State Senator Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, may have better expressed the concerns of lawmakers about the spread of a variant of the coronavirus.
âAre we ready for the next COVID? Hickey asked outgoing Health Secretary Dr Tracie Collins at a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
Hickey was one of many lawmakers on the Legislative Assembly’s Interim Health and Human Services Committee raising concerns about the delta variant, which was first detected in India and is believed to be more transmissible and dangerous than other strains.
According to the Department of Health, New Mexico has only had 33 reported cases of the Delta variant, which is spreading in the United States and nearly 40 other countries.
Collins, who announced last week that she was leaving Cabinet to return to the University of New Mexico where she was dean of the College of Population Health, presented information on the department’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, even as the agency grapples with a labor shortage.
The vacancy rate of the Ministry of Health is approximately
20 percent, according to Jeff Lara, director of the Division of Public Health.
Collins said the department has struggled with vacancies since joining about nine months ago. âSome of it is long term, others generated by the pandemic,â she said.
Some of the vacancies, Collins added, are due to underfunding.
Lara said part of the problem is an “inability” to recruit doctors, nutritionists, clinicians and administrative workers during the pandemic. Competing for these professionals against private entities that can pay them more money is a challenge, he said.
âThe competition is out there,â Lara said. âA budget increase could help us.
As Collins spoke of his agency’s success in slowing the coronavirus through testing and vaccinations – nearly 63% of state residents were fully vaccinated and ov
71% partially vaccinated on Wednesday, she said – lawmakers said they remain wary of the potential of the delta variant.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky recently said the variant accounted for 25% of new coronavirus cases in the country. The vast majority of those infected were not vaccinated.
Lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing spoke of the need to vaccinate more New Mexicans – and find ways to overcome the reluctance of some residents to get vaccinated.
Senator Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, said she heard hesitant voters because the vaccines had only received emergency approval from the federal government.
Representative Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, who has a son with autism, said some people believe vaccinations can lead to autism, despite many studies finding no supporting evidence.
Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero, both Democrats from Albuquerque, questioned whether the state is doing enough to educate Hispanic and Native American communities about the spread of the virus and communicate about its effects. a way that respects their culture.
Collins said his team was working on a plan to get the word out about vaccines and increase immunization rates.
âI want to see the number even higher,â she told committee members.
Hickey, whose professional career has spanned many facets of healthcare, urged Collins to make sure his department is ready for a new round of coronavirus.
“As a doctor, I know that we are going to have [the delta variant],” he said.
“And it’s going to have an impact on the large number of people in this state who have resisted vaccination.” It could potentially be devastating. “
He suggested the state prepare a corps of National Guard-like medical professionals ready to follow the variant if it continues to spread.