ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For nearly a month, an Albuquerque zip code covering a newer part of the city has continued to top the chart as one of the hottest places in New Mexico for new COVID-19 cases. The state has responded by adding more testing in the area, but an answer as to what’s driving the high numbers remains unclear.
The 87121-zip code has often generated more than 100 new COVID-19 cases per day since mid-November when the state started releasing a top ten list of zip codes with the highest numbers of COVID cases in the state. 87121 covers a large swath of southwest Albuquerque and some unincorporated parts of Bernalillo County, including neighborhoods like Westgate and Alamosa.
Since mid-November, New Mexico Department of Health data shows the 87121-zip code has led the COVID-case count by zip code at least 18 of 22 days. While emphasizing that he didn’t have scientific data to back up his speculation, Mayor Tim Keller shared thoughts this week on some of the possible reasons why the zip code is seeing more COVID cases than many of its neighbors.
“We do believe it’s in many ways essential workforce,” Keller said. “As always say, there is a huge swath of the Albuquerque metro-area that does not have a choice to stay home, it could be because they’re mandated to go to work, and that means a lot of frontline folks, a lot of hourly workers, and there is a lot of workforce housing that area.”
87121 includes many of the new homes built in Albuquerque over the last 15 years in areas west of Coors and Old Coors Boulevard and south of I-40. The area also includes large stretches of main roads like Dennis Chavez and intersections including 98th and Tower, Central and Unser, and Central and Coors.
In response to a continued high number of new COVID cases, the state has partnered with the federal government to add COVID testing at the Alamosa Community Center. That test site has been running since late November and continues operating seven days a week, for now. Mayor Keller speculated Tuesday that density may also play a role in the high number of cases seen in the area.
“There are a lot of apartments and smaller houses,” Keller said. “So one (reason) is also people who, again, that staying home is not… it’s a luxury, it’s not possible for them, and so they may simply have to work for economic reasons.”
Responding to questions from KRQE News 13 Wednesday, the New Mexico Department of Health acknowledged there are usually higher cases in more densely populated areas, multi-generational homes, or communities with lots of essential workers. A spokeswoman also emphasized any businesses can be “made safe or safer” with mask-wearing and other COVID-safe practices.
The Department of Health has worked with federal partners to establish a testing site at the Alamosa/Ted M. Gallegos Community Center, in the 87121 zip code, as part of the necessary effort to provide better access to testing for that community in light of the high case counts. The quicker and more reliably we can identify positive cases, the better chance we have to slow the spread by isolating those positive individuals and ensuring they are unknowingly spreading the virus among their families or the community at large. It’s certainly true that there tend to be higher incidences of cases in densely populated areas or among multi-generational households, not least in communities where many workers are at what we call “essential” places of business, where working from home isn’t always an option. Of course, that’s not the end-all, be-all, because any place of business can be made safe or safer through universal mask-wearing, physical distancing and regular sanitation and cleansing, among other safe practices.Marisa Maez, Communications Director, New Mexico Department of Health
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