A former COVID-19 mobile testing unit sits and collects snow in the Downtown North industrial area of Carbondale. Photo by James Steindler

COVID-19 will be remembered as the bane of the 2020s. Unfortunately, it’s a monkey yet to be shaken from the world’s back. With 2023, comes an executive order extending Colorado’s COVID-19 disaster period, a new Omicron variant sweeping the country and state-run testing sites closing. 

On Sunday, Jan. 8, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order extending the state’s COVID-19 disaster declaration. 

In the same order, Polis ended the disaster declaration — issued on Nov. 11, 2022 — for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (commonly known by its acronym, RSV), influenza and other respiratory illnesses. In the Jan. 8 order, Polis details that having included these illnesses within the disaster declaration helped contain and treat the increase of those infections which also led to an increase in hospitals’ capacities. 

“The additional provisions incorporating RSV, influenza and other respiratory illnesses in Colorado into the disaster declaration are no longer necessary. However, we must still continue the recovery efforts for COVID-19,” the order reads. “This Executive Order removes the disaster declaration for RSV, influenza and other respiratory diseases, but continues the declaration for COVID-19 and ensures that the state maintains access to federal funding and that our healthcare facilities have access to additional resources.”

Omicron variant

There is a new variant taking hold, XBB.1.5, which may be more contagious than its Omicron predecessors. 

According to Carrie Godes of Garfield County Public Health, “XBB.1.5 has already become predominant in other parts of the United States and CDPHE [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] anticipates that this variant will also eventually become dominant in Colorado.” 

Godes said that early studies indicate that the new variant “has additional advantages in immune escape and may be more transmissible due to its new mutations.”

Vaccines are considered the most effective way to  prevent infection or at least worst-case-scenarios, such as hospitalization and death. 

“Anyone six months and older who has completed a COVID-19 primary vaccine series should get an Omicron dose,” Godes told The Sopris Sun, “including people who received any number of original booster doses.” 

People interested in getting an Omicron vaccine are supposed to wait two months after their most recent booster or primary series to do so. 

In Garfield County, 14.7% of the population has received their Omicron booster, said Godes. CDPHE’s vaccine tracker indicates that 73.2% of Garfield County’s population has received at least one dose.  

For statistics regarding COVID-19 strains and vaccine rates in Colorado, visit www.covid19.colorado.gov 

Testing sites close

Following the state’s decision to shut down all state-run COVID-19 testing sites by Jan. 15, the state-run testing site behind Carbondale Town Hall followed suit. The Affinity Community Testing Site at the Aspen Airport’s cell phone lot permanently closed on Jan. 14. 

“Coloradans have continued to rely more on at-home tests and the demand for testing at community sites has dropped consistently over the last several months, fluctuating between 3-6% of overall capacity since November 2022,” a press release from Garfield County Public Health explained. 

Part of Colorado’s new “Roadmap to Moving Forward” focuses on normalizing COVID-19 diagnostics and treatments in primary care.

“It’s … time to normalize the treatment of COVID-19 back into the healthcare system like every other disease and condition, which means transitioning many emergency response functions including diagnostic testing, distribution of therapeutics and routine vaccinations to traditional healthcare provider settings,” the roadmap reads. “Normalizing testing and connecting patients who test positive with access to therapeutics in the traditional medical system will drive better patient outcomes and lower hospital utilization.”

Colorado’s “Roadmap to Moving Forward” can be viewed in its entirety at: www.bit.ly/ColoradoRoadmap