NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Marking the two year anniversary of the first known COVID-19 cases in New Mexico, state health officials say they’re preparing to change how they report data related to the virus. With a continued diminished level of new COVID cases each day, the state says it will begin pairing down the detailed daily reports about the virus, instead, pushing much of its data to weekly reporting.
“At this point, what we’ve learned is the cases themselves are no where near as important as hospitalizations,” New Mexico Department of Health Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase. “That is what the stance the CDC has taken in its recommendations as well.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the state has been reporting case, death and hospitalization numbers on COVID-19 nearly every day, helping chart the rise and fall of the virus’ prevalence in each New Mexico county. KRQE News 13 details current and historical COVID-19 information in a continually revised article titled, “Tracking Coronavirus in New Mexico.”
Starting Monday, March 14, New Mexico health officials say they will begin reporting the daily number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the same webpage where they’ll post weekly epidemiology reports. Daily reports will no longer feature information about how many new cases are found in each county or information on the age and location where COVID-related deaths are charted.
That “missing” information is moving into weekly reporting. The state says it will continue to detail most of its facts and figures about COVID-19 in weekly epidemiology reports, found on CV.NMHealth.org.
Daily data is anticipated to be updated on weekdays by 2 p.m. Weekly data is expected to be posted by the state 2 p.m. on Tuesdays.
“Weekly reports, you can see how you are doing in your county as well, which is particularly important if you have risk factors or are immunosuppressed, you want to take different precautions when you go out,” Dr. Scrase said. “I don’t think there’s a single decision I’ve made in two years based on one day’s worth of data, and that’s why you’ve been seeing rolling seven day averages and things like that to give us a much better understanding of trends.”
The state says it will continue to provide the number of new COVID-19 tests registered each day online, as well. However, that number is expected to drop low due to the widespread prevalence and shift to at-home antigen testing.
“We still will recommend strongly PCR [lab] testing for symptomatic individuals or symptomatic individuals with a negative home test and persistent symptoms,” Dr. Scarse said. “We will still be doing PCR tests with the Department of Health and local providers and rural areas, and standing up testing sites as needed.”
Since the beginning of February, New Mexico has continued to see a significant downturn in the number of new COVID-19 cases. According to a report published March 7, 2022, New Mexico reported just 2,459 new COVID cases in the previous 7-days, between March 1 and March 7. During the peak of the omicron variant, New Mexico recorded 38,886 new COVID cases in the week between January 11 and 17, 2022.
According to the state’s latest hospitalization report, just 104 new COVID patients were admitted to New Mexico hospitals with COVID-19 in the last week, between March 1 and March 7. On Thursday, New Mexico reported 161 total active hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the state.
COVID Case Surge Plan
So what is COVID surges again? How will the state respond? Dr. David Scrase said Friday the NMDOH is revising its contracts with vendors to prepare for a surge.
“We are developing plans with delivery systems and pharmacies to be able to bring testing, PCR testing back up quickly as well as increasing local distribution to community sites and Human Services Department customers by mail,” Dr. Scrase said. “This is the beginning of the plan, it’s almost but not quite complete, and over the couple coming months we’ll walk through different aspects of this with more detail.”
Dr. Scrase said he envisions vaccines and oral treatments (pills) will serve as the brunt of the COVID response in the continued future. So far, the FDA has granted emergency use authorization to two drugs: Molnupiravir from Merck and Paxlovid from Pfizer.
“I think as long as we have effective treatment, we can weather what’s now about an eight day delay between cases and hospitalizations,” Dr. Scrase said. “If cases start going up in a [straight up] slope like we’ve seen with omicron, hospitals will immediately reconvene and start doing the self score that we’ll follow, so we’ll be watching that very closely as time goes on.”
Addressing the idea of what metrics would push the state toward strategies to include lockdowns or other strict measures, Dr. Scrase says it would likely be a change in the virus to where oral therapeutics were no longer effective and hospitalizations began to rise significantly.
“If we saw ourselves being overwhelmed,” Dr. Scrase. “There are many scenarios that could potentially do that, but the one that I worry the most about is like omicron, we get another variant, we have 7,000 cases, and Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are not effective is reducing hospitalizations.”
Dr. Scrase says if that happened, the first changes in New Mexico that would likely occur would be in hospitals with things like visitation policies. Notably, President Biden’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan outlined the prevention of economic and education shutdowns as one of the plan’s four key focuses.
“I was pleased because it covered all the things that New Mexico had already put into out preparedness plan,” Dr. Scrase says.