Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
The surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by the delta variant of the coronavirus seems to have reached a plateau, state health officials said Wednesday.
In a livestreamed press conference, they also discussed why they believe the state is not seeing the same rise in pediatric hospitalizations the rest of the country is experiencing and new variants of the virus.
“I do want to say that we’re happy to see that there is a deceleration of growth in new cases,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross said.
Wednesday’s daily case update from the New Mexico Department of Health reflected that, with 543 cases reported in 28 counties. Chaves County’s numbers were slightly lower as well, with 42.
However, Ross said it is still too early to say the surge is ending. Gatherings from the Labor Day holiday weekend could bring some higher case counts over the next week or so.
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“We’re going to continue to watch this very, very closely, but are very hopeful that this plateau will then turn into a decreasing trend of new cases,” Ross said.
Ross showed a graph of modeling data from Presbyterian Healthcare Services showing the spread rate, or R-effective rate, of the virus has dropped to just above 1 as of Wednesday. At the beginning of August, that number was at almost 1.4.
The R-effective rate, or R number, signifies the average number of people that an infected person will transmit the virus to. The higher the number, the more people who will likely be infected.
“Basically, when this R-effective rate is greater than 1, we expect that it will spread exponentially. When it is less than 1, we expect that the spread will be slower and cases will decline. So, again, this is a move in the right direction,” Ross said.
Ross said the plateau and spread rate projections are signs that people have followed preventive measures, including the reinstatement of the indoor mask mandate.
However, Dr. David Scrase, acting Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, did say that southeast New Mexico’s high case rates are still of concern to him.
“I have been actually staring at Chaves, Lee and Eddy counties every single day on the (epidemiological) report, and those numbers have been significantly high for well over a month now for all three counties, over 100 cases per 100,000 people per day. It’s more than 10 times the number of cases we think we can handle,” he said.
“It’s been pretty steady and it’s been bad. It does seem to be leveling somewhat, but it’s leveling at a high level, and so we kind of have our fingers crossed that that whole southeastern part of the state will see a downturn in the near future,” Scrase said.
Wednesday’s case report numbers from the rest of the counties in southeast New Mexico were generally low, with the exception of Lea County, which had 108 new cases. Curry County had 18, Eddy County had 31, Lincoln County had 16, Quay County had four and Roosevelt County had two.
Tuesday’s community transmission report from NMDOH shows seven of the eight southeast counties with the highest case rates and test positivity rates in the state. Between Aug. 24 and Sept. 6, Lea County had the highest rates, averaging 100 cases per day per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 17.79%; Chaves County averaged 92 cases and had a 16.25% positivity rate. Eddy, Lincoln, Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties were not far behind in either rate. De Baca County fared better with 34.9 cases per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 6.52%.
While hospitalizations of children have surged in recent weeks across the country, New Mexico has not experienced that, Scrase said.
“We are seeing a 10-times increase in hospitalizations nationwide in the age zero to 4 group. We’ve all been reading about this in the news. We also know that unvaccinated adolescents, 12 to 17, are being hospitalized 10 times more frequently than their fully vaccinated counterparts in the 12- to 17-year-old age group,” Scrase said, citing data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But throughout the 18 months of the pandemic, only 281 children in New Mexico have been hospitalized for COVID-19, including two in the last week, Scrase said. The deaths of four children in the state have been related to the disease.
However, school-age children, those age 5 to 17, have the second-highest rate of infections, behind 18- to 34-year olds, Ross said.
“Overall, of all the cases that we’ve reported to date, that pediatric age range has accounted for about 15%, almost 16% of the cases. Though currently, the number of pediatric cases is taking up a larger proportion of what we’re reporting out, and in fact, over the last seven days this is 24% and I believe the week before it might have been closer to 25% of our total case count,” Ross said.
Those 65 and older have had the lowest infection rates in the latest surge. Ross said that might be due to the vaccination rates.
“We know the 65 and olders have a very high vaccine uptake or vaccine coverage, in this age group, and certainly we do not see even half that rate in this younger age group, given that you’re not eligible for vaccination right now until the age of 12,” she said.
Statewide, 83.2% of those 65 and older have at least one vaccine dose and 77.2% have completed a vaccine series, according to the NMDOH vaccine dashboard. Among those 12 to 17, 61.5% have at least one dose and 49.8% have completed their shots.
Breaking that age group down further, the state’s data shows 54.6% of those 12 to 15 have at least one dose and 43.5% have completed the vaccine series. Among 16- and 17-year-olds, 60.1% have at least one dose and 50.4% have completed the series.
The high overall vaccination rate among adults in the state — 68.4% for fully vaccinated and 78.3% for those with at least one dose — helps protect younger children and others who cannot have the vaccine, Scrase said.
While the delta variant continues to be the most prevalent in the state, comprising 92% of specimens genetically sequenced for variants the week of Aug. 2, new variants have been showing across the country and globally, but health officials said at this point those variants are not yet of concern.
The mu variant — they are named for the Greek alphabet — has been identified in each of the 50 states. According to the CDC, it comprises only 0.1% of total cases as of last week. The CDC lists 10 variants — including three lineages of the delta variant — as variants of interest or variants of concern. The mu variant is not yet classified as either.
A variant of interest is one that is predicted to increase in transmissibility or disease severity, while a variant of concern is one for which there is evidence of increase in transmissibility, disease severity, or reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines.
In Wednesday’s case update, the state reported 15 deaths related to COVID-19. Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Lea and San Juan counties each reported two deaths. Curry, Eddy, Lincoln, Los Alamos, McKinley, San Miguel and Santa Fe counties each reported one.
The total number of deaths in the state is now 4,577 including 178 in Chaves County.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in the state is 238,430 including 11,115 in Chaves County.
As of Wednesday, 394 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state.
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/.