NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – For the first time in nearly three months, state health leaders addressed the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Mexico during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. While health officials acknowledged both a rise in cases and hospitalizations in New Mexico, the latest wave of cases is far different than prior waves.
“Clearly what we’re seeing with this wave is very different from what we’ve seen in the past,” NMDOH State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross said Wednesday. “We cannot say with certainty why this is, but we think its due to multiple factors.”
Those factors, according to Dr. Ross may include properties of the the omicron subvariant, BA2.12.1, indicating that while the subvariant remains highly transmissible, there are questions about if the variant is leading to less sever disease. Ross said other factors, like high levels of immune protection through vaccinations, natural infections, even reinfections may be changing the role of the virus in the community.
On April 18, the state reported 979 new COVID infections over the prior week, from April 12 through 18. In the most recent report from June 6, the state reported 6,104 new cases between May 31 and June 6.
The state’s Department of Health (NMDOH) ended its weekly COVID-19 briefings in early March, amid a continued downtrend of cases tied to the omicron variant. Since then, state data indicates that trend continued until roughly mid-April, when the total number of known new cases began trending up.
“There are clearly a lot of COVID-19 infections in our communities right now, but despite this rise in cases and community transmission levels, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths remain comparatively low,” Dr. Ross said. “We really hope to very soon see the day where we are reporting zero COVID-19 deaths, but in summary right now, we are clearly in a very different pandemic than we have seen previously.”
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On Tuesday, June 7, New Mexico reported 132 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 15 of whom were on ventilators. Over the last week, from May 31 through June 6, a state report indicates New Mexico saw 102 new hospitalizations related to COVID.
While those numbers represent increases, Dr. Ross indicated that trends continue to indicate that the virus is less impactful in many cases now in mid-2022.
“I think in the past we have seen a range from 12 to 20 percent of hospitalizations requiring ventilation, or mechanical ventilation, and now this number is around 3 to 3.5 percent, so again very different,” Dr. Ross said. “Very important and welcome differences from prior waves of infections that we’ve seen.”
NMDOH still posts weekly COVID-19 data on an “epidemiology reports” website, which, in part, calculates the total number of newly reported COVID-19 infections each week. Over the last eight reports, state data indicates the state is seeing a trend of several thousand more newly reported COVID cases each week.
In March, NMDOH Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase acknowledged the state’s positive case data is expected to change due to a shift toward at-home antigen testing. While the state has set-up a website to self-report positive tests, it’s unclear how many people are actually using it.
“Things are exactly back to normal, I think we all know that, but we’re actually in a much better situation than we’ve ever been before,” Dr. Scrase said Wednesday. “We actually have way more tools to fight the coronavirus and all the new variants.”
Dr. Scrase estimated that the state believes for every one person who obtains a positive PCR test, there are 3 to 7 additional people being diagnosed with COVID based on a home test. However, Scrase was clear to say the state does not know the exact number.
State health officials reminded New Mexicans Wednesday that people with a positive test (including home tests); a symptom like cough, fever, loss of taste or smell among others; and one risk factor are eligible for treatment. The state is recommending treatments in tiers, including Pfizer-made Paxlovid, a tier one drug; the common steroid Remdesivir IV treatment as a tier two treatment, then, the Merck-made Molnupiravir or Bebtelovimab IV treatment as a tier three drug.
“If it was me, I’d definitely want to be on Paxlovid, it’s much more effective that the monoclonal antibodies we have now,” Dr. Scrase said. “The good news is that … maybe half of New Mexicans are eligible for these treatments.”
Since the state of the pandemic, New Mexico has reported 7,849 deaths attributed to COVID-19, and 541,646 confirmed cases.