"Jobs Help Wanted" by Innov8social is licensed under CC BY 2.0

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — There are tens of thousands of online job postings in New Mexico, and the head of the state labor department said Wednesday that the agency is trying to find creative ways to connect workers with employers to fill those vacancies.

Workforce Solutions Secretary Ricky Serna said during a briefing that more than 13,000 of those job postings are within the health care and social assistance field, where many employees have been working long hours to accommodate the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and other medical care that was delayed as a result.

While about 99 percent of health care workers in New Mexico have either been vaccinated or have exemptions, there are still some who face being fired if they don’t comply with the state’s vaccine mandates.

In a state that has struggled for years to attract more jobs, Serna acknowledged that Workforce Solutions hasn’t tracked any information on the impact that vaccine mandates and testing requirements might have on health care providers.

“It’s definitely an interest of ours to understand where placement will occur not only immediately but following the public health orders,” he said. “We certainly want to ensure that these workers, primarily in health care where the need is high and has been high for many, many years … don’t leave the state of New Mexico.”

He added that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to work in that field without being vaccinated or being tested on a regular basis.

Health care giant Kaiser Permanente announced Wednesday that it has put more than 2,200 employees nationwide — a little over 1% of its workforce — on unpaid leave for not getting vaccinated. Health care workers from California to New York have been protesting the mandates, saying they have worked throughout the pandemic only to be fired now.

In New Mexico, COVID-19 cases seem to have plateaued, but state health officials said Wednesday that community spread and pressure on the health care system remain high.

The latest data from the state Health Department also shows that the number of vaccinated people becoming infected consistently has risen over the past two months, with the most significant jump coming over the four week period that ended this week. Those numbers show 23 percent of cases are among vaccinated people.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said this is not unexpected as vaccinated people make up a large portion of the population. Still, he noted that it should be a reminder to take precautions since those who are vaccinated can still contract COVID-19 and spread the virus.

As for New Mexico’s workforce, Serna said there has been some overall job growth since the height of the pandemic and that the number of people receiving jobless benefits has dropped significantly now that most federal extensions have expired. Still, he said it’s difficult to tell if workers are returning to their same professions or pivoting to something new.

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