Dr. David Scrase, the acting secretary for the New Mexico Department of Health, presented a more promising COVID-19 outlook entering the spring and summer while addressing the latest data and the state’s decision to lift the indoor mask mandate for most public settings.

Assessing the dropping case and hospitalization rates, Scrase said during Wednesday’s media conference that while one should assume the virus will keep evolving and new case waves will come through, things have improved to where there won’t be the same burden of severe disease because of vaccines and oral treatment options.

“I don’t think we’re looking at the very end of this, but I do think we’re all going to get a break here, or at least I’m certainly hoping we do,” he said. “I’m kind of hoping the next time the virus comes to town that we’ll have additional tools, maybe in another version of the vaccine.”

He said the decision to drop the indoor mask mandate came down to case and hospitalization numbers dropping “off of a cliff,” adding hospitals confirmed such data with their own self-evaluations.

While he expects to see another uptick in COVID-19 cases due to a new variant in the June-July time frame, Scrase said oral treatment options alone will help lower risk for hospitalization and death by 90 percent.

“It’s a completely different ballgame,” he said.

Encouraging data

Scrase presented data pertaining to COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The state’s seven-day case rate Feb. 9 was 13,432. The seven-day hospitalization rate Feb. 9 was 370, while the 14-day death rate was 78.

Scrase said this past week’s case rate (4,656) was just over one-third of that number from Feb. 9, and hospitalization numbers from this past week (172) have dropped by more than half in that period of time. He also said death rates remain about the same, with the latest number at 75.

He  said that while state hospitals are still operating at 100 percent capacity, the number of available ICU and non-ICU beds went up the week. 

Statewide, there are now 34 ICU beds and 91 non-ICU beds available. Scrase said in the previous four months, the number of available ICU beds were in the single digits or teens.

“If one of us has a heart attack, there will be an ICU bed for us at least somewhere in New Mexico,” he said.

Scrase said hospital workforce remains a key issue in the state, adding NMDOH is working with hospital partners to resolve the matter.

Despite hospital capacity and staffing issues, Scrase said the state’s “out of the worst of it.”

Fourth COVID vaccine dose needed?

While those who are immunocompromised are eligible to get a fourth vaccine dose, Scrase said the time frame for when those who are not immunocompromised may need a fourth dose is still to be determined.

UNM Health weighs in

University of New Mexico Health said in an email that UNM Hospital and Sandoval Regional Medical Center have seen cases decrease in recent weeks, but continue to operate in crisis standards of care.

UNM Health, which still requires masks in its hospitals, encourages all eligible New Mexicans to get vaccinated and to receive a booster once when it’s their turn.

Scrase said the decision to leave the indoor mask mandate in place for hospitals came at the request of the health-care facilities.