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Health officials urge caution ahead of the holidays, citing RSV, flu, and COVID surges

According to the latest CDC data accounting for hospitalization and case rates, four New Mexico counties, including Bernalillo and Sandoval, have high community levels of COVID-19. But in terms of just the spread of the virus, 21 counties show the highest levels of transmission. As hospitals fill with sick children and adults from various respiratory viruses, state health officials cautioned people to use masks and get the latest Omicron booster.

Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase, said the surge in COVID cases in New Mexico is driven by new Omicron variants BQ.1 and BF.7.

The new variants are dangerous because they evade treatments like Evusheld, used for the immunocompromised

“While it was effective against BA.5, it is not effective against BQ.1 and BF.7, the new variants. And unfortunately, neither is Bebtelovimab," Scrase said.

Scrase also said Paxlovid and Remdesivir are still effective at reducing severe illness or hospitalization for the new variants.

Deputy Secretary Laura Parajón told a story of her own recent COVID infection. She has asthma, was fully up to date on her vaccinations, and wears her mask everywhere, but thinks she still got COVID from her child.

“People think …, 'Oh, well, if I get the booster, I'm not going to get COVID.' Unfortunately, Omicron is really, really infectious. It's super contagious,” Parajón said.

She did not test positive until the third day of her symptoms. She credits vaccination and Paxlovid with keeping her out of the hospital.

When asked what people should do approaching the holidays, Scrase recommended wearing N95 masks on airplanes and to pay attention to symptoms. “Don't go to Thanksgiving dinner if you're sick. Don't mingle with the rest of your family over the holidays if you're sick.”

Scrase reminded people that N95 masks should be worn indoors if you live in a county with high COVID levels. Officials appealed for New Mexicans to get the new bivalent booster to protect against serious illness. Only 17.5% of those over 18 are up to date with their COVID vaccinations in New Mexico.

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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