trending down.

KOB 4 collected data from each of those states’ online COVID-19 dashboards. It showed those states have a far lower vaccination rate than New Mexico. They range from 40% to 56% fully vaccinated — compared to New Mexico at 73%.

Dr. Mark Epstein with True Health New Mexico explains why this is happening.

He said you have to look beyond vaccination rates.

"There are a host of other factors that come into play including public health measures, how we come together or don’t, timing and vulnerable populations, so it’s hard to say why New Mexico now compared to else where,” said Epstein.

KOB 4 also learned those other four states do not have an indoor mask mandate in place. New Mexico’s mandate has been extended twice so far since August.

Compare New Mexico to a state like Florida – it has the third-highest total COVID cases, overall, since the beginning of this pandemic, with no restrictions. However, based on the latest CDC data, Florida has the lowest number of new COVID cases within a week’s time.

Epstein said there is a theory as to why that’s happening.

"Florida perhaps vaccinated a little later than New Mexico did on the whole. So we may be seeing some waning immunity for New Mexico that is showing up with more cases. That is all a theory,” he said.

KOB 4 looked at the epidemiology data released Tuesday from the Department of Health.

To be very clear, the overall majority of people getting infected with COVID-19 and being hospitalized are both unvaccinated. From October through Nov. 9, about 75,000 cases were among vaccinated New Mexicans – along with 300 hospitalizations.

Compare that to what the state saw from September to October – nearly 2,000 fewer COVID cases among vaccinated New Mexicans and 50 fewer hospitalizations.

Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Laura Parajon explains waning immunity, mixed with people getting together in large groups inside and those refusing to get vaccinated are driving the current surge in cases.

"I think at this point, it’s up to us as a community, how we protect each other, how we move forward to really beat this,” said Parajon.

From February through November, more than 80% of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico are from unvaccinated people.

Adding to the frustration, the two counties in New Mexico with the highest case counts per capita are San Juan County and Grant County. However, even they are more than 70% fully vaccinated for adults.

KOB 4 reached out to the governor’s office Tuesday, a spokesperson wouldn’t say either way if further state restrictions are an option – she just encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.