State continues to emphasize vaccine, treatment options
The number that keeps coming up is three times… What that means is for every case we know about, there’s two others we don’t — NMDOH Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase
The New Mexico Department of Health is unsure just how accurate the latest COVID-19 case count numbers are because of increased at-home testing.
“I think we debate this a lot. We’re using methods to triangulate hospitalization rates with BA2.12.1, hospitalization rates with BA1 or the original Omicron (strain). You have to assume that there’s no difference between the severity of those two illnesses… The number that keeps coming up is three times… What that means is for every case we know about, there’s two others we don’t,” NMDOH Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase said during Wednesday’s media conference. “There’s also some national chatter about ‘Could it be five to 10?’ Remember that only a fraction of the people that have positive tests at home are even going online to report them.”
The case counts posted on NMDOH’s website are based on cases reported to the state, which may not necessarily include at-home test results.
Having said that, Scrase said people should assume they have COVID if their at-home test result comes back positive, and that a PCR test would therefore be unnecessary.
Scrase said NMDOH isn’t running symptom correlations for positive test results being collected because at-home testing and other tools have led to a decline in contract tracing.
State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross said increased use of at-home testing is a good thing because a person can get tested and diagnosed quickly.
Cases, hospitalizations trending up
The average daily case rate per 100,000 between May 30 and June 5 for Sandoval County was 55.6. Bernalillo County’s average daily case rate during that same time frame was 52.7. Santa Fe County’s average rate was 64.8, while Los Alamos County’s average rate was 122. Statewide, the seven-day test positivity rate between May 25 and May 31 was 11.9 percent. Statewide, there were 102 hospital admissions for COVID-19 between May 30 and June 5.
The average daily case rate per 100,000 between May 2 and May 8 for Sandoval County was 16.3. Bernalillo County’s average daily case rate for that period was 14.8. Santa Fe County’s average rate was 21.2, while Los Alamos County’s average rate was 29.5. Statewide, the seven-day test positivity rate between April 30 and May 6 was 5.7 percent. Statewide, there were 33 hospital admissions for COVID-19 between May 2 and May 8.
“There’s clearly a large burden of wide-scale infections in our communities right now. I think it’s obvious we all know someone who’s infected with COVID-19 right now, maybe more so than other periods of this pandemic,” Ross said.
When asked about the stark rise in cases in the greater Santa Fe area and a possible connection to the nearby wildfires, Scrase said increased population density via congregate settings can in turn increase spread of the virus.
Sign of hope?
While noting the increased hospitalizations for COVID-19 in recent weeks, Ross said the number isn’t “anywhere near” what was seen during last winter’s Delta and Omicron surges.
“Similarly, we’re not seeing the same trend in ICU level numbers or patients that require mechanical ventilation,” she said. “In the past, we have seen a range from 12 to 20 percent of hospitalizations requiring mechanical ventilation. Now, this number is around 3 1/2 percent… These are very important and welcome differences from prior waves of infections that we’ve seen.”
NMDOH also presented data showing nine counties, including Sandoval and Bernalillo, that have medium risk of community spread. The other 24 counties are low-risk for community spread, per that same slideshow.
Ross surmised that it’s due to factors like the Omicron BA2.12.1 subvariant having properties that lead to less severe disease, as well as New Mexico’s high levels of immune protection, whether by vaccination or prior natural infection.
“We are clearly in a very different pandemic if you will than we have seen previously,” she said.
Scrase said the state’s current COVID-19 hospitalization count in the 130 to 140 range can be attributed to “hopefully the virus being less serious,” along with treatment options helping keep people out of hospitals. He said the number statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 during the first Omicron wave in January and February were over 700.
People aren’t even discussing or considering future face mask mandates outside of places like healthcare and congregate living facilities because of the available treatments to fight COVID-19, Scrase said.
“That’s not something that’s on the table. We seem to be doing really well,” he said. “Our deaths are only a fraction, our hospitalizations are only a fraction, and that’s really the sticking point for the state.”