Home News COVID-19 Situation Officials see indication COVID case rate could decrease

Officials see indication COVID case rate could decrease

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State health officials said Wednesday they were cautiously optimistic the spread rate of the coronavirus might be slowing in New Mexico but said it would be several weeks before that would be known.

Officials also spoke about the new omicron variant of the virus, saying there was much yet unknown. California officials said a case was confirmed there, the first in the U.S., earlier in the day Wednesday.

Dr. Christine Ross, state epidemiologist, said in a livestreamed press conference Wednesday the R effective number of the virus — or how many people one person spreads the virus to — is now at 0.8 in New Mexico.

“If it continues to be under 1, we hope to see a further deceleration in our cases and then followed by a decline in our case rates, so this does give us some reason to have some cautious optimism,” she said.

“We will have to follow this really closely over the next weeks, especially post-Thanksgiving holiday to see if the travel and the gatherings are going to impact us in a negative way or not,” she said.

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It’s too early yet to tell what effect the new variant will have, however, Ross said. The omicron variant was first identified in South Africa just five days ago. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified it a Variant of Concern, or VOC, just a few days later. Delta is the only other VOC the U.S. is tracking at this time.

The omicron variant can be detected by routine testing, Ross said, including the type of polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test used in New Mexico.

“Our state lab uses this type of PCR test where you have what’s called an S-gene target failure,” Ross said.

“Delta doesn’t have that S-gene target failure. If we see that, we’re going to pull that out and we’re going to sequence it,” she said.

Ross said it was also known this variant is not mutated from earlier variants of concern or variants of interest such as delta, contributing to what is unknown about it. That includes whether or not it will have an increased level of transmissibility, hospitalizations and deaths, and if it is resistant to existing treatments and vaccines.

“These are things we’re probably going to need several weeks of time to elapse,” she said.

“We don’t have enough information on omicron to declare a new phase in the pandemic or a change in strategy,” Ross said.

“Scientists and various experts are in all agreement that we really need to focus on the tried and true, in other words the same prevention recommendations hold true right now and vaccination remains our best tool to protect the community, to protect New Mexico,” she said.

Dr. David Scrase, acting secretary of New Mexico Department of Health, presented some data on the age difference of the vaccinated and unvaccinated who are hospitalized and those who die from COVID-19. He called the age differences striking.

Since July and the appearance of the delta variant in New Mexico, the median age of those hospitalized and who are vaccinated is 70 years. Among the unvaccinated, the median age is 55.

Of those who are vaccinated and die of COVID-19, the median age is 79, while among the unvaccinated, the median age of death is 65.

“There are other factors but almost all the other factors that figure into this actually create a situation where that 14-year difference is sort of the minimum,” Scrase said of the ages of death.

Scrase said a study with the Los Alamos National Laboratory also gave reasons for adults to get booster shots. The study found that those who completed their initial series of vaccine shots more than six months ago are four times more likely to have a breakthrough case of COVID-19.

Ross urged more New Mexicans to take COVID-19 tests, especially if they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to someone who tested positive. More testing will give a clearer picture of the virus activity in the state, she said.

“We feel there’s going to be a segment of disease that we’re not picking up with this high level of test percent positivity. It tells us there’s a large disease burden in the community. With more testing, we think we’ll have an even better idea of what’s happening in the community,” she said.

In Wednesday’s daily case update from NMDOH, 32 counties and one correctional facility reported 1,887 new cases, including 68 in Chaves County.

The total number of cases in New Mexico since March 2020 is 316,089, including 13,890 in Chaves County.

Twelve deaths related to COVID-19 were also reported. Bernalillo and San Juan counties each reported three deaths, while Cibola, Curry, Grant, McKinley, San Miguel and Valencia each reported one.

The total number of deaths in New Mexico is 5,379, including 217 in Chaves County.

As of Wednesday, 643 people were hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19.

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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