Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
A resurgence of the coronavirus, in its latest, more contagious form, could hit New Mexico within the month, but its impact is likely to be blunted by the availability of oral antiviral pills that can keep higher risk people out of the hospital, a top state health official said Tuesday.
While the COVID-19 BA.2 subvariant has led to a rise in cases in some eastern U.S. cities and a return to indoor mask requirements in Philadelphia, state acting Department of Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase predicted relatively low case counts in New Mexico will start to climb in several weeks.
“BA.2 is trending higher on the East Coast, and also on the West Coast,” Scrase told the Journal. “We’re kind of thinking we’ll have our run of it in late April, early May, not long from now.”
The DOH’s latest report states that COVID-19 cases have dropped since March, with 120 new cases reported Tuesday. Hospitalizations continue to be low, with 55 people hospitalized and 11 new deaths reported by the DOH on Tuesday. Roughly one-fourth of New Mexico’s population has tested positive for the coronavirus.
According to the New York Times, the BA.2 subvariant of omicron is from 30% to 80% more transmissible than the original version of omicron. Early evidence suggests the subvariant doesn’t make people more sick, and may be less severe than the delta variant.
As the virus evolves, it appears to be more resistant to monoclonal antibody treatments, and more resistant to vaccines, said Scrase, a physician who also serves as secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department.
But the emergency authorization late last year of two COVID-19 oral antiviral pills for those considered at-risk of developing serious symptoms is a “very important change,” Scrase said.
When taken within five days of symptom onset for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults, Paxlovid and Lagevrio “seem to be pretty effective,” Scrase said.
Scrase said the state has enough of the more effective of the two medications, Paxlovid, to last 15 weeks under current case counts. The Lagevrio supply is estimated at about 40 weeks, but Scrase said the “supplies are coming up pretty quickly.”
Those deemed eligible, who include those 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions who aren’t hospitalized, must first obtain a prescription from a health provider.
“That’s going to reduce your risk of hospitalization and death,” Scrase said.
A new initiative of the Biden administration aims to speed up the process of getting COVID drugs for high-risk patients who need to start the treatment quickly for it to work.
As of Tuesday, at least six sites in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area were offering online appointments for “Test to Treat” COVID-19 care, according to a U.S. Health and Human Services website. The locations reporting inventories of the medications in the past two weeks can be found at: covid-19-test-to-treat-locator-dhhs.hub.arcgis.com.
The new program allows eligible people to get tested for the coronavirus, obtain an antiviral prescription if they are positive and have their prescription filled at one location.
In Albuquerque and Santa Fe, high-risk patients with COVID-19 symptoms can sign up online for appointments at six CVS Minute Clinics, the HHS website shows. Other Test to Treat locations listed on the website are the Gallup Indian Medical Center, the Northern New Mexico Medical Center, and Plains Regional Medical Center Pharmacy in Clovis, but there was no online appointment access for those three locations on the HHS site.
People whose at-home tests show they have COVID also can use a Test to Treat location to receive a prescription from a qualified health provider and treatment on the spot if eligible. The Test to Treat website shows listings for locations where such prescriptions can be filled.
Under the program, COVID-19 tests are free, as is the medication, the HHS website states.
Millions of chronically ill, disabled, and older Americans are eligible for the treatments, federal officials say.
Scrase said he isn’t expecting any public health restrictions will be enacted as a result of the anticipated rise in cases.
“Our sense is kind of in general, the public likes being in the individual responsibility mode for pandemic decision-making now rather than the government responsibility (mode),” he said. “I think the intent of the state is to try to be more advisory moving forward, giving good advice but not necessarily mandating things.”