ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As the Delta variant spreads, the New Mexico Department of Health is encouraging people to get tested. This comes as local doctors said the rollback of things like masking and social distancing is causing upticks in other illnesses too. The increase in respiratory illnesses comes as NMDOH anticipates many more New Mexicans to become infected with Delta in the coming weeks, jumping from 25% of our cases to 80% in just a month’s time.

It’s safe to say the Delta variant has changed the fight against COVID-19. “The landscape is much more complicated than it was a year ago,” Dr. Walter Dehority at UNM said.

Just about a month ago, people were celebrating the full reopening of our state by taking off masks, getting rid of capacity limits, and more. Dehority said that gave room for other respiratory illnesses to return at a very unusual time of the year. “We didn’t see these everyday viruses and now that we are integrating back into society, we are starting to see them,” Dehority said.

Statewide, nearly two dozen cases of viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu were reported to TriCore Labs in a given week last month. Dehority said in a normal year, that number is zero in July. As those viruses spread, so does the Delta variant which some say is almost as contagious as chickenpox. “If you got it, your brothers and sisters got it,” Dehority said. “That is how contagious it was, and that is the level of concern we should probably be applying to this Delta variant.”

NMDOH said anyone experiencing COVID-symptoms, which often overlap with symptoms of other common illnesses, should get tested. NMDOH is also encouraging people who are unvaccinated and live or work in high-risk congregate settings to get tested too. “Ninety-seven percent of hospitalizations right now are amongst the unvaccinated and 99% of deaths are amongst the unvaccinated,” Dr. Denise Gonzales at Presbyterian said.

The rapid emergence of Delta comes as many students return to school this week. Dehority said while they have seen an uptick in children getting infected with COVID, hospitalizations in kids at UNM Children’s Hospital have remained steady even with Delta. Of course, children under 12 still don’t have vaccine access. Dehority encourages parents to do their part. “Verify that the people your kids are hanging out with and you are hanging out with don’t seem symptomatic,” Dehority said. “Ask if people are sick, and potentially restrict activities until that vaccine becomes available.”

Dehority said until kids are fully vaccinated, they are more susceptible to getting sick. He said he is cautiously watching how back to school unfolds. Local doctors said the best thing to do if you are feeling sick is get tested and isolate yourself so you don’t expose anyone until you know what you have.