By RICHARD SKOLNIK
Status of the Pandemic
Los Alamos, as well as many other areas in the US, is going through another “wave” of infections. In fact, our present rate of infections is higher than the rate of infection on 92% of the days since the pandemic began. (With thanks to Eli Ben-Naim). It is also higher than at any time other than January 2021 and during the Omicron surge. Moreover, the LAPS on May 23 alone reported 9 cases, 7 of which were at the high school.
In addition, the number of new cases is universally regarded as an undercount of the real number, since some people test at home and do not report their infections to the New Mexico Department of Health.
The table below shows numbers and trends in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for the US, New Mexico, and Los Alamos over the two weeks ending May 23, 2022. (From The New York Times).
CDC’s COVID Data Tracker follows cases in the last 7 days per 100,000 population. The above daily rate of 38 per 100,000 is equivalent to a weekly rate of 266 per 100,000. If this rate continues, we should expect this Thursday to be back in the CDC medium/yellow category.
COVID and Los Alamos
Wastewater monitoring could be a useful tool to estimate the amount of virus circulating in Los Alamos, especially given the questions about data on new infections. Unfortunately, however, just as we face another “wave” of infections, the new wastewater monitoring program in Los Alamos has been temporarily halted, pending the county’s registering with a new CDC vendor for the CDC program.
In the absence of “good data,” it would also be helpful if someone was responsible at the local level for putting together the best “proxies” for community-wide data on infections, such as: data on school attendance; the number of infections among county residents at LANL; comments from providers about new COVID cases; and comments from pharmacies about demand for COVID treatments. Unfortunately, this information, that could provide valuable “data for decision making,” is not being gathered coherently.
Another COVID fire is beginning to burn in Los Alamos. Our most immediate needs are to do the following, until it is contained:
- Make the community aware of the present state of the virus in Los Alamos
- Strongly encourage students to mask for the last few days of school, including while on a school bus
- Strongly encourage everyone to mask at any indoor end-of-school events
- Strongly encourage community members to mask when mingling with others indoors, such as when shopping
- Encourage people in the community to test for COVID when they might have been exposed, show symptoms of COVID, or might pose a risk at a gathering to others – and to report any positive tests to the NM Department of Health.
- Community members should be aware that reinfection is becoming more common as immunity wanes and new variants appear. They should test accordingly. Related to this, please note that the US is now offering another round of free tests to families via the USPS.
We are all “tired” of COVID and I do not make the above suggestions lightly. Rather, I do so knowing that COVID has so far killed 1 million people in the US, at a rate about 15 times greater than influenza. I also do so since we face, as the renowned immunologist Akiko Iwasaki calls it, a “parallel epidemic” of “long COVID.”
Editor’s Note: Richard Skolnik is the former regional director for health for South Asia at the World Bank. He was the director of an AIDS treatment program for Harvard and taught Global Health at the George Washington University and Yale. He is the author of Global Health 101, the instructor for Yale/Coursera’s Essentials of Global Health, and a Lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health. Skolnik has written this article in his personal capacity.