Home News COVID-19 Situation Scrase: Omicron variant will make coming weeks difficult

Scrase: Omicron variant will make coming weeks difficult


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The next two to three weeks could be difficult in New Mexico as the omicron variant of the coronavirus becomes dominant and the state struggles with getting enough treatment for it, the secretary of the state health department said Wednesday.

One bit of relief might be that early data shows the new variant seems to cause less severe disease resulting in fewer hospitalizations and deaths, Dr. David Scrase, acting secretary for the New Mexico Department of Health, said in a livestreamed press conference.

“That is something we’re hanging onto for dear life because that’s the only thing that can really save our hospital situation, is to have those hospitalizations be lower,” he said.

NMDOH estimates that omicron comprises about 50% to 60% of COVID-19 cases in the state now, although Scrase said he suspects it’s closer to 70%.

The variant spreads even more rapidly than the delta variant, he said.

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“The acceleration from zero to 100% of omicron in the countries where it’s already occurred has been very rapid, even a little bit more than delta, which went from basically less than 10% to 100% in about six weeks here in our state,” he said.

“Omicron is here, it’s serious and in another week or two it will be 100% of the new cases in our state,” he said.

However, based on the trends from South Africa, where omicron was first identified, Scrase said the variant may not cause the same kind of surge as has been seen in the past. Cases peaked in South Africa on Nov. 24 and have since fallen in the last five weeks. Deaths increased only slightly.

Currently the U.S. is seeing more cases than it did in last winter’s surge, but deaths and hospitalizations have not yet seen as sharp an increase, according to data Scrase showed in the presentation.

“But again it’s early, and I like to see six weeks of data after the peak to declare victory, but I think we have reason to be cautiously optimistic and we’d like to see a little bit more data,” he said.

However, omicron seems to be resistant to the state’s most-used monoclonal antibody treatments, and it could be two to three weeks before the state sees an increase in supply of treatments that are more effective against omicron, Scrase said.

The most-used treatments in New Mexico are a combination of the drugs bamlanivimab and etesevimab, referred to as bam/ete, and regeneron. Both treatments are given as intravenous infusions of laboratory-produced proteins that function like antibodies.

Last week, hospitals in the state, including Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, gave 1,428 doses of monoclonal antibody treatments with bam/ete and regeneron making up 1,358 of the doses, Scrase said.

“The problem with that is that we are now learning that both bam/ete and regeneron are not effective treatments against omicron,” Scrase said.

“We’re in the process of diverting all of our resources to other options than those two,” he said.

Those other resources are in limited supply, however. The state has a weekly supply of 174 courses of sotrovimab, another monoclonal antibody infusion treatment, that is more effective against omicron.

Paxlovid, a pill from Pfizer that was given emergency use authorization from the FDA last month, has shown to be 88% effective in reducing hospitalization and death, but that has created high demand, Scrase said. The state has a weekly supply of only 170 courses of that drug.

“The good news is that they’re doubling their order for that, but again, doubling 170 only gets you 340, and that doesn’t make up for the gap” in treatments, Scrase said.

Mulnupiravir, a pill from drug manufacturer Merck, also gained authorization last month, but is only 30% effective in reducing hospitalization and death. The state has a weekly supply of 770 courses.

The courses for both pills are for a five-day treatment.

In Wednesday’s daily case update, NMDOH reported 36 deaths related to COVID-19, including two in Chaves County — a woman in her 60s and a man in his 70s. Both had been hospitalized and the woman had underlying health conditions.

Also among the deaths were nine people from Bernalillo County and four from Doña Ana County. Rio Arriba, San Juan, San Miguel and Valencia counties each had three deaths, Eddy County had two, and Grant, Lincoln, McKinley, Otero, Roosevelt, Sandoval and Sierra each had one.

Twenty-four had been hospitalized and 25 had underlying health conditions. Their ages ranged from two men in their 20s from Sandoval and McKinley counties to seven people in their 90s from Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Lincoln and Rio Arriba counties.

The total number of deaths in New Mexico related to COVID-19 is 5,933, including 236 in Chaves County.

The state reported 2,514 cases Wednesday, including 36 in Chaves County.

The total number of cases in New Mexico since March 2020 is now 361,629, including 15,776 in Chaves County.

As of Wednesday, 497 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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