New Mexico health officials on Wednesday held their first press conference addressing COVID-19 since March, after a large jump in reported infections in its latest weekly report.
The health department reported 1,100 new cases just Wednesday, and 13 additional deaths. That brought the count of fatal cases to 7,862 out of 542,746 documented cases.
The reported number of cases statewide from May 30 to June 6 was 6,104 — an undercount that does not account for at-home tests. That was an increase from 3,939 over the previous week, or a 55 percent increase.
While cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been trending upward since April, acting state Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase and state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross were at pains to emphasize the current wave, while being closely watched, was not cause for alarm similar to catastrophic waves of the disease in 2020 and 2021.
"I think it is a clearly different pandemic that we're in right now," Ross said, because of widespread vaccination as well as treatment options available now.
"The absolute number (of cases) is often not as important as following a trend," Ross continued, emphasizing that the rate of COVID-19 patients requiring ventilators and ICU care was far lower than during previous deadly waves that overwhelmed hospitals.
While waning immunity from older vaccinations were believed to be making some more vulnerable to infection, Ross said the data continued to show that vaccinations, particularly with boosters, were providing reliable protection against severe illness and death.
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Even so, Scrase acknowledged that little is yet known about the proportion of COVID-19 patients who sustain long-term effects of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, or even a rigorous clinical definition of what has come to be known as "long COVID."
There were 140 COVID-19 patients hospitalized Wednesday, with nine on ventilators. Scrase said hospitals continued to contend with high volumes of non-COVID patients, attributed to deferred care and diagnoses during the pandemic, with the pressure slowly receding in southern New Mexico hospitals while still bearing hardest on facilities in the Albuquerque area.
Although mask mandates have long been eliminated from most public settings, Ross and Scrase encouraged residents to continue mask use — with well-fitting N95 or KN95 masks in crowded settings — as a way of reducing spread of highly contagious subvariants of the coronavirus' omicron strain.
In the case of infection, Scrase encouraged people who test positive to consult their provider or visit the website http://FindATreatmentNM.com for options. In particular, he described the oral COVID-19 therapy Paxlovid as a "game-changer" when initiated five days from the onset of symptoms. IV treatments and another oral treatment, molnupiravir, were also available.
Thanks to improvements in treatment, Scrase said, "we're in a much better situation than we've ever been before."
He also promoted the "NM Notify" smartphone app, which uses metadata to advise residents if they have been in close contact with someone who has reported a positive COVID-19 test. The free app is available via http://NMNotify.com.
Scrase said no new mask mandates or restrictions on public activities were under discussion. As far as proactive steps, he recommended those eligible for boosters get them, and he said the state would be ready when and if vaccines for children younger than five are authorized by federal authorities later this month.
As for what the future might look like, he said he hoped that by fall 2023 COVID-19 risk levels might be similar to influenza (a different virus with a much smaller case fatality rate), with annual vaccines available to keep up with new variants.
Watch the video news conference here:
David R. Scrase, M.D., Acting Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, and Christine Ross, M.D., MPH NMDOH State Epidemiologist, will host a remote news conference tomorrow, June 8, to provide an update on COVID-19.
Posted by New Mexico Department of Health on Wednesday, June 8, 2022
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This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: New Mexico health officials emphasize boosters and COVID-19 treatments