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Measuring COVID trends rather than individual cases, NM sees uptick

Fernando Zhiminaicela

The U.S. saw an uptick in COVID cases in July after several months of steady declines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deputy Health Secretary and Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Laura Parajón spoke with KUNM about the status of the virus in New Mexico, how it's measured and whether it’s time to get another booster shot.

LAURA PARAJÓN: Similar to the rest of the country, we're seeing a small uptick — but nothing like we've seen before in previous years. So, while we're not seeing a significant increase in hospitalizations here compared to before, we are monitoring it very carefully.

KUNM: What about New Mexico compared to elsewhere in the country at the moment?

PARAJÓN: We're not seeing as much of an uptick as others. But, you know, sometimes New Mexico lags. We are monitoring hospitalizations, because we're having fewer people do PCR tests. So, that's how we make sure if we're seeing an increase in COVID, that we see it in hospitalizations.

KUNM: Are you monitoring positive cases in and of themselves? And if so, how?

PARAJÓN: We still have a lot of— not as much as we had before with the PCR testing, but it's still more than people test for flu. And overall, as epidemiologist, we're looking at trends going up. So, when we start seeing a little uptick in cases, we still have enough testing to let us know there is more COVID in the community or not.

KUNM: And so, it sounds to me like the uptick that you're able to measure is more of a general pattern, right? "There is a small uptick," but not necessarily like granular numbers of cases.

PARAJÓN: Yes. Three years ago, we had to get cases and see how much was in the community. We didn't have vaccines, we didn't have helpful treatments. You know, we didn't know how it was prevented or spread. So, now that we have that, we don't have to monitor as closely. Because it's really a thing that we're like, "Hey, we're seeing trends. Everybody makes sure you got your booster, make sure you're doing precautions to prevent the spread."

KUNM: Is the current monitoring that's more around trends able to suss out variants driving this uptick right now?

PARAJÓN: Absolutely. So, right now it's not just one Omicron variant, it's a whole bunch of Omicron variants. It's like a soup of variants. And so, at different times there's more of one number than the other, right? They're like XBB.1.5, or HBB.1.16 — all these different numbers. But of all the Omicron variants soup that we're in right now, there's none that are more transmissible, more contagious, or can escape the vaccine.

KUNM: That's great news. Pfizer had submitted in June for authorization through the the Food and Drug Administration for an updated booster. They announced recently they could get authorization as soon as the end of this month, August. A few questions here: If people got the bivalent booster — they've had the Omicron booster — should they be getting another one? And should they hold off for the most updated booster?

PARAJÓN: I would definitely get the new booster. And the reason why is yes, I want to boost up my immunity. You could still get COVID, but it's not going to be as severe. And the point of the vaccine is so that you don't get hospitalized or get very sick and die — it's really to prevent that. For those who are 65 and over, if they got their booster in September, they can actually get another one six months after because they're so at risk. And so, I would recommend all 65-and-overs, if you haven't gotten your second booster dose, to get it. Like I said, there's a little uptick going on. And then, for everyone else who's younger and wants to be protected for the winter, it's like winterizing — get your flu shot, get your booster. Definitely do that.

KUNM: So, everyone, regardless of age, get a new booster in the fall. Seniors can get it every six months. So —depending on when they got the bivalent booster —they could get another one now. Should they wait for the updated one? Or should they just go ahead and get it?

PARAJÓN: That's a good question. That's kind of those questions you have to ask your doctor and say, "Hey, you know, let me weigh all my risk factors," right? I am a person with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, I'm immune compromised — you definitely want to talk to your doctor and just make sure you get the number of vaccines you need to protect yourself.

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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