State health officials plan to renew New Mexico’s indoor mask mandate

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a COVID-19 update Wednesday, New Mexico health officials said the state’s cases are on the rise and hospitals are filling up, again.

According to The New York Times, COVID-19 cases are surging faster in New Mexico than in any other state in the country.

At this time, about 73% of New Mexicans 18 and older are fully vaccinated. So why is the state seeing a surge?

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there are multiple factors contributing to the spike. Officials pointed to reduced compliance with COVID-safe practices. There is a public health order in place requiring masking indoors, but often those requirements are going to the wayside. That – coupled with the Delta variant, which is more contagious – is putting even more stress on local hospitals.

"They are seeing way more patients than they thought possible, ICU occupancy rates are over 120%," said Dr. David Scrase, NMDOH acting secretary. "We are struggling to try to make ends meet. I want to try and make sure people understand what this means. I don’t know how many people are watching this press conference, but what it means is if one of the people watching this press conference has a heart attack right now, there’s a good chance we won’t have an intensive care unit for that person here in New Mexico."

The NMDOH expects those hospitalizations to continue to increase. In order to combat the surge, they are asking New Mexicans to do more in the way of personal responsibility – getting vaccinated, avoiding large crowds, wearing a mask and getting tested.

State health officials plan to renew the public health order requiring masks indoors. They also said the number of breakthrough cases are increasing – another component to this surge.

Health officials said this is because New Mexico was one of the states to vaccinate the public the fastest. Due to that, New Mexico is experiencing breakthrough cases earlier than other states. Officials now believe that you are more likely to get a breakthrough infection at about 5 1/2 months since full vaccination.

"I think it’s really important to mention, even though we’re seeing this rise in incidents or cases among, over time, among people that are vaccinated – many of these infections are quite mild," said Dr. Christine Ross, NMDOH state epidemiologist. "Many of them do not result in hospitalization and certainly do not result in death. So it’s just really important to emphasize that, that these vaccines remain highly effective at preventing these serious outcomes."

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