New Mexico COVID-19 cases decrease as state rolls out new booster shots
New reported cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico this month inched below 28 cases per 100,000 for the first time since May, and the state's top health official said Thursday it could indicate "we are getting over the BA.5 hump."
Cases declined sharply over two weeks, with 1,657 documented last week alone.
The omicron subvariant known as BA.5 is associated with 95 percent of New Mexico's current known case count, which does not account for positive home-based tests. Acting state health secretary Dr. David Scrase said the reported cases may account for just 25 percent of the actual total. Health officials delivered the updates during a livestreamed news conference.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 "community level" map, which assesses county-level COVID-19 vulnerability based on case data, hospital admissions and available beds, showed all 33 New Mexico counties at low to medium risk.
Based on CDC's rubric, in six "yellow" counties — Rio Arriba, Taos, Los Alamos, Santa Fe, McKinley and Hidalgo — high-quality masks such as N95s are recommended in indoor public settings for those at high risk of severe illness.
Community transmission data indicated that COVID-19 spread was still moderate to high in 94 percent of the state by county level. However, Scrase characterized case severity with the BA.5 subvariant as far less lethal than previous variants that drove deadly waves of illness that overwhelmed hospitals throughout the state in 2020 and 2021.
Emphasizing the point, deaths from COVID-19 had slowed to 12 reported in the last two weeks while hospitalizations for the disease, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, have been at a plateau through the summer with a slowly decreasing trend since July, per data from the New Mexico Department of Health. On Thursday, 81 were reported hospitalized in the state.
Staying 'up to date' on vaccines
Earlier this month, New Mexico received its first shipments of a new COVID-19 vaccine specifically targeting the virus' omicron variant, and on Thursday acting state epidemiologist Dr. Laura Parajón said over 7,000 doses had been administered.
Health officials are urging residents to be "up to date" with COVID-19 vaccinations, meaning one has received the primary course of vaccine and the newest booster. Scrase clarified that while one may have received a booster as recently as a month ago, they would not be considered up to date until they received the omicron booster a minimum of 60 days from a previous booster.
Following this, Scrase again predicted that vaccine research seemed to be evolving to a point where SARS-CoV-2 would be managed with periodic new boosters in a "flu-shot-like approach." However, he also confirmed that COVID-19 is not yet exhibited seasonal ebbs and flows like flu.
While distribution of vaccines has continued to shift more to pharmacies and individual provider settings, appointments can still be made through the health department at www.VaccineNM.org.
Additionally, the Aging and Long Term Services Department is rolling out a campaign to boost the elderly, especially residents of long-term care settings, with the new vaccine.
ALTS Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez said her agency was organizing an effort to deliver the new vaccine alongside flu shots in 236 assisted living facilities and 36 nursing homes, and hosting public drive-thru vaccination events at senior centers around the state.
Monkeypox, polio and West Nile virus
Parajón reported that in the current monkeypox outbreak, 33 cases had been confirmed in New Mexico, with only one case requiring hospitalization. Since July, 1,749 people had received an initial dose of monkeypox vaccine and 179 had received the second dose.
The vaccine is available for those at the highest risk of getting the disease, which is spread through physical contact with someone who is positive for the virus. CDC data reports that a majority of cases in the 2022 outbreak have been among men who have spread it via sexual contact with other men, but emphasizes that anyone can acquire the disease regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
There were 23,117 cases and a single fatality reported in the United States as of Thursday.
She also reported, in response to recent news that New York State had confirmed its first case of polio in a decade, that no cases of polio had been identified in New Mexico, and that indeed the state was seventh highest in the U.S. for full vaccination against the viral illness.
She cautioned, however, that vaccination participation in general had taken a dip during the COVID-19 pandemic, attributable in part to a period where public schools were closed and other limitations on access to healthcare settings. The return of poliovirus elsewhere was presented as a warning.
"We thought we had mostly eradicated it in the United States," Parajón said, "but if we're not vaccinated, polio, which mostly affects children, can actually cause one out of 200 children to actually become paralyzed. ... We don't want to have kids become paralyzed for a disease that we can actually prevent."
West Nile virus, on the other hand, is a recurring disease in New Mexico, transmitted mainly by mosquito bites. Parajón reported three human cases and one animal case this year as Thursday's conference. The illness may include fever, skin rash, body aches, nausea and other symptoms.
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Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, email@example.com or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.