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Eight New Mexico counties part of national COVID hot spot in new CDC data

Northwest New Mexico is a national hot spot of COVID according to the latest CDC data. (Image #1, above). Eight counties, including Bernalillo and Santa Fe, have high community levels of COVID-19, which factors in hospitalization rates (Image # 2, above), while 23 additional counties show the highest levels of transmission (Image # 3, above). Flu cases are also rising rapidly.

At a World Health Organization briefing on November 9th, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said while 10,000 weekly COVID deaths globally right now is better than almost 75,000 last February, it is not good.

The US added the most–over 2300 deaths the first week of November.

WHO’s COVID-19 technical response lead, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, added that new variants are challenging inadequate vaccination rates.

“COVID-19 is still a pandemic and it’s still circulating quite rampantly around the world,” Van Kerkhove said.

She stated COVID case numbers are severely underestimated. New Mexico Acting Health Secretary David Scrase often says the real number is eight times higher than the number of positive tests.

Wastewater surveillance nationally shows 50% of sites report a COVID increase over the last two weeks. New Mexico DOH wastewater surveillance information has not been updated since September. A note on the website indicates “The wastewater monitoring report will be updated once current data becomes available.”

New Mexico’s COVID mortality rate ranks sixth among states, with 414 people lost to COVID for every 100,000 people, compared to the national mortality rate of 322, per 100,000. McKinley County’s COVID mortality rate continues to rank 2nd highest among all counties nationally with 893 per 100,000 people. New Mexico leads the nation in increasing cases per capita in the last seven days, a 62% increase in cases over the last 14 days before November 10.

Meanwhile, as flu cases skyrocketed months earlier than expected, the CDC added a new dark purple “very high” color to its flu map. The map shows clinic visits for respiratory illness with a fever and a cough or sore throat, also referred to as influenza-like Illness, not lab tests. The map may count patients with similar symptoms caused by other pathogens.

As of November 5, eight southeastern states, including Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, and DC, rank at the new purple level, while New Mexico is at the dark red, very high level. (Image #4, above).

As of November 10, the combination of COVID, flu and RSV is straining hospitals, with UNM Hospital at 100% over the licensed capacity for adult and pediatric beds, meaning children are waiting in the ER overnight for beds. Presbyterian Hospital is over its pediatric capacity and Lovelace is at high capacity as well.

At 5% of visits for healthcare facilities, the state is higher than the national flu rate of 4.3%. In Lincoln County 13.7% of emergency visits were from influenza-like illnesses.

A review of the last decade of New Mexico flu reports for early November shows that the current spike in cases is happening about six weeks earlier than before.

Less than 20% of all New Mexican have had the latest Omicron booster. A CDC tool shows our rate lags (Image #5, above) behind normal trends in New Mexico for flu vaccinations. In past years, between October and November, the state flu vaccination rates were between 24 to 38%.

It was not until the 2019-2020 flu season that New Mexico crossed the 50% mark for flu vaccinations (Image #6, above). From 2012-2019, the state never crossed 50% and it has yet to achieve its 70% goal. In the three years of the pandemic, over 50% of New Mexicans have received their flu shot.

The White House also announced Friday that the COVID Public Health Emergency will stay in place after January. In August, they had signaled that it would end in January, 2023. Previously, the extension adds 90 days to the order.

Officials recommend getting a flu shot now and masking indoors when COVID levels are high. The next NMDOH briefing is on November 17th. Find more resources on COVID-19 here.

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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