BY RICHARD SKOLNIK
The “tripledemic” in New Mexico continues. The week of November 26, influenza cases in New Mexico were at their highest rates in three years and climbing. The rates of RSV (respiratory synctial virus) that week were declining but were more than twice as high as any time in the last two years. Right now, New Mexico has the third highest rate of COVID of any state.
To compound our woes, there have been widespread shortages of an antibiotic commonly given to children and store shelves in Los Alamos and Espanola are empty of children’s pain relievers, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
So, what can we do to be as aware as possible of how the “tripledemic” is playing out in Los Alamos, so that we might adjust our own and our family’s behavior accordingly?
The best way to keep abreast of the local state of COVID and “more” on a weekly basis is to read the Community COVID newsletter. The newsletter is timely, clear, relatively concise, and focused on Los Alamos.
In addition, I would encourage the LAPS to inform the community on a weekly basis of trends in school attendance. The LAPS could inform us weekly, for example, that: “Yesterday, X percent of our LAPS students were absent. This compares with Y percent on the same school day in 2019, prior to COVID.” However imperfect, this may be the best information we have in Los Alamos, at least during the school year, about the extent to which viruses like the flu, COVID, and RSV are circulating in the community.
We must also take measures to try to protect ourselves, our families, and our community. We know these well. However, there remain, even in Los Alamos, substantial gaps in the extent to which they are being followed.
- If possible, stay home if you are sick
- Keep sick children out of school
- Be aware of the symptoms for severe RSV, especially for young children and older adults
- Get vaccinated against the flu
- Keep up to date with COVID vaccines
- Test for COVID after a suspected exposure or before bringing friends and family together for gatherings, like at holiday time
- Engage in good hand hygiene
- Wear a mask in indoor settings outside your home
- Good ventilation and HEPA-based air filters can also reduce viral transmission
The schools have much to do and acting as community public health agents is not in their usual job description. However, these are not normal times and illness among students alone has enormous educational, social, and economic costs. Thus, I would expect the schools to be much clearer about the measures that staff, students, and visitors can take to be safe in the face of this “tripledemic”. These must include “strongly encouraging” them to mask until the rate of COVID, RSV, and the flu substantially decline.
(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, the author of Global Health 101, fourth edition, and is a Lecturer in Global Health at the Yale School of Public Health.)