Firefighter Mathew Jojola administers a COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccine clinic on March 4 at the Socorro Rodeo and Sports Complex.
Caitie Ihrig | El Defensor Chieftain


New Mexico health officials say a “delta wave” spurred by a contagious variant of the virus has caused new cases statewide to reach a six-month high and generated debate about vaccine and face mask mandates.

The announcement comes on the heels of a wave of new infections connected to the Delta variant, which is 2–4 times more contagious than previous strains. In the last two weeks, cases across the country are up 131 percent, and deaths are up 65 percent.

Otherwise, the New Mexico Department of Health announced on Thursday that more than 50 percent of 12–17 year-olds in the state have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 40 percent have completed their vaccination series.

In Socorro County, 68.7 percent of all residents have had at least one shot, and 62.8 percent are fully vaccinated.

Socorro County has seen a smattering of new infections over the past two weeks, prompting the City of Socorro to follow New Mexico Tech’s lead and require all visitors and staff to don masks, regardless of vaccination status, upon entering all City facilities.

Likewise, Socorro Community Theater Director Ali Lennox said she is canceling the group’s production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ due to rising COVID-19 cases. Opening night was scheduled for next Friday.

Six new cases were reported in the county on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative cases to 1,372 since the beginning of the pandemic.

To date, the positivity rate stands at 3.25 percent.

“There is no question, vaccination is the best tool we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19,” said DOH Deputy Secretary Laura Parajon in a press release. “We’re so pleased with the increasing vaccine rate among young people, and we encourage parents to schedule appointments at their primary care provider, ask questions, and schedule vaccinations for their children.”

Although infections have been increasing nationwide, data from New Mexico DOH shows the rise among school-age children has been lower than other age groups. Last week the state reported that around 16 percent of the infections over the previous seven-day period were pediatric cases and that no hospitalizations had been reported for that group.

However, Human Services Secretary David Scrase cautioned that the state could see an uptick in deaths related to COVID-19 in the coming weeks, as spikes in death rates have tended to lag behind increases in cases and hospitalizations during the pandemic. It’s likely that most deaths would be among unvaccinated individuals, Scrase said, as those vaccinated who contract the virus typically have milder symptoms. “My hope is that the vaccine is going to protect us from a lot of hospitalizations and deaths,” he said.

All residents are encouraged to schedule vaccine appointments at and to maintain COVID-safe practices such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, and physical distancing.

In the meantime, Senior and local New Mexico elected officials sent an open letter to state business leaders and commercial associations last Friday encouraging vaccination policies for employees and patrons that can help stem the rising tide of increased COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

Scrase pointed out that coronavirus variants now circulating in New Mexico are more transmissible than earlier ones, making it all the more important for people who aren’t vaccinated to wear a mask.

“This is not the same virus we saw last October and last summer,” acting DOH Secretary Scrase said. “This is a different pandemic.”