Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.


New Mexico’s vaccination rates have plateaued the last few months, now standing at roughly 65 percent for residents over the age of 18. The Delta variant surge has been the cause of worry for many state and community leaders, as the variant is much more contagious and dangerous than previous variants. Although the state has yet to announce any new restrictions, many New Mexico businesses have implemented their own, including bars and concert venues.

Sister Bar in Downtown Albuquerque now requires patrons who attend a full-capacity show to have proof of vaccination. They’re requiring bands and their staff who play at the bar to show proof of vaccination as well. Owner and operator Zeus Zamora said that the new safety measure was started last week. “Our goal is to reduce COVID-related hospitalization rates. Our patrons must show proof of vaccination only when we have full-capacity shows, because we’re just trying to do our part,” Zamora said. Although he has received a little pushback, Zamora says it’s better for the community and the bar. “If we don’t do this, we will only be open at 33 percent capacity.”

In recent weeks the federal government and other state institutions have started requiring either employees or patrons to have proof of their vaccination. The University of New Mexico announced earlier this week that students will be required to be vaccinated by October. Since vaccines became readily available earlier this year, states and businesses have offered incentives to residents and employees to receive theirs. These efforts have been frustratingly slow, as many residents, especially in more rural areas of the state, have been hesitant or even resistant to vaccinations. 

The surges before vaccinations were readily available were primarily in urban centers with a high population density. Now, many experts are concerned about the Delta variant wreaking havoc on vaccine-weary rural areas. Rural counties were the greatest obstacle to President Biden’s goal of reaching 70 percent vaccination rate by the Fourth of July, which the U.S. fell short of. Among New Mexico rural counties in the east and west part of the state, many have vaccination rates near 40 percent. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that many residents, especially those in counties bordering Texas, hold a deep distrust toward the government and won’t consider the idea of receiving the vaccine.

Even with many rural residents resistant to vaccines, incentives offered by the state have been difficult to resist. New Mexico offered a second round of $100 cash incentives for residents who receive their vaccine. The first round of $100 incentives proved to an incredibly popular and successful program that helped increase vaccination rates. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the first round of $100 incentives saw a 333 percent increase in single-shot vaccines and a 26 percent overall increase in completed doses.

President Joe Biden’s announcement at the end of July requiring federal employees to have proof of vaccination set a precedent that private businesses are following in a fight against another surge of COVID. Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration has been urging private businesses to require them as well.