New Mexico health officials aren’t considering imposing a mask mandate or other restrictions amid the emergence of a new highly contagious omicron subvariant of the coronavirus.
Instead, Dr. David Scrase, the acting health secretary, is encouraging New Mexico to get vaccinated and booster shots, consider wearing masks at times, stock up on COVID-19 tests and seek treatments once infected with the virus. He also suggested people monitor public health data so they know when the virus becomes more prevalent in their community.
“This is a completely and totally different pandemic than we were in two years ago,” Scrase said during a COVID update on Thursday. “And while the case counts might be just as high as they were at some of our peak periods, our hospitalization rates are incredibly low.”
New Mexico on Thursday reported 593 new cases and 29 COVID-related deaths, pushing the toll to 8,035 since the start of the pandemic. There were 173 people with COVID hospitalized throughout the state on Thursday, according to the Department of Health’s website.
Scrase that the BA.5 subvariant of the omicron strain of the coronavirus is estimated to account for about a third of all cases in the state. He said the highly contagious version of the virus will likely dominate the state by early August.
Though the confirmed case counts remain relatively low compared to prior stages in the pandemic, it’s likely the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Many people who contract the disease can test and isolate at home and aren’t included in official data. Scrase said that cases could be three to eight times higher than the official data that is reported.
“The virus actually wants to live with us. So it evolves over time to more easily infect people but it reduces the number of people who are killed,” Scrase said. “And that’s what we normally see in any kind of viral spread or pandemic is a slight decrease in severity of illness but an increase in infectiousness.”