New Mexico officials report few cases involving coronavirus variants

Rick Ruggles, The Santa Fe New Mexican
·3 min read

Apr. 8—The coronavirus variants that have caused cases to rise in some states have not yet become a big problem in New Mexico, state health officials said Wednesday.

State Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said three variants — one tied to the United Kingdom, one to Brazil and a third to South Africa — are prompting the most concern nationally. While New Mexico has documented 39 cases involving the variant from Britain, the two others have not been found in the state.

Some states are struggling with virus variants, in which the genetic makeup of the virus has changed.

Some of New Mexico's neighbors, such as Colorado (894 cases of the U.K. variant) and Texas (414) have disconcertingly high numbers. Further, Texas has a small number of cases involving the two other variants (three each). Colorado has 23 cases of the South African variant.

"So, this is an important phenomenon," Scrase said at a news briefing Wednesday. "There's a lot of concern about variants."

All three variants show the ability to spread more rapidly than the original virus, and the British variant causes a higher death rate.

The three variants haven't been proven to resist the three vaccines being used here, Scrase said, but the Brazilian and South African variants have shown resistance to the popular monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 patients.

New Mexico's color-coded system for measuring county-by-county performance in the fight against the coronavirus showed generally positive results Wednesday. Santa Fe County remains in the low-risk turquoise tier, meaning it has shown an average of eight or fewer new cases per 100,000 people and an average of 5 percent or fewer positive tests over two straight reporting periods.

A total of 20 counties are now in the turquoise zone, up from 13 two weeks ago and seven about a month ago.

Only three counties — San Juan, Hidalgo and Guadalupe — dropped one or more notches. No county was in red, the very high-risk tier.

Scrase said reckless disregard for safety measures can have bad results. For instance, he said, a bar in a rural Illinois county had 100 guests for an indoor party in February. Forty-six cases of the virus resulted and one school had to close.

"Our actions do have consequences," he said.

Asked about air travel, state Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said she would use an airplane only if it's an urgent situation.

"I know people want to travel," Collins said, though she generally discouraged flying.

Collins said the vaccinations appear to be working. When the vaccinations started, she said, New Mexico long-term care centers registered close to 10 deaths per day, and now that number is down to less than one, she said.

Nevertheless, Scrase said, New Mexico still has about 178 cases per day over a seven-day stretch, which is 10 higher than he would hope to see at this point. He said there was a slight increase over the past day or two, but it's too early to say whether that's a trend.

Scrase said people should be aware of the coronavirus situation in neighboring states when it comes to car travel.

He said it's too early to loosen restrictions, adding the state should retain its color-coded system for now. The state is working on a "bridge" toward the end of the pandemic, he said, but it will probably be late May or early June before the state no longer monitors the counties with the color-coded system.

Scrase encouraged people to avoid taking risks with the disease. He said he still is unsure where the finish line will be.

"Hang in there with us," he said.