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Eleven New Mexico counties have high COVID-19 community levels

072822BernCovidCDC.jpg
CDC/Jered Ebenreck
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CDC COVID Data Tracker
On the left, 11 counties have high community levels as of July 28 which is six less than the preceding week, shown on the right.

New Mexico now has 11 counties with high COVID-19 community levels, including Bernalillo and Sandoval. That’s six fewer counties than last week, but large swaths of red on the state map show the continuing surge driven by the highly transmissible BA.5 variant.

Roosevelt County now leads counties in the nation in deaths per 100,000 people in the last 2 weeks (July 14-28). The CDC recommends anyone in such areas wear N95 masks indoors in public settings, but no mandates are in place and the next COVID update from state health officials is not for another week on August 4 at 1 pm.

New Mexico has now lost 8,233 people to COVID-19 and has the 5th highest mortality rate in the country. Deputy Secretary of Health, Dr. Laura Parajón, said New Mexico had a pre-existing condition: the highest social vulnerability index in the nation. The CDC says  social vulnerability, “refers to the potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health. Such stresses include natural or human-caused disasters, or disease outbreaks. Reducing social vulnerability can decrease both human suffering and economic loss.”

According to DOH, one out of three New Mexicans are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19. "I think COVID was like an X-ray that exposed what already existed in New Mexico, what already existed in the poorest states," Parajón said.

New Mexico faces a summer surge in COVID-19 cases amid sparse Department of Health messaging before and after the last briefing on July 14th. Before that update, the last COVID related public message was a June 21st announcement that vaccines are available for those 6 months-4 years old. At that time Acting Secretary David Scrase warned the department’s estimate of actual case counts circulating was low because for every reported confirmed test there are up to eight additional people who also have COVID.

That measure would make this summer wave of cases as high as 7,200 to 8,000 daily. That's the largest number of daily cases of the pandemic in terms of shear case load. During the height of the previous Omicron variant surge, the state saw the daily average top out around 5,000.

Inadequate case surveillance compounds risks facing parents and teachers preparing for children to return to school. The DOH announced June 21st that all children from 6 mos and older qualify for COVID19 vaccines. Yet, by its own estimate, as of July 14th, school-age children are undervaccinated, with only 11.5% of those ages 5-11 and 28.5% of those 12-17 years old are up to date on vaccinations (only 2.3% of those under 4 had received a first dose).

If President Biden lived in New Mexico, he’d be among the minority of fully up-to-date citizens over 65. Only 32.7% are currently fully boosted. Only 37% of all eligible New Mexicans are fully boosted.

At the July 14th DOH briefing, and at past briefings since the CDC changed its COVID metric in February from Community Transmission (a metric combining case incidence and test positivity) to COVID-19 Community Levels (which triangulates transmission with hospital ICU space and the number of hospitalizations) , Dr. Scrase has advised New Mexicans to pay less attention to daily counts in favor of 7-day averages of cases.

The 7-day average of New Mexicans in the hospital, 235 on July 25, is twice as high as the same daily average a year ago (119 on July 26, 2021). This follows a familiar pandemic pattern of increases leading to the Fall. In the last two weeks alone, deaths increased 127% from July 13-July 27. While proportionally less patients are ventilated and dying, indicating treatments and vaccines are effective at reducing severe illness and death, the raw numbers of cases and hospitalizations kept 11 counties in high community Levels on July 28.

Jered Ebenreck has been involved in community radio for 30 years--from college radio in Maryland to KGNU, Boulder to WOMR, Provincetown to KUNM in 2004. Having served in a volunteer capacity for 17 years, Jered joined the KUNM Newsroom to offer Public Health reporting and analysis while pursuing a graduate program in Public Health at UNM, with an emphasis on Social Ecology. Jered, with the help of his partner, is a caregiver for his mother. Jered can be contacted via jeredebenreck@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeredEbenreck
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