Home News COVID-19 Situation Health officials urge more vaccinations, COVID-safe practices

Health officials urge more vaccinations, COVID-safe practices

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State health officials said while they are still pleased with COVID-19 vaccine efforts in New Mexico, they lamented the increased spread of the virus, which they attributed in part to reduced compliance with COVID-safe practices.

Single-day new case reports have topped 1,000 since Nov. 3 with 1,337 new cases reported Wednesday. Wednesday’s report includes 31 new cases in Chaves County.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are at 490 people, the highest number since Feb. 2.

At the same time, New Mexico has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with 60.4% of the entire population fully vaccinated, placing it 14th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

But that still leaves 39.6% of the population unvaccinated, Dr. Laura Parajón, deputy secretary for NMDOH, said in a livestreamed press conference Wednesday afternoon.

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“The progress is good but there’s still groups of people who are getting sick with COVID and spreading the virus amongst the whole state,” she said.

In the last four weeks, unvaccinated individuals accounted for 71.6% of COVID-19 cases, 76.9% of hospitalizations and 95.1% of deaths associated with COVID-19, according to this week’s vaccination case report from NMDOH.

Being unvaccinated is just one of the factors in the spread of the virus, though, Dr. David Scrase, acting secretary of NMDOH, said. The delta variant, which has proven to be four times more infectious than previous variants of the virus; waning immunity among the vaccinated; and reduced compliance with practices such as mask-wearing, hand washing and practicing social distancing are also reasons cases are increasing, he said.

“The pandemic is far from over,” Dr. Christine Ross, state epidemiologist, said, noting that cases are rising globally, especially in eastern Europe.

“I think there’s been a lot of emphasis on the hope that we could obtain herd immunity, and that has not been demonstrated in any country today, even with the much higher vaccine coverage that we have here in the United States,” she said.

Scrase said returning to state-imposed restrictions on activities and public gatherings is not likely as society finds ways to live with the virus.

“I think one of the most important criteria for public health intervention is it has to be something that we can really live with going forward in this battle against COVID. It’s not a roller coaster that is going to go up and down one more time and then we’re going to be fine. We’re going to see as the virus mutates and creates new variants additional challenges,” he said.

He said controlling the virus must be a balance of responsibility among individuals, communities and the state and will involve a cultural change.

“I think we all ought to pitch in and do a little bit more to step up at the individual, community level and state level,” he said.

“Living with this virus means being aware of the level of disease activity around you, because then can you modulate your behavior in ways to protect yourself,” Ross said.

All but Harding County is considered to have a high rate of transmission for Oct. 26 to Nov. 8, meaning more than 14.29 cases per day per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate higher than 10%. Harding County is still considered to have substantial transmission with 10.9 new cases per day per 100,000 people and a test positivity of 3.45%.

Chaves County reported 48.2 cases per day per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 13.33%. Both increased from the previous period of Oct. 19 to Nov. 1, from 41.1 cases per day and 11.77%.

“We have very concerning levels of case rates and rising incidents around us, and so I would just implore everyone to consider all of those COVID-safe practices,” Ross said.

That includes considering avoiding indoor activities and crowded areas, wearing a well-fitting mask that covers the mouth and nose, physical distancing and hand hygiene, as well as getting vaccinated or getting a booster shot if eligible.

Scrase said state data shows that breakthrough infections — positive cases of COVID-19 among those who are vaccinated — happen about 5.5 months after an individual has completed a vaccine series. The chances of that happening are still quite low, he said, about 15 to 25 cases for every 1,000 COVID-19 cases in the state.

He said that shows the importance for getting a booster shot, especially for those 65 or older, the age group most vulnerable to COVID-19. The state is working with the federal government to increase the eligibility standards for booster shots to open it to all New Mexicans, he said. Currently, those who are eligible are those 65 and older, and those 18 and older who live in long-term care settings, have underlying health conditions or who live or work in high-risk settings.

Booster shots can be given two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or six months after the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. They can be scheduled with private health providers, pharmacies or through the state’s vaccine portal at www.vaccinenm.org or by calling 855-600-3453.

Also in the daily case update for Wednesday, the state reported 13 additional deaths related to COVID-19. None were from Chaves County. The state now has 5,148 deaths related to the virus, including 208 in Chaves County.

The total number of cases in New Mexico is 288,557, including 13,119 in Chaves County.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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

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