Home News COVID-19 Situation State official credits vaccines with lower COVID cases

State official credits vaccines with lower COVID cases

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In this file photo, New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase participates in an online meeting with hospital officials and reporters on Dec. 8. Scrase said during a news conference Wednesday that the state is showing improvement in lower case numbers after a four-month surge that strained hospitals. (AP Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

A state public health official is crediting the increasing number of New Mexico residents being vaccinated each day with the lower COVID-19 case numbers seen in recent days.

Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the Human Services Department, said during a Wednesday news conference that, while New Mexico is “not out of the woods,” it is showing improvement in lower case numbers after a four-month surge that he said put great strain on hospitals, health care workers and public health officials.

“It is a big week in New Mexico. We are seeing improvement in almost every aspect of the pandemic,” he said.

That improvement includes that the number of new daily cases in the state had been about 500 a day for several days until Wednesday, well below the 1,000-plus new cases that had often been reported each day since early November.

Scrase participated in an online news conference along with Dr. Tracie Collins, secretary-designate of the New Mexico Department of Health.

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They said that New Mexico ranks third best in the nation in terms of administering COVID vaccines, after Illinois and Connecticut, and they credited the 291,742 shots that have been given so far as having a role in the decreased case counts.

The state has administered 92.3% of the 316,150 doses it has received so far, with 224,636 given for first vaccinations and the other 67,106 used for booster shots, or the second shots recommended by the vaccine manufacturers.

Collins said the Biden Administration has been able to increase the supply available to the state by 16% this week, with an additional 6% increase expected next week. That means New Mexico will receive 56,000 doses this week and 59,500 next week. It is now administering about 9,000 vaccines a day.

Chaves County ranks 25th in the state for vaccinations per 100 population. So far it has administered 6.4 doses per 100 people. No. 1 ranked Union County has administered 39.5 per 100 people.

Collins said the discrepancy among counties is probably due to three factors: demographics, or the number of people that fall into the 1A and 1B categories now eligible for vaccines; the capacity of vaccine providers; and vaccine acceptance among the population.

She said the department intends to examine which factors are at play for the various counties. It also has an equity committee that plans to ensure that vaccines will be distributed to vulnerable populations, including those with low incomes and without ready access to internet or smart phones. Such factors could impair vaccine registration or ease of travel to vaccination clinics, she said.

The Biden Administration has announced that the vaccines will be distributed to pharmacies directly in coming weeks, but Collins said that New Mexico officials are not sure yet how distribution will be coordinated with pharmacies along with the current distribution outlets of hospitals, Department of Health offices and other health providers.

Collins indicated that about 158,707 people in New Mexico belong to the 1A population of first responders and long-term health care workers, while another 742,125 people are in the 1B category, which includes people 75 and older and people 16 and older who also have at least one chronic health condition.

With that total of 900,832 people in those categories, that leaves about 609,090 eligible for vaccinations who have not yet received them.

At 9,000 vaccinations a day, it will take about 68 days to complete vaccinations for 1A and 1B, should all eligible people in those groups opt for immunizations, which is not expected. Currently there are 571,670 people registered for the vaccines with the state, which could be people in all categories, not just 1A or 1B.

Five of the eight gating criteria for the state are now in the green, Scrase said. Gating criteria are used to judge when the state will be able to ease restrictions concerning gathering sizes and occupancy of buildings. The number of Intensive Care Unit beds used in the state is in the yellow at 304.

The seven-day rolling average of new daily cases is still about three times higher than the acceptable number of 168, and the seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 6.1% is slightly above the 5% acceptable rate.

He said New Mexico has reported many variants of the COVID-19 virus, but only two cases of any variants that at this point have raised some concern among doctors and researchers as possibly being resistant to vaccines or therapies.

More research is needed to know whether any of the variants represent a significant issue, he said. Both variant cases of potential concern in New Mexico were of the UK variant type.

He encouraged people to continue to be vigilant.

“Hang in there a few more months,” Scrase said. “If you don’t have to go out, stay at home. Keep those hands cleaned, and keep wearing that face covering.”

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.