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It has been a month since New Mexico Health officials gave a COVID-19 update. The last one was on June 16 when officials gave an update on the state’s 60% vaccination goal to reopen.
Since then, New Mexico has seen a slight upward trend in the number of new COVID cases. Over the last two weeks, New Mexico has averages about 80 new COVID cases per day. That number still remains relatively low, as New Mexico hasn’t seen around 80 cases per day since March 2020.
Health secretaries also addressed the rise of the Delta variant in New Mexico. The variant’s presense has grown from roughly 3% of new COVID cases a few weeks ago, to now representing about 14% of new cases between May 30 and June 26.
“We believe that it’s growing more slowly here in New Mexico because of our high vaccination rate and the fact that folks are still observing social distancing and wearing masks sometimes when they’re in crowded situations,” said Dr. Scrase, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Human Services. “We originally thought we would see the Delta variant quite high in the last two weeks of July, now we think it’s probably going to be sometime more in August that we’ll see that significant uptick.”
Between May 30 and June 26, New Mexico racked up at least 29 confirmed Delta variant COVID cases. Total, the state has confirmed 58 Delta variant cases since the start of the pandemic. Dr. Scrase estimates there are roughly around 700 Delta cases in New Mexico today of it’s 200,000 cases. That estimate comes as the state doesn’t conduct genetic sequencing on every known COVID case, and genetic testing is the only way to detect what COVID variant a person may be afflicted with.
After waiting a full month between news conferences, Dr. Tracie Collins and Dr. David Scrase said the timing of Wednesday’s news conference was in part about recognizing Collins’ expected departure from her role as DOH Secretary, as well as giving another update as the state “moves to another phase of the pandemic.”
“I think we’ve had a sense of urgency about this pandemic since the very beginning,” said Dr. Scrase. “I still have sense of urgency because I feel like the virus is a tough opponent and what other states are seeing right now with the rapid rise in Delta virus, you’re seeing a re-imposition of mask requirements in some places, I think we have to stay vigilant, stay on our toes and really look toward any new emerging trends that could affect the health of New Mexicans.”
The update on COVID in New Mexico comes as the Centers for Disease Control recently issued a new recommendation regarding in-person learning and allowing students to not wear a mask in the classroom if they are fully vaccinated. They recommend that students who are not vaccinated wear a mask in the classroom.
On July 9, the state’s public education department says it’s waiting for NMDOH to review the recommendation and give them some guidelines. However, they expect them to align closely with the CDC’s recommendations.
Meanwhile, the New Mexico Department of Health is partnering with the Public Education Department to encourage vaccinations of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 to receive the Pfizer vaccine, as approved by the FDA. The “Back-to-School Pharmacy Partnership” will extend walk-in hours for vaccinations for students 12 and older, college students and other New Mexicans.
The partnership will give out COVID vaccines for free between July 15 and August 15. Walgreens and CVS are some of the participating pharmacies offering walk-in appointments. During the Wednesday news conference, Dr. Collins addressed the topic of parents having vaccination concerns with their kids.
“We have good data on the efficacy and safety of Pfizer in those 12 and older,” Dr. Collins said. “So I don’t feel like parents should be discouraged or worried the information we have, the data we have on the use of these vaccines in children is very good and solid, and I stand behind it.”
Health secretaries also say they expect there will soon be a change in how often COVID-19 case numbers are reported in New Mexico. That could happen in the next few weeks.
“If you’ve noticed, there’s very little variation in the data pretty much week to week, its been very constant for a while,” Dr. Scrase said. “So we’re looking at reducing the reporting frequency, we’ve kind of got a pandemic maintenance plan we’re putting the finishing touches on right now and getting to the governor.”