Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
A majority of counties in New Mexico will likely be in the yellow or even green levels when the state updates its Red to Green COVID-19 risk assessment system next week, a state health official said Wednesday.
Dr. David Scrase, secretary of human services, and Dr. Tracie Collins, secretary-designate of the health department, also said vaccinations continue to increase but could not say when appointments would open for the next subgroup eligible — frontline essential workers unable to work remotely.
Both secretaries spoke and took questions from the media in a COVID-19 data and vaccine update livestreamed Wednesday afternoon on the New Mexico Human Services Facebook page.
“There is a prediction, I can’t say an exact number, but the vast majority of counties will be yellow or green next week,” Scrase said.
“We’re seeing a steady downward trend in cases, which is what we want to see, and that’s happening in really every area of the state,” he said.
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In its gating criteria, the state had an average of 369 new cases per day as of Feb. 11. That is more than double its target of 168 cases per day, but an improvement over recent months, Scrase said.
The state’s test positivity rate is at 4.2% as of Monday, below the target of 5%.
Under the most recent assessment in the Red to Green system from Jan. 26 to Feb. 8, 14 counties are in the very high-risk Red Level, 15 are in the high-risk Yellow Level and the remaining four counties are in the medium-risk Green Level.
To move from red to yellow, a county must have either an average of eight or fewer new cases of COVID-19 per day per 100,000 people or a test positivity rate of 5% or less.
Although all of the red counties are far above the daily case rate targets, several — San Juan, Rio Arriba, Roosevelt and Torrance — have test positivity rates between 5% and 6%.
Chaves County is in the Red Level with a test positivity rate of 7.26%. However, in the last Red to Green update on Feb. 10, the county improved its test positivity by more than five percentage points. A similar improvement would put the county within the Yellow Level, easing restrictions on business capacities and public gatherings.
Scrase said Chaves County’s Feb. 11 daily case count of 101 and an increase of 6,500 tests for the county that day should not be a concern in the county’s chance of moving to the Yellow Level.
“What you see on the dashboard and the day-to-day reporting is basically raw data, everything that’s come in from noon the previous day to noon of the current day,” he said.
When the state calculates its report for the Red to Green framework, it removes duplications that might occur in the raw data, he said.
“While those numbers seem different and can be substantially different, the red-yellow-green report tends to give you the best picture of disease activity in the community,” he said.
For example, the epidemic curve for Chaves County on the state’s dashboard — which shows positive cases by the day the specimens were collected rather than when the data is reported — shows only three positive tests on Feb. 11.
Additionally, the state has added nine laboratories for testing in the past month, Scrase said. The process of getting those labs and their electronic reporting set up can result in large numbers of cases being reported at once, such as the 6,500 tests shown for the county on Feb. 11 on the dashboard’s historical data. Other testing providers might also submit a large number of tests at once, he said.
“If we did get two months’ worth of tests all at once, the only tests that would find their way into the Red to Green calculations would be those relevant to the two-week period we were evaluating,” Scrase said.
Regarding vaccines, Scrase said in the last week, an average of 10,820 people per day have been vaccinated — 20 times more than the average number of daily COVID-19 cases reported.
“Obviously it’s a winning formula, obviously our chance to get ahead of this virus,” he said.
Modeling data from Los Alamos National Laboratory shows the vaccine has decreased COVID-19 cases in the state between 20% and 24%, but Scrase said New Mexico has a way to go before it reaches herd immunity.
“When that gets to 50%, that’s when the vaccine would be a more important factor than masking and social distancing,” he said.
COVID-safe practices are still the main factor in fighting the spread of the coronavirus, he said.
“Our best line of defense against the virus is still masks, social distancing and staying home whenever possible,” he said.
The tipping point in reaching herd immunity will be when 75% of the state’s population has immunity either from a vaccine or having had an infection, he said.
Asked about when the state will allow more of the subgroups of those in the 1B phase of vaccinations to get their first doses, Collins said it depends on the state receiving an increase of doses and being able to project long-term how many doses it will get.
There are about 800,000 people currently eligible for the vaccine under the state’s plan, she said. The state has received 454,350 doses as of Wednesday, according to the vaccine dashboard.
Those in the 1A phase are hospital personnel and medical personnel giving direct care, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Collins said about 64% of that group has received at least one dose.
Those in the 1B phase who are eligible are people age 75 or older and those 16 or older who have at least one health complication that puts them at greater risk of developing COVID-19.
That group will have to reach 60% receiving at least one dose before the next 1B subgroup, front-line essential workers who cannot work from home, are allowed to make appointments, she said.
That subgroup includes education staff, those who work in grocery stores, agriculture, public transit, critical manufacturing, law enforcement and firefighters, mortuaries, indigent care and non-hospital labs.
“Our assessment of who we prioritize for vaccines is based on reducing morbidity and mortality and looking at those who are most at risk. So it’s not about your occupation, it’s about your risk factor profile,” Collins said.
As of Wednesday, 11% of Chaves County residents over the age of 16, or 5,433 people, have been partially vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. Another 4.1%, or 2,052 people, have been fully vaccinated.
Statewide, 450,299 total doses have been administered. Of those, 306,721 are primary doses and 143,578 are booster doses.
A total of 628,306 people have registered for the vaccine.
Wednesday’s COVID numbers
In the daily COVID-19 update from the New Mexico Department of Health, Chaves County had three new cases among the 281 announced by the state.
No local deaths were among the 12 reported statewide.
Bernalillo County reported the most cases at 120 followed by Doña Ana County with 49. Twenty-three counties and two correctional facilities reported new cases Wednesday.
Among the deaths, Bernalillo County reported three. McKinley and Sandoval counties each reported two. Eddy, Otero, San Juan, Valencia and Lea counties each reported one.
New Mexico has had a total of 181,332 COVID-19 cases, with 127,064, about 70%, designated as recovered.
Chaves County has had 8,524 cases, with 6,244, or 73%, designated as recovered.
The total number of deaths related to COVID-19 in the state is 3,562 including 146 in Chaves County.
As of Wednesday, 280 people are hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or email@example.com.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.