NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – After what was described last week as a “downward trend” for new COVID-19 cases, state health officials say this week, New Mexico is seeing “a slowing” or a plateauing of the number of new cases being reported each day. The update came during a weekly COVID-19 news conference Wednesday afternoon, as the state reported 719 news COVID cases and 19 additional deaths.
“We certainly hope that we see this continue to trend downwards,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “We have a few counties that have downgraded into orange, which is still considered a substantial level of transmission, but it’s a very welcome site to see that we have a county with over 100,000 population, such as Santa Fe, that has now moved into the orange.”
According to the latest community transmission maps, Los Alamos County has now fallen into the yellow, or a rate of “moderate” transmission. Santa Fe, Harding and Catron counties remain in substantial or orange levels of transmission, while the rest of the state remains in red or “high” levels of transmission.
359 people were reported to be hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday. Dr. David Scrase acknowledged Wednesday the state’s various hospitals continues to feel the pressure of a high number of patients seeking treatment for COVID-19 and other illnesses.
“We have a little bit of good news that things seem to be easing up a little in the hospital, but remember, hospital activity follows case activity,” Dr. Scrase said Wednesday. “Cases are now at a plateau, they came down a little, but they’re not sloping downward the past few days, so, we’re still really concerned about our hospitals.”
Regionally, cases continue to remain the worst in southeast New Mexico with about 60 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. However, numbers are beginning to trend down there, as well.
Since the state’s last briefing, an FDA panel rejected full authorization of using the Pfizer vaccine for widespread COVID-19 booster shots for people 16 and older. The same panel also approved Pfizer COVID-vaccine booster shots for the elderly and high-risk individuals. State health officials are now dealing with preparation for an expected authorization of the use of booster doses come Monday, September 27, as the FDA is expected to issue an emergency use authorization for a third booster dose.
“What they’re discussing today and tomorrow at the (federal) advisory committee on immunization practices of the CDC is really weighing in on the FDA’s review, saying yes to 65-plus (years old) and people at high risk for severe COVID,” said Dr. Laura Parajon, deputy director for the New Mexico Department of Health. “These work groups are now going to discuss, ‘is it going to be 65-plus? Who’s considered high-risk or at-risk for severe COVID?”
Dr. Parajon says the state is expecting to hear the federal recommendation on booster shots by Friday. Once that recommendation is made public, the state’s Medical Advisory Team is going to review the data and make recommendations on how to roll out booster shots in New Mexico. Parajon says she expects booster doses to “come online” for eligible groups by Monday.
As for vaccination statewide, New Mexico now has 70% of adults 18 and older considered fully vaccinated. 53.3% of kids ages 12 to 17 are considered fully vaccinated. As of Wednesday, New Mexico was vaccinated 28,000 people per week. Most vaccinations, around 62% are happening in pharmacies
In the last week, Pfizer also released data from a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11. The company says its study suggests the vaccine is safe and effective in the younger age group. Pfizer is expected to apply for emergency use authorization of the vaccine among 5 to 11 year old’s in the coming weeks.
“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 during the September 15 news conference. “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.”
The state also confirmed Wednesday two people who were hospitalized with ivermectin toxicity have since died. Ivermectin is a drug often used to treat parasites in animals and sometimes used in humans, however, the drug has not been approved for treatment of COVID-19 by the FDA. The FDA says for humans, “ivermectin tablets are approved at very specific doses to treat some parasitic worms, and there are topical (on the skin) formulations for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.”
Dr. David Scrase said of the two New Mexico patients that died of ivermectin toxicity, one had a “serious COVID infection” and was on a ventilator. The other patient was said to have been on dialysis.
“The ivermectin was basically taken in lieu of, or instead of effective treatments,” Dr. Scrase said. “It’s a serious issue, we need to watch it.”
The state is now mandating hospitals report ivermectin related toxicity cases. Over the last week, Dr. Scrase says that data shows its about one to two cases of ivermectin toxicity being reported per day, about a “doubling” of what the state has seen over prior weeks.