NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico is continuing to deal with a “triple threat” of COVID, flu and RSV cases through December mostly affecting pediatric patients, but the trends tied to each virus are changing. That was among the myriad of messages from state health leaders during a news conference Thursday, continuing the New Mexico Department of Health’s monthly presentations on viral activity in the state.

RSV

Since November, state and hospital leaders have been warning New Mexicans about a surge in pediatric patients dealing with COVID-19, influenza and RSV cases, swamping many facilities beyond capacity. During Thursday’s news conference, the state presented data showing what appears to be a sharp decline in one of the three “triple threat” viruses: RSV.

“We had a huge surge [in RSV cases] that started in September, October, and it may have peaked, we’ve seen a drop off in the number of cases,” Acting New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said Thursday. However, Dr. Scrase cautioned that cases loads remain high, and many cases affecting pediatric patients continue to be far more severe than in years past.

“While cases are going down, and while this peak has been relatively short lived, the sickness, the level of illness and severity of illness we’re seeing in our children in New Mexico has not actually abated,” Dr. Scrase continued. UNMH Children’s Hospital said it had 22 patients in its 20 bed pediatric ICU Thursday morning, with 20 of those patients needing breathing tubes or intubation.

UNM Children’s Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anna Duran said the RSV continues to dominate as the main reason for hospitalization in the Children’s Hospital. However, the hospital is seeing more pediatric COVID cases, Dr. Duran said.


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Influenza

The sentiment of “more severe illness” was echoed by Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Laura Parajón Thursday. State data shows influenza-like cases have been sending more New Mexicans to hospitals this year than recent years.

Dr. Parajón noted that 14.3% of all patient (adults and kids) visits to New Mexico hospitals right now are from influenza-like illnesses. The NMDOH Deputy Director says that’s above the New Mexico baseline of 3.9% in all five health regions of the state.

“We really need to be watching out for flu right now,” Dr. Parajón said. “This is the highest activity we’ve had in the past three years.”

At UNMH, Dr. Duran said doctors are seeing “much more flu cases, along with pneumonia, RSV and COVID cases amongst adults.

To address pressure on hospitals, NMDOH switched all hospitals to a “hub and spoke” model for pediatric hospital admissions following a new public health order. The practice means creating a central coordinating office to help distribute high patient loads and severity of illness across all hospitals in the state. Dr. Scrase said Thursday he expects that the practice will expand to adult hospital admissions soon.

“That’s not our preferred course of action, but we have had to come together to consolidate, particularly pediatric resources right now,” Dr. Scrase said. “I’m predicting it will happen with adults in the next couple weeks as well, it’s a statewide approach to managing patients.”

Across all of UNM’s medical facilities including UNMH, Sandoval Regional Medical Center and the UNM Children’s Hospital, UNM Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Anna Duran said Thursday that each facilities is continuing to see “significantly over 100% of their licensed capacity.” The pressure means there may be “90 to 100 adults and 10 to 20 children” waiting in emergency rooms for a bed right now.

COVID

Now more than 1,000 days since the first COVID-19 cases was detected in New Mexico, this month, state data indicates cases have “leveled off.” However, a slight increase in cases has been detected over the past several days, according to Dr. David Scrase.

208 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Mexico as of Thursday. Of those, just 13 are on ventilators.

The dominant variants of COVID in New Mexico continue to be within the omicron lineage, including BQ1 and BQ1.1 and BF7. That matches national trends, according to Dr. Scrase. The variants have pushed the state to end the use of certain monoclonal antibody drug treatments that have been used over the last year, including Evusheld and Bebtelovimab.

“The only treatment now we have left for these new variants, the BQ’s, are Remdesivir, 100 milligrams, three course IV on three separate days, then of course, the oral treatments [Paxlovid and Molnupiravir],” Dr. Scrase said. “Those people with a PCR test, 70 percent of them are getting oral treatment.”

The state is continuing to encourage vaccination. Over 300,000 omicron booster shots have been administered in New Mexico as of Thursday.

Meanwhile, test is about to change in the state. The principal service provider for drive-thru testing, Curative says it will end its COVID PCR testing nationwide by December 28. That means the state will no longer fund any other testing mechanisms other than home testing.

At the beginning of the pandemic, PCR testing was treated as a “gold standard,” or the official confirmation that a person was or wasn’t positive for COVID-19. Today, Dr. Scrase says home testing is nearly as accurate as PCR.

“Testing on multiple days, and particularly right around when symptoms start or shortly there after is a good time to do it,” Dr. Scrase. Local hospitals and local laboratories are still expected to continue some level of PCR testing for patients, as needed.