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

091622 Bernalillo county CDC covid maps.jpg
Jered Ebenreck/CDC
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CDC COVID data tracker
This is not that: CDC Community Transmission Map, used by Health Care Workers, like Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase at NMDOH, to advise at-risk patients, LEFT, (the CDC metric of risk, determined by transmission and test positivity rates, used by NMDOH and CDC to advise localities before February 25, 2022) vs. COVID Community Levels Map, RIGHT, (the current metric that triangulates transmission with hospitalization data like COVID19 admissions and ICU use). Current CDC/NMDOH guidance to the general public is determined by the metric on the right. Both metrics are still available via the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker--these are for Bernalillo County from September 15, 2022, reflecting reported data from 9/6-9/13/22. These maps are reflective of the previous week, not projections

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

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

"I look at this little mound.  I make it four times higher than it is," Scrase said in describing the curve of case counts.

Scrase indicated that 11 communities are now working with the state and CDC to perform wastewater surveillance for COVID19. The Secretary expressed hope that the systems would provide advance warning for diseases beyond COVID, including polio. He showed a slide of Rio Rancho's waste water surveillance contrasted to state counts which showed generally higher amounts of COVID in the wastewater over the summer than reported cases from the state.

While COVID hospitalizations were down to 81 on Thursday, hospital leaders told the Health and Human Services committee in Gallup Wednesday that frontline health care workers have not had a break. Chief Operating Officer of Presbyterian Healthcare Service Tim Johnsen, said it’s discouraging for those working in hospitals.

"Many consider the pandemic over. The hospitals are still definitely feeling the effect of the pandemic," he said.

The committee hearing and update come in the same few days that a Lancet report by the 28 members of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission (established in July, 2020) condemned the international pandemic response for the last few years. They assessed efforts along four main themes: "developing recommendations on how to best suppress the epidemic; addressing the humanitarian crises arising from the pandemic; addressing the financial and economic crises resulting from the pandemic; and rebuilding an inclusive, fair, and sustainable world."

The report highlights 10 specific problems with the response of high-income nations to the pandemic:

  1. The lack of timely notification of the initial outbreak of COVID-19
  2. Costly delays in acknowledging the crucial airborne exposure pathway of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and in implementing appropriate measures at national and global levels to slow the spread of the virus; 
  3. The lack of coordination among countries regarding suppression strategies; 
  4. The failure of governments to examine evidence and adopt best practices for controlling the pandemic and managing economic and social spillovers from other countries;
  5. The shortfall of global funding for low-income and middle-income countries, as classified by the World Bank;  
  6. The failure to ensure adequate global supplies and equitable distribution of key commodities—including protective gear, diagnostics, medicines, medical devices, and vaccines—especially for LMICs; 
  7. The lack of timely, accurate, and systematic data on infections, deaths, viral variants, health system responses, and indirect health consequences; 
  8. The poor enforcement of appropriate levels of biosafety regulations in the lead-up to the pandemic, raising the possibility of a laboratory-related outbreak; 
  9. The failure to combat systematic disinformation; 
  10. The lack of global and national safety nets to protect populations experiencing vulnerability.

The report goes on to make recommendations pointing out that these mistakes should be corrected before another outbreak occurs even as 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 West Nile Virus cases in the state, Deputy Health Secretary Laura Parajon detailed the symptoms to watch out for.

"You've been bitten by a mosquito, you get fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, or skin rash," she said, listing symptoms that are similar to COVID. While she emphasized prevention by removing standing water and using mosquito repellant, officials suggested no specific treatment or prognosis at the briefing.

Addressing concerns about polio since the case of an unvaccinated man in New York, she said the state is well-protected due to a high vaccination rate (#7 in the nation). By contrast, Scrase warned that despite the availability of new Omicron-specific booster, there hasn’t been a big uptick in vaccinations. "We're gonna have to play it by ear, we have seen a declining interest in the vaccine," he said. The DOH vaccine dashboard shows 38% of adults over 18 are not up to date on their COVID vaccinations.

DOH suggests people get the Omicron-specific boosters with their annual flu vaccine. The new booster is unavailable for those under 12. The new shots are free until the federal government stops paying for them. Register at cv.nmhealth.org. Proper use of N95 masks indoors reduces the spread of the virus. Find an updated list of COVID-19 resources on KUNM.org. NMDOH updates are archived on their Facebook page. The next update will be on October 6th

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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