Omicron, the prevailing COVID-19 variant of concern, was first identified in South Africa in late November. Within weeks, it was detected in Colorado and by Dec. 15 had arrived in Garfield County. Days later, on Dec. 20, Pitkin County reported its first case of Omicron, with a vaccinated individual testing positive.
The precipitous spread of Omicron led to a renewal of public health precautions globally, including indoor mask mandates, travel restrictions and the cancellation of gatherings.
Within a week, just before Christmas, local medical providers were slapped with a sharp increase in cases (quadrupling in Pitkin County). By Dec. 30, Omicron was identified as 91% of all COVID cases statewide.
In response, Eagle County implemented an indoor mask mandate on Dec. 22, joining Pitkin County which has had an ongoing indoor masking requirement since Sept. 16. The city of Glenwood Springs followed suit with a public health order on Dec. 29 requiring masks for all individuals two years of age or older within public spaces.
Within the unhappy news of a fourth surge, there is optimism with vaccines and boosters reportedly lessening symptoms, approved treatments for COVID patients and Omicron appearing to be a less deadly, though more contagious, strain than its predecessors.
These factors led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halve the number of recommended isolation days for a COVID-positive individual, so long as their symptoms have ceased and they continue to wear a mask around others for an additional five days.
By assessing the trends in South Africa and other countries, officials have delineated that the Omicron wave tends to peak around three to four weeks after the initial surge. Accordingly, “our community is looking at this week or next before we are at the peak of the surge,” explains a recent Pitkin County Health press release. Further, the press release states that “Omicron cases are less severe with minimal hospitalizations. The current hospitalization rate in Pitkin County for Omicron is .22%.”
Nonetheless, the recommendations remain the same and testing will make a difference for slowing the spread to avoid overwhelming hospitals. According to Garfield County Public Health, “People are most infectious two days before experiencing symptoms.”
In addition to the Free COVID-19 Testing Roaring Fork Valley service, free Rapid At-Home COVID-19 testing is available through the state by filling out a form on this website: covid19.colorado.gov/covid-19-testing-at-home
For the list of upcoming vaccine clinics in Garfield County visit: www.garfield-county.com/public-health/covid-19-vaccine/