NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – After projecting a late January, early February peak in new COVID-19 cases related to the fast-spreading omicron variant, state health leaders said Tuesday new cases are starting to come down “fairly rapidly.” Calling the news, “encouraging,” New Mexico Department of Health Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase made the announcement during a virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon.
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“We’re coming down fairly rapidly, which is what we’ve seen across the world with omicron,” Dr. Scrase said. “Very rapid ascent upward, very rapid descent, we welcome it.”
Overall, COVID-19 case counts for New Mexico through January remained roughly two-and-a-half times what the daily case rates were in the state’s last peak, in November 2020. Some of the first glimmers of a reduction in daily case counts came Tuesday when the state reported 1,809 new COVID-19 cases – one of the lowest daily totals of new cases in several weeks.
Speaking about the pattern of seeing a new COVID variant causing a surge in cases every six months, Dr. Scrase says he is hoping the case reduction holds out, forecasting a possible “spring break” from COVID. “I am really hoping, we don’t know where we’re going to land, we hope we get a break, we did not get a break after Delta, we just shot into omicron, but I’m hoping we see a break in that ‘every six-month cycle.”
“We are officially on the downslope of omicron case curve,” Dr. Scrase said. “We don’t know how low cases will go, whether we will have a plateau like we did with delta, we’re just not sure yet.”
Hospitalizations in New Mexico have been declining over the past week, with 584 people reported hospitalized Tuesday. While a report published Monday indicates New Mexico hospitalized 430 people with COVID-19 between January 26th and 31st, Dr. Scrase says some rural hospitals are finally at the point where they’re seeing no COVID patients.
“More importantly than what the numbers show, our hospitals are telling us two things,” Dr. Scrase said. “A lot less people in ICUs with COVID, and we know how rural hospitals who are reporting they have no cases of COVID at all, and that’s been a really long time since we’ve seen that.”
Meanwhile, the state is pressing forward with distributing more than one million rapid antigen tests that are being given out for free. The state-operated website called findatestnm.org is now listing quantities of tests distributed to counties along with a zip code search system.
The website also lists community centers and other government buildings that are giving away from rapid antigen home tests, which can produce results in about 15 minutes. The state has now given 1.4 million rapid tests to counties. It is anticipated distributing 400,000 remaining tests to counties next two weeks. New Mexico is also awaiting the delivery of another 1.2 million rapid tests from manufacturers.
Encouraging New Mexicans to have a few tests on hand, ready for use, Dr. Scrase said Wednesday he thinks every family should have somewhere between four and eight at-home tests. “We want everyone to have a supply for when you need them because this is part of learning to live with COVID is to have the tools to fight COVID right in your own home without having to leave your house,” Dr. Scrase said.
While encouraged by the latest data related to the virus, the state is cautioning New Mexicans that COVID isn’t over. “While I’m enthused about the future, it doesn’t mean it’s time to take off masks or be less serious or rigorous about testing because we still have 18-hundred cases a day which is still about as high as it’s been other than this peak.”