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Department of Health says COVID cases remain high and monkeypox is a public health emergency

Dr. Laura Parajón, NMDOH Deputy Secretary of Health, Acting State Epidemiologist during the 8/4/22 NMDOH Briefing on COVID-19 and Monkeypox
Jered Ebenreck
Dr. Laura Parajón, NMDOH Deputy Secretary of Health, Acting State Epidemiologist during the 8/4/22 NMDOH Briefing on COVID-19 and Monkeypox

State health officials today/yesterday said Monkeypox is a new public health emergency and that COVID cases remain high in a third of New Mexico counties thanks to the highly transmissible BA.5 variant. However, the growth in case numbers has plateaued. Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase and Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Laura Parajon both spoke about the diseases. KUNM’s Jered Ebenreck attended the online briefing and talked to All Things Considered Host, Nash Jones, about how the health officials described the state of the pandemic in New Mexico.

JERED EBENRECK: Both secretaries use the word plateaued to describe current trends and case counts and hospitalizations. Although we may be in one of the biggest waves of cases since the start of the pandemic, once you factor in unreported home tests and hospitalizations, which are also stable, but still twice as high as last summer. But Scrase did point out how disturbing the body count continues to be.

DR. DAVID SCRASE:  In New Mexico, we're still not out of the woods.  Anytime you're having 10 deaths a day for a really long time. That means a significant impact on individuals and families and communities that we can't forget. 

EBENRECK: I pointed out that in terms of all time, COVID mortality rate, New Mexico is now the fifth highest, 394 deaths per 100,000 people, both secretaries argued that such numbers need to be parsed, when it comes to the unique characteristics of New Mexico's population,

SCRASE:  We have the highest social vulnerability index in America, the highest state vulnerability index, so that I don't really pay a lot of attention to where do we rank compared to other states, because it's not corrected for all the individual population characteristics

KUNM: So it sounds like he's saying it may not be fair to compare New Mexico's high death rate because of factors like age and race and poverty in the state's population. Is that right?

EBENRECK:  Correct. They're saying that the state has a pre-existing condition that makes it a little bit more vulnerable than other states.

KUNM: CNN reported Wednesday that the CDC is intending to amend the guidance it gives based on COVID community levels, which is the measure recommended to determine risk that combines transmission with hospital ICU space and the number of hospitalizations in a community. The changes include things like de-emphasizing social distancing, adjusting quarantine timelines, and upping the emphasis on things like ventilation. It may also impact the test-to-stay program at Albuquerque Public Schools though the district so far has said that they will maintain that policy. So how does this potential CDC update impact New Mexico's guidance?

EBENRECK: Well, Dr. Scrase indicated that they normally default to CDC guidance, pending review and an effort to cater the guidance to the state.

SCRASE:    If there's something in there that wouldn't work well for our unique and diverse and high social socially vulnerable New Mexico population, we do tweak it. 

EBENRECK: He didn't comment on the specifics of any of the projected updates. Both secretaries continue to point to the CDC Quarantine and Isolation Calculator, a web based tool people can use to determine what to do after being exposed and commended paying attention to the green, yellow. and orange guidance from the CDC Community Levels metric–about a third of New Mexicans by DHS estimates are at risk for serious illness from COVID-19. Neither Secretary addressed any of the specific recommendations CNN reported.

KUNM: And so switching gears just a little bit, as of this week, New Mexico has 10 cases of Monkeypox, according to the CDC. What did Dr. Parajón say about how the state's responding to this close contact virus?

EBENRECK: Well, Dr. Parajon ran through the pathology of Monkeypox, pointing out how it's transmitted–close contact with persons including sex or personal items of an infected person. She went through symptoms, which are very much like early flu like symptoms followed potentially by painful lesions; incubation period–that it takes about one to two weeks for the disease to appear with symptoms and then it may last up to two to four weeks. She emphasized the importance of avoiding stigma around the disease by highlighting how the disease is spread, not who is spreading it

DR. LAURA PARAJÓN: Anybody can get monkeypox regardless of sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.

EBENRECK: She also pointed out that screening and appointments for the Monkeypox vaccine are essential because there are limited doses available at the moment in the state, so not all New Mexicans should pursue vaccination at this time, only those at higher risk of exposure are eligible. If you wonder whether you may be at risk DOH encourages you to call to be screened for vaccination, which is most effective within the first 4 days of exposure.

PARAJÓN:  If you are at risk for monkey pox, and you're interested in a vaccine, you can call our call center at 1-855-600-3453. 

People can listen to the update via the NMDOH Facebook page. The next one is on September 15th. Here is an updated list of resources for those impacted by COVID-19

Jered Ebenreck has volunteered in community radio for 30 years--from college radio in Maryland to KGNU, Boulder to WOMR, Provincetown to KUNM in 2004. Jered did Public Health reporting and analysis for KUNM from 2021-2022, 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 with Alzheimer's.
Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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