ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – COVID cases are up in New Mexico and in a rare COVID-19 update on Wednesday, state health officials acknowledged it seems like everyone knows someone in their community who has COVID. But, they said there is some good news on the pandemic front and that this wave isn’t like any of the past.

“Despite the rise in cases and community transmission levels, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths remain comparatively low,” said Dr. Christine Ross, the state’s epidemiologist. “Clearly, what we’re seeing with this wave is very different than what we’ve seen in the past.”

The state said about 3.5% of those hospitalized with COVID are on ventilators, compared to about 20% in the past.

State health officials said this wave is different due to a number of factors including high herd immunity from vaccinations and natural immunization from infections and re-infections. They also say there are more effective treatments for COVID-19 like Paxlovid and Remdesivir, helping prevent serious illness and hospitalizations. Lastly, Dr. David Scrase said the virus may just be getting milder.

“I think we’re evolving toward a milder illness. So, if more people are getting COVID and they’re not sick and they’re not going to the hospital that’s actually a good thing. Even if we don’t know about it,” said Dr. David Scrase, NMDOH Secretary.

Hospitalizations are hovering around 130, which is much lower than previous points in the pandemic. State health officials suggested the hospital rate could even be lower than we know due to the number of unreported cases and expansion of at-home testing.

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“Our cases are based on reported cases to the state. So, we know this is less complete in the past and this is primarily due to changing testing practices. Namely, the increase in home-based testing,” said Dr. Ross.

Dr. Ross said vaccines get less effective over time which is why boosters are so important. She said national data shows people who are vaccinated and boosted are five times as likely to avoid getting hospitalized with COVID and 17-times less likely to die from the virus. State health officials maintain that vaccines and boosters are still the best tools to avoid serious illness from COVID.

When asked what it would take to bring back mask mandates, Dr. Scrase said those discussions aren’t even taking place anymore due to all the tools people have to available to protect themselves.

The state said it will continue to monitor case and hospital trends. It also said it has made big strides in wastewater surveillance testing.