COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase in New Mexico during May

As schools break and Memorial Day weekend approaches, COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise around the country and in New Mexico and so have hospitalizations.

The increase in hospitalizations over the most recent 7-day data reporting period is concentrated mostly in Bernalillo and adjacent counties in the northern half of the state, while reported COVID hospitalizations in the same period were far lower in the southern half.

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Department of Health did not answer queries about non-COVID hospital admissions after reporting early in April that hospitalizations related to other diseases or chronic conditions remained high after the back-to-back delta and omicron waves of disease subsided.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services chief medical officer Dr. Jason Mitchell wrote that across the Presbyterian system, “the number of patients who do not have COVID-19 dropped considerably from April to May while COVID admissions are now climbing.”

Reported daily cases have been ramping up since April, with 3,549 reported between May 16 and 23. These figures are presumed to be undercounts based on increased reliance on home-based tests rather than lab-confirmed PCR tests. The cumulative total, also presumed to be an undercount, was 531,309 as of Tuesday.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that community transmission has increased across the state, with 28 out of 33 counties at substantial or high rates of infection.

New Mexico counties are pictured in a heat map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing 28 out of 33 cases at substantial (orange) to high (red) rates of transmission of COVID-19 disease, as retrieved on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Of those cases, 7,700 had proven fatal, consistent with a case fatality rate far higher than influenza, which shares some symptoms of COVID-19 disease.

The highest concentration of new daily cases over the week, adjusted for population, was in Santa Fe County with 45.9 cases per 100,000 people, alongside adjacent Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties (with 39.4 and 39.9 cases per 100,000, respectively).

In the south, Grant County was among those with the highest concentration of daily cases at 36.4 per 100,000.

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While the trend does not represent a spike similar to the deadly waves that overwhelmed hospitals in 2020 and 2021, data nationwide and in the state show that subvariants of the highly contagious omicron variant continue to spread widely as mask use has waned, immunity from vaccines has weakened and people increasingly return to pre-pandemic customs.

Emergency visits and hospitalizations

Statewide emergency department visits for COVID-like symptoms, including COVID-19 diagnoses and excluding influenza, has doubled since April.

Data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows an increase (at right) since April in COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide as of reporting on Monday, May 23, 2022.

Some of the common flu-like symptoms associated with COVID-19 include fever, breathing difficulty and cough; however, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can also lead to long-term complications, severe illness and death. It can also be spread via aerosols that can remain in an enclosed space for hours.

In the May 16-23 data period, there were 71 reported COVID-19 hospital admissions, bringing the total to 27,479 as of May 23, of which 19 percent ended in death. The week's data showed upward trends among patients between the ages of 18 and 34.

Cumulatively, since the disease reached New Mexico in March 2020, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been concentrated the highest in McKinley County. From May 16-22, however, those admissions were concentrated the most in Taos County, with 9.5 hospitalizations per 100,000.

The Albuquerque metropolitan area also saw some of the highest concentrations of COVID-19 hospitalizations that week, in Bernalillo and contiguous counties of Valencia, Sandoval, Santa Fe and San Miguel.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, left, wears a mask while greeting Connie Guinn and her granddaughter, Bella Guerrero Muñoz, at an emergency evacuation center in Las Vegas, Monday April 25, 2022.  The two had been evacuated from the Calf Canyon Fire.

UNM Hospital declined to address changes in the volume of non-COVID hospitalizations, answering in a written statement that "we consistently operate at high volumes, even before the COVID pandemic."

"We continue to monitor COVID numbers and adjust our patient volumes accordingly," the hospital statement continued. "We encourage all New Mexicans to get their vaccine and booster shots and continue to seek care from their primary care provider or in the case of an emergency."

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Hospitals saw heavy loads of COVID and non-COVID patients in 2021 but regularly stressed that people should still seek care if they need it.

In the southern half of the state, health department data showed far fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations, with the high mark in Sierra County at 3.2 per 100,000 for the reporting week. Behind it was Grant County (2.1) and 1.9 apiece in Doña Ana and Lea counties.

By age, the highest share of hospitalized cases remained between the ages of 35 and 64, or 45.2 percent cumulatively.

Information on oral treatments

On Wednesday, the health department issued a news advisory reminding residents with medical conditions putting them at higher risk for severe disease that oral treatments have been effective when taken within five days of symptoms. The pills are available from health providers, pharmacies and public health offices for eligible patients.

Online resources with information on obtaining these medications or other treatments include:

Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase in New Mexico April-May