and KRISTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Message
and KRISTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos County has seen an increase in reported cases of COVID-19 this month and while the reasons for the increase remain a mystery, the number of cases appears to be decreasing, said retired epidemiologist Dr. Will Athas, during a virtual community briefing on Thursday.
Following a similar format to the Cerro Pelado Fire town hall meetings, Los Alamos County hosted the virtual meeting which, in addition to Athas, featured Dr. Ben Neal of the Children’s Clinic, the assistant superintendent of Los Public Schools Alamos Jennifer Guy, Los Alamos County Emergency Services Commander Beverley Joyce Richins, Simpson and Los Alamos Medical Center nurse, infection control and employee health.
Athas said he has worked with the county over the past two months to monitor COVID-19 in the county.
He explained that the data is presented as seven-day averages because “the daily numbers jump around a bit so often that we use seven-day averages.”
As of Nov. 9, 2021, data shows a curve of the pandemic over the past 7-8 months, Athas reported. Successive waves of COVID variants have hit the county as well as elsewhere. The Delta variant was prevalent last summer and fall, and Omicron was quite significant in terms of influence, he said. The Omicron variant caused a huge spike in cases – an average of 80-90 cases per day. However, it didn’t last long. The number of cases fell although there was a gradual increase in mid-April. Cases spiked in June but appear to have peaked in the middle of the month. Over the past week, Athas said the number of cases has been trending down. He added that there is no explanation for the rise in cases, but the focus has been on age groups reporting positive cases.
“What I was interested in…was seeing if there was a particular age group, which was disproportionately contributing to the total number of cases seen in the county in June…there really wasn’t a obvious age group,” Athas said. “What worried me a little was the very young – 0-4 years… as well as the elderly – 70, 79-80+… I was hoping these rates would be relatively low compared to other groups of age because they tend to be more at risk. …but the risk levels were relatively similar to adults and middle-aged adolescents. To me, that suggests maybe…there has been wide enough community transmission of the virus to infect all of these age groups….
The good news is that the number of cases appears to be decreasing, he said, adding that the hope is that the number will continue to decline.
To help with this effort, Dr. Neal reported that the vaccines are distributed by the children’s clinic. A vaccination clinic for 0-5 year olds was held on Friday and he reported that everything was full.
He said the Pfizer vaccine is distributed through the Children’s Clinic because it requires a lower dose for children. He explained that adults get 30 micrograms of the Pfizer vaccine while children six months to 5 years old get a tenth of that amount or 3 micrograms.
He added that Pfizer had a 90% rate of preventing serious illness hospitalizations, but the rate of mild symptoms was 30%. Yet locally less than 10 percent report reactions such as injection pain or fever. Similar to the flu vaccine, Neal said, the COVID vaccine keeps people out of the hospital.
While Pfizer is distributed at the children’s clinic, Neal reported that the Moderna vaccine is offered in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It is given at a higher dose. However, it only requires two doses while Pfizer requires three – patients receive one, three weeks later, a second and two months after the third injection. Although the Pfizer vaccine is a little more troublesome, Neal said it was selected for the local clinic because of its lower side effect profile.
Either is fine, he said, adding: “They all seem to be doing what we really want them to do, which is keeping kids and people out of the way. the hospital.”
Regarding the COVID situation in schools, Guy reported that the school year ended with 4,000 students on campus. The school district’s summer program began June 13 with 202 students on campus. During summer school, masking is mandatory indoors, Guy said. So far, one teacher and two students have reported positive COVID cases in the first week of classes. One of the students was never on campus, but the other student and the teacher were. In the community, 14 students and three staff members have tested positive, but they have not been on campus. No new cases have been reported since. In addition to masks, air purifiers are on the way, and Guy said safety protocols will continue throughout the summer lineup.
As for the new school year, “We’re all going to have to wait and see what the Department of Public Education tells us to do,” Guy said. “We will also be monitoring community spread and cases in our community to make decisions on how we will start school this fall.”
On the county side, Simpson said there was an increase of 700 cases, which is a little higher than the median. However, she indicated that she had a successful vaccination campaign.
“Over the past two months, the county, thanks to everyone involved, has provided over 3,721 vaccines to the community,” she said.
As a result, the county is 69.9% fully vaccinated. His recall rate is on par with what the state reports — 25%. Simpson said Los Alamos Medical Center has no patients hospitalized with COVID.
Additionally, she said firefighters continue to provide the vaccine to people who are housebound and those with mobility issues. A vaccination clinic is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on June 27 at First Baptist Church to catch people after work. Simpson thanked Pastor Taylor for his help. She added that the county is working with Premiere Medical to set up an immunization clinic for children under 5. More information will be available.
Addressing the Los Alamos Medical Center, Richins said there were varying levels of protections and restrictions throughout the pandemic. Right now the whole hospital is open, but masks are mandatory inside. If visitors have symptoms of COVID, they are asked to refrain from coming to the hospital until they feel better, Richins said. If hospital staff experience symptoms, they report them to the hospital.