COVID-19: Omicron confirmed locally

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By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed locally in a positive COVID-19 sample collected before Christmas, according to San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH).

“The first confirmed Omicron case in Archuleta County was an adult. We received the variance sequencing on that yesterday” said SJBPH COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin on Wednesday.

The sample, he explained, was collected on Dec. 22, 2021 — a factor Griffin noted is very important.

Griffin explained that, along with the current “dramatic” spike in cases, the “collection date supports that we are having widespread community transmission of the Omicron variant across our entire jurisdiction.”

Griffin reported the individual was fully vaccinated, but had not received a booster dose, and was recovering at home without needing to be hospitalized.

“We absolutely are seeing breakthrough cases with the Omicron variant. We did with Delta, as well,” he said, explaining there also continues to be a lot of cases among unvaccinated individuals, with 90 to 100 percent of individuals hospitalized for COVID-19 in the region being unvaccinated.

“The Omicron variant appears to be causing an explosive wave of cases currently in Colorado,” said SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon.

There has been an “unprecedented” increase in cases across the state, she added, with rates of positive cases at levels not seen in the 22 months of the pandemic and the largest single-day uptick in hospitalizations seen in 22 months taking place this week.

Jollon and Griffin pointed out that individuals who are vaccinated and boosted are more likely to have milder symptoms and a shorter course of illness than those who are unvaccinated, with less of a chance of severe illness, hospitalization and death unless they have an underlying condition.

Omicron is demonstrating to be less severe than prior versions of COVID, Jollon noted, but not less severe enough to protect hospital capacity because of the “very increased” level of transmission.

Jollon and Griffin also pointed out the increased hospitalizations are on top of an already “high floor” of hospitalizations from the Delta wave.

Jollon noted there are still “tremendous” unknowns relating to Omicron that are making it very difficult for the state and national modelers to predict where the surge will go and what hospitalizations, severe illness and death from infection will look like.

But, she noted, the suspicion is because it is so infectious and the rates of new cases, the Omicron wave will look much steeper, shooting up quickly and starting to decline more quickly as well, meaning there is potential for the next couple of weeks to be “very difficult.”

She added that wastewater surveillance — which is not taking place everywhere in the state — indicates that over 90 percent of cases are Omicron.

According to the SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 463.8 cases per 100,000 people Wednesday — up from 246.9 cases a week prior. 

La Plata County’s rate was 814.0 cases as of Wednesday. Colorado’s rate was 1,008.8 as of Wednesday, and the nation’s was 1,036.6.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 2,119 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among permanent Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 2,053 a week prior. 

The agency showed Archuleta County was at 25 percent positivity Wednesday, up from 10.9 percent a week prior. La Plata County was at 28 percent as of Wednesday.

Archuleta County has had nine deaths among COVID cases.

Variants confirmed in the area are included on SJBPH’s COVID-19 data dashboard.

Jollon explained that vaccination continues to be the best line of defense available to keep individuals from needing hospitalization.

She further suggested wearing a well-fitted, high-quality mask is “extremely important,” as are distancing and avoiding public indoor spaces.

She suggested returning to remote options for work and other activities and limiting or grouping trips into public places.

Jollon and Griffin encouraged those who are symptomatic to get tested and anyone who was exposed to test around day five after their exposure.

They added that anyone who is symptomatic should assume they have COVID and follow isolation guidelines — stay home for five days and consider departing isolation if symptoms have resolved and fever is gone, then mask with a well-fitting mask for the duration of the isolation period (another five days).

Following those suggestions, Jollon indicated, will help to not further overwhelm health care resources and will help preserve opportunities for in-person learning that help kids, families, governments and businesses.

She added the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to update school guidance this week, with the state then providing new guidelines for schools “hopefully” by the end of the week.

For more information about testing locally, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/testing/.

Local outbreaks

As of noon Wednesday, four outbreaks had been confirmed in Archuleta County.

Griffin reported that, as of Sunday, the outbreak at the Archuleta County jail continued to include five cases — two staff members and three inmates. The first case was identified on Dec. 4. 

As of Tuesday, Pagosa Springs Middle School’s outbreak was up to 13 cases — 12 students and one staff member. The first case was confirmed on Nov. 2. 

As of Monday, the outbreak at Pagosa Springs High School was up to nine cases — three staff members and six students. The first case was confirmed on Oct. 29.

SJBPH was unable to confirm the location of the final outbreak by press time Wednesday, though Griffin noted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) continues to work with Pine Ridge Extended Care Center to monitor and investigate new cases.

He added that a positive of the expanded access to monoclonal antibody treatments locally is being able to target those treatments to places like Pine Ridge.

An outbreak is identified as five cases associated with a single facility in a 14-day period, or two cases in a 14-day period in congregate settings, such as long-term care facilities.

SJBPH’s public health advisory related to COVID-19 can be found at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/advisories-and-orders/.

CDC updates timeline
for Pfizer booster,
recommends boosters for some kids

Vaccinations continue to be available for those 5 and older.

On Tuesday, the CDC updated its recommended timeline for when people can get a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine dose, shortening the minimum interval from six months to five months, according to a press release from the CDPHE, meaning people can now receive a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech five months after completing their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series. 

Additionally, according to the press release, the CDC recommends that moderately or severely immunocompromised 5- to 11-year-olds receive an additional primary dose of vaccine 28 days after their second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only vaccine authorized and recommended for children aged 5-11.

“The third dose interval recommendation for people who received the Moderna vaccine (6 months) or the second dose interval recommendation for the J&J vaccine (2 months), has not changed,” the press release states. “If you got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should get a dose of either Pfizer or Moderna two months or more after you first got vaccinated. The new five-month interval for Pfizer-BioNTech third doses only applies to individuals who have completed a Pfizer-BioNTech primary series.”

According to the press release, state health officials stress that all Coloradans ages 5 and older should get vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Coloradans should get a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to ensure maximum protection against the virus if they:

• Are 16 or older and received their second dose of Pfizer at least five months ago.

• Are 18 or older and received their second dose of Moderna at least six months ago.

The press release further explains that if you are immunocompromised and got three doses of Pfizer or Moderna in your primary series, you should get a fourth dose six months after your third dose.

The COVID-19 vaccine is free. You don’t need ID or insurance to get vaccinated. 

Griffin added that the CDC was anticipated to recommend boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds Wednesday.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines, current eligibility, details on vaccine clinics and providers, or to make an appointment, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/.

randi@pagosasun.com