BY RICHARD SKOLNIK
I was pleased to see the video summary of the recent County Council meeting. I was also pleased to see a comment in the video on COVID. However, I was disappointed that the only specific action point recommended for COVID was to suggest that “if you are feeling bad and are sick, stay home and don’t get other people sick.”
In this light, I wanted to help clarify for the community some additional measures of importance to help keep yourself, your family, and the community safe.
First, let’s consider the context. Everyone should understand that COVID, influenza, and RSV are circulating in New Mexico simultaneously. New Mexico has the highest rate of new COVID infections in the US, and about 300 people a day are still dying of COVID nationally. Los Alamos County is averaging 5 new “reported” COVID cases a day, which is higher than the number of new cases during much of the pandemic. CDC shows New Mexico as having a “very high” rate of influenza. CDC data also show New Mexico as having a substantial rate of RSV infections. Most people know that RSV can cause severe illness in young children. However, the community should also be aware that while 100-500 children under five years of age die of RSV in the US every year, RSV is associated every year with 14,000 deaths among adults 65 and over. As we think about keeping our community safe, it is also important to note how pressed our hospitals have been recently. Last week UNM Children’s Hospital was operating at about 120% of capacity.
Given the above, public health authorities recommend that we:
* learn to recognize when to seek care for RSV in young children and in older adults
* get vaccinated against the flu
* keep up to date on COVID vaccinations and seek early treatment for infection if “indicated”
* wear high quality masks in indoor settings outside your home when rates of COVID transmission are “high” and/or when you want to protect vulnerable people in your family and the community
We should also note that covering coughs and sneezes “with tissue or your elbow,” proper handwashing with soap, and good ventilation and air purification can play important roles in reducing transmission of viral infection in Los Alamos.
Richard Skolnik is the former Director for Health, Nutrition, and Population for South Asia at the World Bank. He was a Lecturer in Global Health at The George Washington University and Yale and the Executive Director of a Harvard AIDS treatment program for three countries in Africa. Richard is also the Instructor for the Yale/Coursera course Essentials of Global Health and the author of Global Health 101, fourth edition.