SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – More than 70,000 New Mexicans have now received an omicron bivalent COVID-19 booster shot while the state continues to see a downward trend of new COVID-19 cases. New Mexico health leaders outlined the latest COVID-19 case trends during a news conference Thursday.

“Generally, the picture, with respect to COVID is encouraging,” NMDOH Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase said Thursday. Referring to case counts statewide, Scrase said “we seem to be in a plateau phase there.”

However, Scrase did highlight some changes indicating an increase in the presence of the virus in the metro region. Scrase says case counts are “starting to rise again” in the metro area.

“I think if we see anything that’s of a significant trend over the next week or two, we’ll certainly make you all aware of that,” Dr. Scrase said. “That’s the one place, case count-wise, where we’re keeping a close eye out and watching.”

Highlighting what he called “also good news,” New Mexico also appears to be continuing in a “plateau phase” for COVID-related hospitalizations. The state has been averaging around 90 cases of COVID-related hospitalizations total in New Mexico as of the last several weeks.

“It does confirm what we thought from fairly on with BA4 and BA5, while they’re much more virulent, or they spread much more easily and to more people, they also seem to be causing less severe disease as we measure by hospitalizations and deaths,” Dr. Scrase said. “We really have switched away from focusing on case counts and focusing more on hospitalizations and deaths, because the change in the severity of the virus means that 1,000 cases of Delta will cause way hospitalizations and deaths than 1,000 cases of BA5.”

Scrase noted that the metro area has not yet seen an uptick in COVID-related hospitalizations. However, he said the state should know more about that in the next couple of weeks.

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Since the last news conference on September 15, the state now says 70,700 people have gotten omicron-COVID-19 booster shots. NMDOH officials noted a gradual increase in the number of people who’ve gotten the shot, versus a “large uptick.”

“Interest in vaccines has some relationship to case counts,” Dr. Scrase said. “So if we start to see a surge [in cases] we do start to see more of an uptick in vaccines. The omicron booster came out at a time where case counts are actually dropping.”

New Mexico has continued to move ahead with a large effort to vaccinate the elderly populations over October and November. Residents inside nursing homes assisted living and other long-term care facilities can expect to see COVID and flu shot clinics soon, if they haven’t already, particularly in rural areas.

Through at least October, the New Mexico Aging and Longterm Services Department (NM ALTSD) anticipates going to hundreds of facilities to give out omicron-based COVID boosters and flu shots. That includes 236 assisted living facilities and 67 nursing facilities and 200 senior sites.