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New Mexico state health officials on Dec. 22 said they are still investigating lab specimens to determine how rapidly the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading statewide, while planning to distribute about 20,000 — and possibly more — at-home tests for the virus in COVID-19 hot spots and low-income areas.
Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross said there are uncertainties about the Omicron variant, including how deadly it might be and how effective antibody treatments might be in reducing its symptoms.
“The best-case scenario is this variant causes a less-severe illness,” she said during an online media briefing.
Once again, she and other health officials urged New Mexicans to take precautions during gatherings and get tested before them.
“It appears we’re not going to see this virus contained or eradicated, so we’ve got to learn to live with it,” Ross said.
She said modeling suggests that Omicron could soon surpass Delta as the dominant variant of COVID-19, which has happened elsewhere in the U.S.

RRPS case counts
As of Dec. 16, Rio Rancho Public Schools had seen 174 positive COVID-19 cases in students, staff or contractors on campuses during December, after a total of 298 cases for November.

Deaths up, cases down
New Mexico health officials reported 48 additional deaths due to COVID-19 on Dec. 21 — matching a record high for a single day set just over one year ago.
Otherwise, the state’s death rate due to the virus has remained below peak levels from December 2020.
The 48 deaths included 41 recent deaths and seven from more than 30 days ago.
At the same time, the state’s COVID-19 test positivity rate declined from 13.6 percent on Dec. 7 to 9.4 percent as of the 21st.
Unvaccinated individuals still make up most of those who contract the virus and who are hospitalized because of it. During a four-week period that ended Dec. 20, unvaccinated people made up 70.6 percent of new cases recorded statewide and 82 percent of those hospitalized, according to DOH data.
Also, of the deaths attributed to COVID during that time, 194 were unvaccinated and 28 were fully vaccinated.
Of the total 9,621 reported “breakthrough” COVID cases in fully vaccinated individuals during that period, about 3.2 percent were hospitalized, according to DOH data.

Pit mandates vaccination or negative test
The next time you go to University Arena, aka The Pit, you’ll need to show you’ve been vaccinated — or at least provide proof you’ve tested negative for COVID-19 — to get in the door.
Citing “increased health risks posed by surging COVID-19 numbers and the emerging threat of the Omicron variant,” UNM last week announced a vaccine requirement for fans entering The Pit for games.
The plan is to have the policy in place through the end of January, when it will be re-evaluated.
On-site, free testing will be available before each game.

Biden has new plan
The state’s announcement about at-home test kits’ availability came one day after President Joe Biden announced the government will provide 500 million free rapid home-testing kits, as well as increasing support for hospitals under strain and extend vaccination and boosting efforts.
Omicron is now in all 50 states. Scientists know vaccination should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.
Biden said the winter holidays could be close to normal for the vaccinated while potentially dangerous for the unvaccinated.