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It looks like New Mexico is just like the rest of the nation, seeing fewer COVID-19 cases, fewer hospitalizations, a reduction in daily deaths – and a shortage of vaccines.

The demand has been greater than the vaccine supply.

During another weekly media opportunity to meet some of the state’s top medical authorities on the pandemic Monday, Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval urged the state’s residents to “contribute with social distancing — we have seen the numbers come down. We still need to be consistent and stick with what we know works.”

She referred to social distancing, washing hands frequently, wearing masks and getting vaccinated.

“We’re trying to vaccinate as quickly as we can, as many as we can …the state and delivery systems are working very hard,” she said.

University of New Mexico Health System Executive Physician Dr. David Pitcher said, “This is actually a time for cautious optimism; we have seen the numbers come down, and that should be reassuring (to the state and health care workers). We are continuing to deal with more patients than we usually see.”

That was to be expected, as winter is the time more sick people come to hospitals for treatment, even though the number of flu cases has decreased this year.

“We have adequate capacity to care for those patients,” Pitcher added. “So far, we are staying ahead of the game, (but) we need to remain vigilant — be as participatory as we can in the vaccine.

“The sooner we can all get vaccinated, the sooner we can return to a normal life,” he said.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales, answering a question about the varying decreases in positive tests, hospitalizations and deaths, said, “Test positivity goes up and peaks; hospitalizations peak two weeks after that; mortality peaks two weeks after that.”

The DOH reported Thursday that 556 COVID patients were hospitalized, the fewest of 2021 and well below December’s rates of at least 749, no more than 947

Vaccine update

According to the New York Times, Merck, a leading drug company, on Jan. 25 abandoned two experimental coronavirus vaccines altogether, saying they did not produce a strong enough immune response against the original version of the virus.

Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech — the only ones with vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S. — said their vaccines were effective against new variants of the coronavirus discovered in Britain and South Africa, although slightly less protective against the variant in South Africa, believed to be more adept at dodging antibodies in the bloodstream.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, now serving as the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told MSNBC last week that with the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine developed and expected to soon receive FDA approval – requiring just one dose – the nation “will see the relative efficacy against the wild-type virus that is predominantly in the U.S.”

If successful, Johnson & Johnson has said it will deliver 100 million doses to the U.S. by the end of June.

Sandoval County closing in on turning ‘Yellow’

The state released its latest “red-to-green” data Jan. 27.

The state’s county-by-county system uses per-capita daily incidence of new COVID-19 cases and average COVID-19 test positivity within county borders to determine the level of public health risk and requirements for each county. A county that meets one criterion may operate at the Yellow Level; a county that meets both may operate at the Green Level.

Twenty-eight of 33 counties saw improvements in their average daily per-capita rate of new cases in the last two weeks, and 29 counties saw improvements in their test positivity rate, according to DOH numbers. In addition, the state’s most populous counties – Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Sandoval, San Juan and Santa Fe – each improved dramatically in the two metrics.

Harding County met both health metric thresholds and continues to operate at the Green Level, which it first reached Jan. 13, according to the health department. Colfax, Grant, Los Alamos, San Miguel, Sierra, Socorro and Union counties met one of the health metric thresholds – a positivity rate below 5 percent in each county – and now operate at the Yellow Level.

Twenty-four counties reported a positivity rate below 10 percent, close to the state threshold of 5 percent, an increase from 11 counties below 10 percent two weeks ago.

Sandoval County saw a daily per-capita new case rate of 36 per 100,000, a decrease of 39 percent over two weeks, and a test positivity rate of 6.14, a decrease of 43 percent over two weeks, according to the state.

COVID cases in the county, recorded as 143 on Jan. 7, had dropped significantly as the month progressed, with as few as 22 on Jan. 24.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer