The omicron variant is storming through the state, bringing with it characteristics that both are encouraging and discouraging in a seemingly endless fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

While omicron appears more likely to infect people, including both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, some physicians say it is far less likely to cause severe illness in those who have received their shots and boosters.

But as New Mexico remained above the 3,000-case-a-day threshold, it’s clear the disease is highly contagious and swamping emergency departments in hospital systems throughout the state.

“It has spread like wildfire,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services. “Right now, we are packed.”

Mitchell and Dr. Steve McLaughlin, an emergency department physician with University of New Mexico Hospital, held an online news conference on Monday and said their staffs remain overburdened. They encouraged patients who are only moderately ill to use urgent care or other options, such as telehealth.

“If you are very sick, we are here for you and we want you to come in,” McLaughlin said.

As the second anniversary of the disease in the U.S. nears, the numbers of deaths are stunning — New Mexico surpassed the 6,000-fatality mark Monday, while the nation approaches 850,000 and the world 5.6 million.

The state Department of Health reported 9,284 new cases between Saturday and Monday and 37 additional deaths, putting New Mexico at 6,020 in nearly two years. The department reported the state has registered 378,363 cases in all, with 19,156 in Santa Fe County.


People line up in their cars Monday on Agua Fría Street for the Premier Medical Group COVID-19 testing site.

In late 2020, the United States worried the death total would hit 100,000, said Dr. Jeffrey Salvon-Harman, chief patient safety officer for Presbyterian. He and others said the ways to suppress increasing death tolls are by getting vaccinations and booster shots, wearing masks, washing hands, distancing and avoiding risky situations such as large gatherings and eating in restaurants.

Some doctors point to the fact that omicron is fairly new, especially in New Mexico, and predicting its course with confidence is difficult.

“We hope that there is a decreased severity of the disease, but we cannot say for sure that is the case,” wrote Dr. Robert Underwood, chief medical officer at San Juan Regional Medical Center in hard-hit Farmington.

Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, estimated more than 80 percent of coronavirus cases in the state are from the omicron variant now.

“Our hospital is swamped as well,” Gonzales said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. Gonzales also said “the number of kids hospitalized nationwide has skyrocketed.”

State data lag and a report last week of omicron cases showed only 27 in New Mexico had been genetically identified as the new variant, although few specimens are tested with a meticulous, time-consuming method. The same report said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expected omicron to make up 95 percent of cases in the United States in early January.

The data from last week also indicated the majority of the 27 genetically tested were “breakthrough” cases — those involving vaccinated people.

Dr. Wendy Johnson, chief medical officer of La Familia Medical Center, said 27 is a tiny sample size and noted fewer than one in five people in New Mexico have contracted the coronavirus. “I see a lot of fatalism out there,” she said, adding fatalism is unproductive.

Salvon-Harman of Presbyterian said U.S. data shows case counts are up, but hospitalizations and deaths are down with the emergence of omicron.

“We know it spreads rapidly,” Salvon-Harman said of the variant. Like Gonzales, he said cases involving children are rising. He attributed that to the fact children under 5 aren’t approved for the vaccines, and children under 2 shouldn’t wear masks.

Further, some of the lockdowns of a year ago have been rescinded.

As the death toll rises, doctors found it impossible to interpret the numbers with any certainty.

“Now the question is, will we hit a million?” Salvon-Harman said. “My reaction to that is frustration.”

La Familia’s Johnson said the real death toll is higher because people can’t get access to health care, some are afraid to see the doctor because of COVID-19 and surgeries are being pushed back.

“I think the numbers, as shocking as they look, are actually understating the real devastation the pandemic has caused,” she said.

(31) comments

Lyndell Vallner

This one...Omicron is not very deadly...relax, this is a great time to endure some cold-like symptoms and gain natural immunity. We did not evolve to be artificially protected from being exposed to any and all germs or viruses.

John Gomez

To be fair I know some one who was double vaxxed who is sick beyond belief from Covid right now healthy young so we shouldn't over play or under play

Craig O'Hare

Our species’ brain DID “evolve” to develop advancements in medical science, including antibiotics and vaccines. Whether such evolution is “artificial “ or not is mostly irrelevant.

Angel Ortiz

Lyndell.....seriously? Wow! The nuts are out in full force again. Right wing. Left wing. Get vaccinated, wear your mask and stay 6 feet away from me. This will avoid any potential issues.

Elizabeth Jones

I’m interested to know what percentage of hospitalized vaccinated patients are boosted? Maybe some of these patients were vaccinated >7-8 months ago and didn’t have a booster?

Elizabeth Jones

I’d be interested to know what percentage of hospitalized vaccinated patients have their booster?

Mike Johnson

That would be an interesting number, but of course not something the government would like to show you easily. If you are able to dig through the byzantine NMDOH website, you can actually find a few hints of how ineffective the vaccines are becoming, though they never reference it in daily releases. The Jan.5 data shows from Dec.6 to Jan. 3, 33.6% of the cases are in fully vaccinated, while 16.4% of hospitalizations, and 11.9% of the deaths are in fully vaccinated. They obviously don't want to put these numbers out daily, as it would discourage people from getting vaccinated, although there are no lines, no waits, and few people getting vaccinated these days, everyone is lining up for hours and days for tests, which is ridiculous, since tests don't protect you.

Mike Johnson

This is just awful, and a year after the left wing politicians vowed to defeat this virus and poured trillions into it. Now you can't even get a test without waiting for hours and days, thousands in the state lined up for testing, and none for vaccinations. Testing must be the key to stopping this virus, judging from the people's reactions, so why is it so hard to get tested?

John Gomez

Its not left vs right my friend trump was in on it too. They all are.

John Gomez

Also needed to add if asked why do pfizer the CDC the fda and Reuters all share board members though a revolving door? Why do we trust cnn msnbc and Jimmy kimmel when they all get checks from pfizer. Not that fox is any good. Why did Fauci say in 2011 gain of function research was worth the risk? All this is proven yet they call it conspiracy bs

Carolyn DM

Let the unvaccinated stay at home to fight it or drop them off at their church. Stop letting them flood our medical systems!! They don't care enough to keep themselves or others safe. I ran out of two f'cks to give about them long ago!!

John Gomez

Why do you think only church going people are refusing Pfizers cash grap? Im vaxxed but scared of a booster because of how everyone is acting. It's like the crucible or that other Aruther miller story about a hot spring. You are letting the rich brainwash you into hating your neighbor. Again I hate trump and biden im no Christian and im scared of the never ending boosters. Funny how liberals did the right thing under Bush but won't do it now. Turns out you were all only anti war cause it was popular.

Lynn k Allen

Viruses are known to change. Our science is incredibly able to respond with new resources. If it worked once, then revised then worked twice, why is that bad?

Notice that the deaths & hospitalizations don't have a listing of who died of vaccinations...

The internet is making us die from stupidity, vaccines are not.

John Gomez

Look I am not opposed to getting vaxxed heck I am. I just get scared because they fact that Pfizer owns the news though cnn retures they own the fda the CDC so why would they report deaths and side effects? I am not saying people are dying right now from the vax but don't you think it is strange that Pfizer wanted to wait 75 years to give us the data? Can't you see they are using the media to make you hate people that won't get their product? I don't want forever booster from a company that won't let other countries make their own version using their blue print. If they really cared they would let them use the blue print but no its about money. We can't sue them. We know the virus came from a lab. Something is up.

Nancy Lockland

In case you haven't noticed. The vaccinated are the ones spreading the virus.

Craig O'Hare

Totally false.

Emily Koyama

Wrong, Craig.

Omicron is just as easily carried as passed on by the vaccinated, as well as the unvaccinated.

LeRoy Sanchez


Kirk Allison

Carolyn DM: "I ran out of two f'cks to give about them long ago!!"

And you folks wonder why the people mistrust the extraordinary pressure to get the jab? Maybe it's because those screaming at others to take it aren't really the humanitarians they purport to be.

JB Weinberg

That others may not be the "humanitarians they purport to be", is not an excuse for not getting the vaccination. Given the safety of the vaccine and its ability to keep you from becoming sick enough to require hospitalization, and to reduce (not eliminate) the spread of the disease, the reasons for getting the vaccine are to protect yourself and protect your community. These are very good reasons to get vaccinated.

John Gomez

What if Pfizer wants to protect your kids like they protected the kids in Nigeria? Didn't Biden say if you get the jab you won't get Covid? I know others said u could still get it but they did say it would stop you from spreading it and that's false so

Lynn k Allen

Agreed. I'll never understand not taking proved medical advice to get vaccinated, then going to see the same medical people to save them after they get covid as warned & predicted.

Again, IF you don't get vaccinated, go see the people advising you to not get vaccinated and let them cure you. Your arrogance, unfounded beliefs, and self centered actions ARE hurting others! Especially our medical people & systems.

Your beliefs can kill.

John Gomez

Not unfounded at all the cutter incident 1976 Pfizer in Africa and a bunch more

John Gomez

They keep censoring me for asking questions. The well let me go wild calling downtown santa Fe the mecca for old white people but won't let me ask why pfizer wanted to hide Safety data for 75 years? What did pfizer do in Africa? Do the vax companies have a profit incentive?

Chris Mechels

Shopping for groceries in Santa Fe, the picture is discouraging. The stores, esp Market Street, are packed, except for the very early hours. Distancing, and hand washing, seem unknown and masks of variable quality. Seems that Covid has just been accepted, and that is not good. Suggestions; an obvious one is that people should use N95, or KN95, masks, in spite of ongoing NM Dept of Health guidance to preserve these masks for caregivers. There is an adequate supply available, and good masks can make a difference. The MLG administration should weigh in on this, and stop their confusing guidance.

Meanwhile, get a good (n95) mask, and shorten your exposure time, by planning your shopping a bit better. Good luck...

James Patrick

Here's a suggestion: Do what you want and accept the consequences. If you want to spend an hour in the grocery store, do it. If you want to cower at home in fear of a virus, do it.

Diane Gonzales

Agreed. I double-mask. I use a KN95 with a blue surgical mask over it. Saw an interview with a doctor where he stated the cloth masks are not working well at this point with omicron. Go for the N95's or KN95's.

Comment deleted.
James Morris

It’s very sad to read these remarks. How anyone can be so misinformed and delusional is beyond me.Stay safe, Mr. Gomez, especially as you are unvaccinated.

Comment deleted.
rodney carswell

the above post by John Gomez is pure conspiracy BS

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