NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – State health leaders provided an update to New Mexico’s latest COVID-19 trends during a virtual news conference Wednesday. While the omicron variant has helped surge the total of new COVID-19 cases to record numbers, state health leaders say there is an apparent “downturn” in the number of new cases.

“There is a downturn [in total new COVID cases] which we suspect is real, or will be real in the coming week,” said New Mexico Department of Health Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase. “We are looking forward, I think our modeling team is saying we’re getting really, really close to the peak, it could be in the next three to five days, we’re starting to project a downward trend next week.”

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The latest projection helps solidify what the state initially projected about a possible upcoming case peak during the state’s news conference last week. During that briefing, Dr. Scrase said the state’s modeling team projected the omicron-related surge would likely peak by the end of January, somewhere between January 27 and February 2.

Driven by the omicron variant, New Mexico has continued to average roughly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases each day over the last week. According to a report published Monday, New Mexico reported 36,151 cases over the last seven days stretch from January 18 through the 24th.

Overall COVID-19 case counts remain roughly two-and-a-half times what the daily case rates were in the state’s last peak, in November 2020. Hospitalizations related to the virus are also continuing to go up. At least more 424 people were admitted to New Mexico hospitals with COVID between January 18 and 24, up from 357 the week prior, and 294 two weeks prior.

In total, 678 people were in New Mexico hospitals with COVID-19 on Tuesday. However, the state says it is continuing to see the trend of fewer people needing breathing machines. Dr. Scrase said Wednesday New Mexico is at its lowest percentage of ventilator use since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We are at 9.2% [of hospitalized COVID patients on ventilators] which is, is the lowest it’s been during the pandemic,” Dr. Scrase said. “That doesn’t mean the virus isn’t dangerous, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t significant mortality rate, but it does means a break, particularly for our ICU doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists, and others.”

The state is still working to bring in additional nursing and medical staff to bring them to work in emergency rooms. In Albuquerque, a team of 20 military medical doctors and nurses are helping care for COVID patients at UNM Hospital.

On Tuesday, New Mexico reported 3,354 new COVID-19 cases and 25 additional deaths. The numbers bring the state’s pandemic totals up to 455,947 cases and 6,317 COVID-related deaths.

Over the last week, the New Mexico Department of Health has moved ahead with a state plan to widely distribute rapid COVID tests to communities across the state through county governments. In the Albuquerque area, Bernalillo County announced a plan Monday to deliver tests first to some community centers and senior centers with high case positivity rates.

In the meantime, the state is encouraging New Mexicans to use the federal government’s website to get four rapid tests delivered to your mailbox for free. In the coming months, state health officials say they’re working on a plan to distribute an incoming supply of rapid tests and high-quality face masks purchased by the state government.

“We’re also working with Medicaid to actually combine our efforts, so at some point down the line, probably in April or so, we’ll be able to have HSD customers (SNAP, Medicaid, other programs) about 1.51-million people, we’re going to try to set up a direct order route for them as well, for tests and masks,” Dr. Scrase said. “That’s really in development, there’s obviously a lot of details to work out.”