Dr. David Gonzales felt inspired last week when he saw Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands national parks in Southern New Mexico, but one sight brought him down.

Gonzales said he saw fewer than 10 people wearing face masks in those places.

He and numerous others doctors in New Mexico this week warned the delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading fast here and elsewhere. A brief lull in coronavirus case counts is over.

“The numbers continue to increase,” Gonzales, chief medical officer at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, said this week.

Dr. David Scrase, acting Cabinet secretary of the state Department of Health, said at a news conference Wednesday cases at one point had declined to about 60 a day in New Mexico, but now they average 240 to 260 a day. The official daily count from his department Wednesday was 329 cases.

Although getting a precise percentage is difficult because scientific testing is laborious, Scrase estimated the delta variant makes up 75 percent of cases in New Mexico now. Nationwide, it’s higher.

Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman, the Albuquerque-based chief patient safety officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said this week the delta version of the virus is far more transmissible than other variants.

“I think we need to be concerned, particularly among the unvaccinated,” Salvon-Harman said.

The hope for victory over the disease in late spring and early summer has proven short-lived. La Familia Medical Center in Santa Fe canceled a health fair scheduled for Aug. 14 at its clinic on the city’s south side.

“We have been monitoring with concern the daily increase in numbers of individuals affected by the delta variant of COVID among the unvaccinated,” La Familia said in a written statement issued last week. “We have decided to cancel the event out of caution and to prevent community spread.”

Dr. Wendy Johnson, medical director at La Familia, said she will again make a plea for people to get vaccinated. “If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, you’re really at high risk right now,” Johnson said.

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, a public health professor at New Mexico State University, said he didn’t want to spread fear.

But fall “will be rough for many communities” because of high numbers of unvaccinated people, failure to wear masks, the likely appearance of new COVID-19 variants and the presence of seasonal flu, he said.

“Personally, I am not surprised with this variant and neither do I anticipate that this is the last variant of concern,” Khubchandani wrote in an email.

Scrase said New Mexico residents should follow federal guidelines that have been ratcheted up with the rise of the delta variant. Those include wearing masks in public indoor spots even if one is vaccinated, especially in areas struggling with high transmission. And universal indoor masking is recommended for teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools, regardless of vaccination status.

“I think we’ve gotten a little bit relaxed,” Scrase said. “We warned you not to throw away your masks.”

Dr. Dion Gallant, an Albuquerque family physician and president of the New Mexico Medical Society, said this week the course of the pandemic has been an emotional roller coaster. It’s “heartbreaking to see this happening again,” Gallant said of the recent surge. “This is getting to be scary.”

As long as the coronavirus lingers, Gallant said, the virus has the potential to morph into another variant. Each mutation, he said, is a “wild card.”

He said it’s unfortunate the decision on whether to get vaccinated is tied to politics in many cases.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracking project last month reported 23 percent of Republicans said they definitely wouldn’t get vaccinated, compared to 2 percent of Democrats.

“It’s become a political hot potato when, really, it should be a medical decision,” Gallant said.

Scrase said the delta variant spreads three to five times more effectively than other variants. The vaccines appear to work well against the mutation, he said, and even if a vaccinated person gets the disease, hospitalization is unlikely.

People with coronavirus symptoms, whether unvaccinated or vaccinated, are less inclined now to get tested, he said, another symptom people are letting their guard down against the disease. “This is a big mistake,” he said.

(9) comments

Marie Naphsid

more transmissable = less virulent.

fear is their weapon

Barry Rabkin

Recording a rising number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are their so-called weapons. Covid-19 and its variants are NOT the seasonal flu ... are not Fake News ... but are responsible for the worsening of the US mortality rate overall and for minorities.

Stupidity and bowing down to the piece of human orange cancer who was, unfortunately, our previous president is the ultimate 'weapon of mass ignorance.'

Barry Rabkin

Probably 'fake news.' Let's only worry about mortality rates. Better than paying attention to transmission rates of Covid-19 or its variants ... or paying attention to the number of people in the hospital because of the virus or its variants (even if they are not the primary factor but instead only a contributing factor) ... we'll push the 'really concerned button' when the number of deaths rise from the virus or its variants. Let's forget that the vaccine does work (i.e. significantly reduces hospitalizations and deaths) but is not magic because it doesn't prevent vaccinated people from 'transmitting' the virus or its variants to the unvaccinated. One piece of good news: the US Supreme Court ruled many decades ago in the situation of another pandemic that the State - and that means every State - can legally mandate that people get vaccinated. Thankfully, when the FDA 'formally' approves each vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, J&J), the State can mandate people get vaccinated.

mark Coble

Sheep are still in long term testing phase. Too many ill effects for FDA approval? How would mandate work? Will mandate be in place for each and every variant that appears? Shouldn't it all be based on risk? What is risk by age and condition? I know...questions are not welcomed in fascist state where big business is wedded to government. Who profits from covid? I know who has been snuffed out....small businesses which then increases power of big corporations.

Barry Rabkin

I’m truly sorry the unvaccinated aren’t being snuffed out faster.

LeRoy Sanchez

So true!

Barry Rabkin

Mandate would work like this: if you aren’t vaccinated, you can not go into a grocery store, retail stores, restaurant, or any place of business. If you aren’t vaccinated, you can’t go to work in your employers places of business. If you aren’t vaccinated, you can’t use any public transportation.

Mike Johnson

Well said. Tempest in a teapot, and the implicit assumption is very unscientific and misleading. We are supposed to think vaccines, that underwent months of scientifically designed clinical trials and have been found to be 90-95% effective, are somehow not good enough so that masks, with no scientific standards or any trials at all and no proven efficacy rates, are somehow as good or better at keeping you from getting infected? Ridiculous logic and intelligent people know better.

mark Coble

Survival rates by age and condition? How many toddlers died of flu in 2017? Two filthy face diapers or just one? Specifications of masks? Experimental shot was so you could not wear masks? CDC drops PCR tests, why? Weren't those tests the basis for all these repressive lockdowns? Again, survival rates are not ever discussed....too many obese, anxiety ridden folks at SFNM?

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