NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – One week after state health officials noted an apparent “deceleration” in the number of new COVID-19 cases in New Mexico, officials say the state is now on a downward trend for new COVID-19 cases. However, cases and transmission levels are still considered too high, in part, leading to the state’s recent decision to extend the face mask mandate for another month.
“Everyone at DOH is now willing to concede that we’re on the downslope of this pandemic,” said New Mexico Department of Health Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase. “We predicted it about three weeks ago, we leveled off about two weeks ago, and now we’re finally headed in a downward trend, still, another week or a few more days than that for hospitals to go through their crunch of volume.”
The update came as the state reported 18 deaths and 690 new cases Wednesday. Dr. Scrase said the state is still expected to see relatively another month of a high number of deaths announced per day. He also noted nearly every New Mexico county is still dealing with what the CDC considers as “high” rates of community transmission, registering more than 300 new COVID-19 cases per day. On Tuesday, the New Mexico Governor’s Office announced the state would extend the indoor mask mandate at least through October 15, 2021.
“People are going to as, ‘Well, when are we going to take that away?’ Ask me that when we get into the range of the orange,” said Dr. David Scrase during a Wednesday news conference updating the state’s COVID-19 trends.” Orange signifies a county is seeing between 150 and 300 new COVID-19 cases a day.
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The latest weekly update on New Mexico’s COVID-19 trends comes amid a summer where the state has seen a surge of new cases across July and August. During an August 11 news conference, New Mexico Department of Health’s Epidemiologist Christine Ross said the increase in cases at the time looked “similar to what (the state) saw prior to (New Mexico’s) worst surge to date in the winter.”
Since then, the state has seen a “deceleration” in the number of new COVID-19 cases. According to data posted on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, as of September 10, the 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases in New Mexico had dropped to 382 new cases a day. On August 25, the state’s 7-day average appeared to spike at 862 new cases a day.
Dr. David Scrase maintained Wednesday the pandemic’s effect continues to be mainly among the unvaccinated population of New Mexico. Recent data from Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque shows out of 124 people hospitalized over the last two weeks, only 18 people were vaccinated while the rest of the patients were unvaccinated. All 14 people in the ICU and seven people on ventilators were unvaccinated.
In total, state data shows there were about 4,300 cases among vaccinated New Mexico in the last month and just three deaths. More than four times that many unvaccinated people were infected with COVID-19. 120 of those people died.
“You’re four times more likely to get COVID if you’re unvaccinated,” Dr. David Scrase said Wednesday. “But when it comes to serious disease, you’re seven and a half times more likely to be hospitalized in New Mexico.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 15, New Mexico announced 690 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 243,085 cases. 18 additional deaths were announced.
Hospitals remain stretched thin, according to state health officials. On August 25, the state noted hospitals were “days away” from implementing crisis standards of care, meaning doctors would pick and choose who receives medical care rather than giving care to all patients. Wednesday, Dr. Scrase said the state was still “skirting the line” between crisis standards and the lower “contingency level two” plans.
“We still are scrambling, still working to try to keep as many beds open in the state as we possibly can,” Dr. Scrase said. “This is still something keeping us awake at night, concern that there is a lot of movement of health care personnel.”
Dr. Scrase says the many hospitals across the state were still struggling to staff their positions. On September 14, 2021, 19 ICU beds were available in New Mexico. Fifty total medical and surgical beds were available.
On the vaccination front, Dr. David Scrase said Wednesday he’s hearing about the possibility of one of the COVID-19 vaccines becoming available for people between ages 5 to 11 by the end of October. 12-year-olds are currently the youngest people who are able to be vaccinated.
“We are hearing that it’s possible that the Pfizer vaccine may be approved for at least 5 to 11-year-olds by Halloween,” Dr. Scrase said. “Every single parent that I know keeps asking me what I’m hearing — while that’s just someone quoting the possibility of availability, it’s a good number to start counting the days to, even if it isn’t exactly that day.”
Six-nine percent of adults ages 18 and older are considered fully vaccinated in New Mexico as of September 15, 2021, while 51.6% of kids aged 12 to 17 were considered fully vaccinated in New Mexico as of the same date. In total, 972,288 people in New Mexico are considered fully vaccinated. The state’s total population is roughly 2.1 million people.
Dr. David Scrase participated in Wednesday’s news conference, alongside the state’s Public Education Secretary-designate Dr. Kurt Steinhaus. NMDOH Deputy Secretary Dr. Laura Parajon also joined the conversation.