Omicron variant discovered in Colorado Thursday |

Omicron variant discovered in Colorado Thursday

Eliza Noe
Craig Press
Moderna COVID-19 vials seen inside the storage container at Moffat County Public Health, located on Pershing Street.
Craig Press file

The omicron variant has been detected for the first time in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Routine contact tracing found that a woman in Arapahoe County — who had just come back from a visit in the southern part of Africa — had tested positive for the variant.

“She is experiencing minor symptoms and is isolated and recuperating at home,” CDPHE said in a news release. “She had been fully vaccinated and was eligible for the booster vaccine but had not received it yet.”

The Colorado State Public Health Lab conducted testing on the patient’s test to confirm that it was a match for the omicron variant. This particular patient’s test was flagged for extra testing because of where she had been traveling — since omicron was first identified in the southern part of Africa.

CDPHE recommends that people who have traveled internationally recently get tested 3 to 5 days after they return from their trips, and on Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that all inbound international travelers must test within one day of departure — regardless of vaccination status or nationality — in order to help slow the spread of the omicron variant.

CDPHE has been working closely with Tri-County Health Department on contact tracing and thus far, no close contacts have received a positive test. Colorado is now the third state in the U.S. to identify the variant. As recently as Thursday morning, Minnesota identified a case in a man who had recently traveled and stayed several days in New York City, and the first was spotted in California on Wednesday from someone who had also traveled in Africa. Five cases had been discovered in the New York City metropolitan area as recently as Thursday evening.

In a statewide press conference, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist for Colorado, joined Gov. Jared Polis shortly after the news of the omicron case in the state broke. In addition to advising vaccines as the most effective prevention tool against the spread of the virus, Herlihy said getting COVID tested is another layer in protecting the public’s health.

“Colorado has one of the highest rates of whole-genome sequencing in the country, but of course testing relies on individuals going to get tested. Testing is a fundamental part of our response,” Herlihy said. “Getting tested, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, physical distancing, washing your hands, all of those strategies remain the same. At this stage, we still have lots of questions about the severity and transmissibility of omicron.”

Because of how recently the omicron variant was discovered, there are still a lot of unknowns around how severe it is compared to the Alpha (or the original) variant of COVID-19 or the delta variant. In recent months, Delta has been by far the dominant variant identified in Moffat County and is more likely to result in a breakthrough case — or a positive case in someone who is already fully vaccinated.

Right now, Herlihy said, there is no evidence to suggest that masks or vaccines would be less effective against omicron.

“Thanks to Colorado’s sophisticated lab and hard work, we have identified the first case of the omicron variant in Colorado. Now is the time for caution, not for panic, so get vaccinated, get boosted, and get your children ages 5 and up vaccinated,” Polis said on Thursday. “If you’re concerned about this new variant and your loved ones, get vaccinated and get boosted and I urge the remaining Coloradans who have not stepped up to protect themselves with the vaccine to get off the sidelines.”

According to data from CDPHE, 53.2% of eligible Moffat County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Eight new positive cases were reported in Moffat County Thursday, and 9.2% of tests over the past week have come back positive. This, according to CDPHE, makes Moffat County a “high-risk” community. If that positivity rate exceeds 10%, Moffat County will move to a “severe-risk” category, and if it drops below 7.5%, the county will move down to a “moderate-risk.”

A variant of a virus is created when a specific virus mutates naturally. Variants are common with viruses like the flu, which is why it is recommended that flu shots are taken every year since a different variant is more dominant each year. This week, CDPHE is sending a bus for citizens looking to receive monoclonal antibody treatments to battle against severe symptoms and potential hospitalization.

Last month, hospitals across the state of Colorado were struggling with increased hospital capacity. Though more local hospitals like MRH remained stable, increased capacity elsewhere could have affected transportation of patients who needed higher care.

“We’re less worried about exceeding our hospital capacity than we were two weeks ago,” Polis said. “But when this virus throws spitball after screwball, who knows where we will be two weeks from now, especially after the holiday gatherings.”

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