Routt County officials fear omicron could cause spike in local cases
Though local COVID-19 infection rates are low right now, health officials warned Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Dec. 21, that the omicron variant is likely already infecting people in the county and a surge in cases could be on the horizon.
Public Health Director Roberta Smith said residents should look no further than Eagle County as to what could happen locally. Eagle County officials sent out a public health advisory to residents last week because of a steep increase in cases there.
“They have seen a significant increase in cases, and they do believe that it’s probably due to omicron in that community,” Smith said. “We probably have it here; we just haven’t detected it yet.”
As of Tuesday, the omicron variant had been found in just four Colorado counties. However, it is being blamed for case spikes elsewhere, and the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, Dec. 20, that omicron is believed to be responsible for 73% of the nation’s new cases.
“I think we’ll see an increase in our (epidemiological) curve — a steep increase — before we really see the lab confirmation of omicron,” said Fritha Morrison, county epidemiologist.
To confirm a positive case is omicron, the test must be a PCR test, and it needs to be sequenced at the state’s lab, which can take up to two weeks.
Routt County’s new case count remains low, seeing just 56 cases in the past two weeks. However, 34 of those came in the past seven days, as compared with 22 the week before, indicating that case counts are creeping back up.
Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County’s Chief Medical Officer, said he feels cases are becoming less representative of what is happening locally, in part, because most at-home rapid test results are not being reported to health officials.
“I think case counts are becoming less accurate to what is going on versus say the positivity rate, and then the hard numbers remain hospitalizations and deaths,” Harrington said. “We’re kind of moving from a volume thing to a severity thing.”
Routt County’s positivity rate is still below 2%, but the county did see a slight uptick over the past week. In Eagle County, the positivity rate is at more than 16%.
“When you look at what is going on in Vail, we tend to follow them as another resort community,” Harrington said. “I still think we get to March, and we’ll be getting out of the worst of this. We just got to figure out how we respond prudently but yet, not overreact.”
Smith and Harrington did not recommend any new public health measures in response to the omicron variant, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has said he doesn’t support new restrictions statewide either.
Smith said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has been taking a renewed look at school guidance in light of the variant to see if school guidelines should be adjusted.
While breakthrough cases are becoming more common, Smith said being vaccinated and boosted is still the best way to protect oneself and others against omicron.
Morrison said about 39% of Routt County residents have received a booster dose. About 37% of all Coloradan’s have received a booster, according to the CDC.
Harrington said he has had issues transferring some of his patients to higher levels of care, but that while possible, he didn’t feel it was likely hospital bed capacity would be breached locally.
“We haven’t demonstrated that to date here in the fall, and I think we will likely get through this next wave, too,” Harrington said. “But there is some risk there.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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