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Emergency management official warns of new variants as three New Mexico counties hit high COVID Levels.

Jered Ebenreck/CDC
CDC COVID Data Tracker
CDC Community Transmission Map, used by health care workers, like Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase at New Mexico Department of Health, to advise at-risk patients (Left), is the CDC metric of risk, determined by transmission and test positivity rates. It was used by NMDOH and CDC to advise localities before February 25, 2022. The COVID Community Levels Map (Right) is the current metric that combines 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 New Mexico from September 29, 2022, reflecting reported data from 9/21-9/28/22. These maps are reflective of the previous week, not projections

Three New Mexico counties - Catron, Grant and Hidalgo - have shifted into high community levels of COVID19 after two weeks when the entire state showed low COVID Community Levels. That’s according to the latest federal data. Two new COVID variants are also raising concerns just as the CDC repeals universal masking guidance for hospitals and health clinics.

Tonya Lattin, commander of the Corrales Fire Department and New Mexico’s “Emergency Manager of the Year” in 2021, is concerned about two new COVID Variants, BF.7 and BA.4.6 . Lattin is responsible for updating the Corrales Village Council on COVID risks. She said BF.7 (a shortened name for  BA. is gaining ground in Europe.

“What they are worried about, is that the changes in the spike protein from the BF.7 may affect Evusheld, which is used as a prep prophylactic for people with organ transplants, those kinds of things,” she said.

The two variants account for 14% of those circulating in the United States. The most recent report from the New Mexico Department of Health does not separate these two variants from the broader BA.4 and 5 lineages of Omicron, but those comprise 99% of reported cases.

Despite the new variants of concern, the CDC on Sept. 23 removed its universal masking recommendations in healthcare settings citing high levels of immunity and effective treatments and prevention tools, unless a county has high COVID transmission. Fourteen counties in NM have high transmission.

But the New Mexico Department of Health vaccine report from the end of August shows only 12% of those from 40 to 64 years of age are up to date on their COVID vaccinations. Lattin said that some in that age are also at increased risk for Long COVID if infected.

“Right now it looks like one in 13 adults that have had COVID have some sort of long COVID which is 7.5% of US citizens and the older adults are less likely to have long COVID,” she said “So, if you're between 50 and 59, you're three times more likely than an 80 year old to have long COVID.”

Lattin also noted rises of COVID in several state wastewater monitoring sites. Currently five of the 11 sites around the state show increases, including a sharp uptick in Rio Rancho, the only site in the greater Albuquerque metro area. Nationally, COVID levels are increasing in 46% of wastewater surveillance sites nationally. Four additional facilities are participating in a similar program with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Doña Ana County has three sites. The Department of Environment monitored 19 sites across the state, mostly detention facilities, until it stopped in August 2021.

Lattin understands the fatigue of dealing with the pandemic, but says we should put those most at-risk for complications from COVID at the center of policy decisions.

“Just because it may be over for you — because you feel like you're young and healthy, and vaccinated or not, [and] you feel like you would be pretty safe if you got COVID — you don't know who the person in the line next to or in the seat next to you is, what their medical conditions are, and what underlying conditions they may have, that put them at such high risk," she said. "But they still also have to continue to be able to get groceries or go to their medical appointments. So we need to be caring, and care about the least healthy, the person who has less money than we do, the person who has less availability of medical care. We've got to care about all of them.”

N95 Masks are effective at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. DOH recommends getting both flu and omicron booster vaccines together. Find more information on omicron-specific boosters on KUNM.org.

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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