NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – After tracking down the first confirmed case of the omicron COVID-19 variant in New Mexico, state health leaders say its too early to tell what the variant’s emergence means for the state’s case rates or any change in the severity of the illness. The update came Wednesday during a virtual news conference, two days after announcing the discovery of omicron in New Mexico.
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So far, the first and only known case was identified Sunday, December 12 with a female adult in Bernalillo County. As of Wednesday, New Mexico was among 33 state who’ve identified the variant in new COVID cases. Omicron has been labeled a variant of concern by the Centers for Disease Control due to several mutations in the virus’ spike protein.
“This variant likely does spread more easily than the original SARS-COVI-2 virus, but it’s not quite clear as compared to Delta, does it spread more easily?” said Dr. Christine Ross, NMDOH’s State Epidemiologist. “It certainly does appear to have a growth advantage.”
On Wednesday, New Mexico reported 1,357 new COVID-19 cases, while 613 people were hospitalized with the virus. While Wednesday marks one of the lower total numbers of virus-related hospitalizations over the last several weeks, New Mexico has faced a continued high-level of new COVID-19 cases, stressing the state’s hospital systems.
“We had been hoping that we were seeing a deceleration in the growth in new cases, but that doesn’t appear to be the case,” Dr. Ross said. “We certainly worry about our high case rates, particularly as we head into the holiday season.”
Albuquerque Hospitals Receiving New Help
Through traveling nurse programs, the state is providing more help to several Albuquerque-area hospitals, including three of Lovelace’s hospitals and Presbyterian Hospital. In total, at least 364 state-hired nurses are working in state up from just over 200 last week. Nearly a third of that assistance is now in Albuquerque.
“You can see the larger hospitals are also asking for help,” said Acting NMDOH Secretary Dr. David Scrase. “We’re doing the best we can, we do get FEMA reimbursement for this, there’s some fairly extensive paperwork to get this reimbursement.”
The state says UNMH is also asking for help for staffing assistance. One of two Albuquerque hospital systems under “crisis standards of care,” UNMH announced at a news conference in early December the system would reassign some surgeons, anesthesiologists, residents, and house officers to help provide care in other areas of the hospital. While outpatient care remains unaffected, UNMH is still not accepting most requests for transfers into its facility and only doing surgery on patients that is required within two weeks.
Kids Vaccinations, Adult Boosters Up
State officials released data Wednesday showing vaccination rates continue to track on target with state aspirations amid the 5 to 11 and 12 to 15 year old age groups. Deputy Secretary for NMDOH, Dr. Laura Parajón says the 5 to 11 year old age group is getting vaccinated at a faster rate than the 12 to 15 year group.
“22.4% of New Mexicans 5 to 11 years old have had at least one dose,” Dr. Parajón said. “What the vaccines are really really good at doing, and continue to do is to prevent hospitalization, death and getting really sick from COVID.”
On the booster dose front, New Mexico saw another 10% increase in the number of people getting booster doses this week. New Mexico ranks tenth out of the fifty states for percent of people fully vaccine, older than 18 with a booster dose.
FEMA’s mobile vaccination buses will be arriving in New Mexico in five days, on December 20. The state is expected to receiving four buses, one for each region of the state.
“It looks like a vaccine tour bus,” Dr. Parajón said. “We’ll be able to start doing vaccine clinics all throughout the state of New Mexico.
The state is also looking for churches, neighborhood groups or other groups to organize mobile vaccination clinic requests. Those buses can be requested through a state website, getvaxnm.com. The state says it will also help with promotional support for those vaccination clinics are bettertogethernm.com.
The Albuquerque metro area, the state continues to offer a daily vaccination for kids and an adult booster shot drop-in clinic from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. That clinic is open daily and appointments can be viewed on the state’s online vaccine calendar.
Through October, New Mexico added between 4,700 and 6,600 new COVID cases each week. In November, cases continued climbing between 8,200 and nearly 9,900 new COVID cases each week. According to the state’s latest weekly report, New Mexico added 7,953 new cases between December 7 and December 13, 2021.