New Mexico looks to double COVID-19 testing capacity, vaccine trial announced

Local News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico could be looking at an even more dramatic increase in COVID-19 testing capacity. State health advisors are looking into new emerging test methods including antigen testing and a process known as “pooling,” which could allow for multiple samples to be grouped together and processed at once.

One of the governor’s top health advisors, Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said this week New Mexico’s Medical Advisory Team is investigating antigen testing, pooling, the use of saliva to test for coronavirus, and new testing equipment that could speed up results. It comes as other health agencies around the world are turning to different testing methods in efforts in an effort to detect community spread more quickly.

“I think it holds promise, in between (antigen testing) and pooling, I believe that we have the opportunity to actually almost double our testing if we can figure that out,” Dr. Scrase said during a news conference Thursday. “I’ll make sure I put a slide in on the press conference next week about where we are with antigen testing.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Mexico, the state has focused efforts on one type of nasal swab test which health official says is “well-more than” 90% accurate in determining if a person has coronavirus. At a minimum, most people are waiting at least 24 hours to get results. However, when COVID cases surged in mid-July, some New Mexicans reported waiting three to six days to receive their results.

Antigen tests also use nasal swabs but have a different method of detecting the virus. That method is much faster in producing results, however, it can also be less accurate. Dr. Scrase said Thursday the state is being cautious with making any decisions about antigen testing because some antigen tests could fail to identify one in every four COVID-positive cases.

“Some of these tests have a sensitivity of 75%. What that means is for every four people who come through who actually have COVID, you’re going to tell three of them that they have COVID, and one that they do not, and that’s a big problem because if that one person who finds out that their test is negative ignores the advice of the Department of Health, you know, you had a contact with a case, let’s say, you really need to quarantine for 14 days, and they go out,” Scrase said. “Less adequate laboratory tests can actually increase spread, and so it almost defeats the purpose of contact tracing.”

Meanwhile, an Albuquerque company called MedPharmics announced Friday its partnering with Astra-Zeneca and Oxford University for one of the first COVID vaccine trials in the state. The company says it’s now looking for 340 people in New Mexico to participate in the study. That trial is slated to last for two years. More information about MedPharmics trial is available on their news release.


New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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