CDC maps show high COVID transmission, but low hospitalizations, as officials provide update on four viruses

On the CDC’s latest COVID maps, all 33 counties in New Mexico show low COVID community levels, indicating a further decline in hospitalizations statewide. Yet COVID is still prevalent with 23 counties showing high transmission. The state reported 12 deaths Thursday as health officials provided an update on the state’s response to four viruses: COVID-19, monkeypox, West Nile and polio.

Since July 4, 500 people have died of COVID in New Mexico, which has the 5th highest death rate in the country. McKinley County became the 3rd highest among counties this week. Acting Health Secretary Dr David Scrase has verified that the spread is higher than reported.

“I’m looking at this little mound. I’m making it four times higher than it is,” Scrase said, describing the case count curve.

Scrase said 11 communities are now working with the state and the CDC to conduct sewage monitoring for COVID19. The secretary expressed hope that the systems would provide advance warning for diseases other than COVID, including polio. He showed a slide from Rio Rancho’s sewage monitoring contrasting state tallies that showed generally higher amounts of COVID in sewage over the summer than the state’s reported cases.

As COVID hospitalizations fell to 81 on Thursday, hospital leaders told health and social services committee at Gallup Wednesday that frontline healthcare workers weren’t given a break. Presbyterian Health Service chief operating officer Tim Johnsen said it was disheartening for those working in hospitals.

“Many consider the pandemic to be over. Hospitals are definitely still feeling the effects of the pandemic,” he said.

The hearing and committee update come on the same days as a Lancet report from the 28-member Lancet COVID-19 Commission (established in July 2020) condemned the international response to the pandemic in recent years. They assessed the efforts along four main themes: “developing recommendations on how best to suppress the epidemic; dealing with the humanitarian crises resulting from the pandemic; dealing with the financial and economic crises resulting from the pandemic; and rebuilding a world inclusive, fair and sustainable.”

The report highlights 10 specific issues related to the response of high-income countries to the pandemic:

  1. The lack of timely notification of the initial outbreak of COVID-19
  2. Costly delays in recognizing the crucial airborne exposure route of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and in implementing appropriate national and global measures to slow the spread of the virus ;
  3. Lack of coordination between countries regarding suppression strategies;
  4. The failure of governments to review the evidence and adopt best practices to control the pandemic and manage the economic and social fallout from other countries;
  5. The global financing gap for low-income and middle-income countries, according to the World Bank classification;
  6. Failure to ensure adequate global supply and equitable distribution of key commodities, including protective equipment, diagnostics, medicines, medical devices and vaccines, particularly for LMICs;
  7. Lack of timely, accurate and systematic data on infections, deaths, viral variants, health system responses and indirect health consequences;
  8. The poor application of appropriate levels of biosafety regulations in the run-up to the pandemic, raising the possibility of a laboratory-related outbreak;
  9. Failure to address systematic misinformation;
  10. Lack of global and national safety nets to protect vulnerable populations.

The report goes on to make recommendations emphasizing that these errors must be corrected before another outbreak occurs, even if COVID transmission continues.
There are now 33 cases of monkeypox in the state as well, mostly in Bernalillo County, up from 10 at the end of August. And noting the three cases of West Nile virus in the state, Deputy Health Secretary Laura Parajon detailed the symptoms to look out for.

“You have been bitten by a mosquito, you have a fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue or rash,” she said, listing similar symptoms to COVID. While she emphasized prevention by removing standing water and using insect repellent, officials did not suggest any specific treatment or prognosis during the briefing.

Responding to polio concerns since the case of an unvaccinated man in New York, she said the state was well protected due to a high vaccination rate (#7 in the nation). In contrast, Scrase warned that despite the availability of a new Omicron-specific booster, there has not been a large increase in vaccinations. “We’re going to have to play by ear, we’ve seen a decline in interest in the vaccine,” he said. The DOH Vaccine Dashboard shows that 38% of adults over the age of 18 are not up to date with their COVID vaccinations.

The DOH suggests people get the Omicron-specific boosters with their annual flu shot. The new booster is not available for children under 12. New vaccines are free until the federal government stop paying them. Register on cv.nmhealth.org. Proper use of N95 masks indoors reduces the spread of the virus. Find an update list of COVID-19 resources on KUNM.org. NMDOH updates are archived on their Facebook page. The next update will be on October 6