Pitkin County official: Garfield County case indicates ‘omicron is likely already here in the community’
With the COVID-19 omicron variant detected in Garfield County earlier this week in a person with no recent travel history, it’s a good bet the more contagious form of the virus is circulating in Pitkin County too, an official said Friday.
“Omicron is likely already here in the community,” said Pitkin County Public Health Director Jordana Sabella. “We know how connected our community is to Garfield County. We will be expecting the identification of our first omicron case.”
Meanwhile, the brief decrease in COVID-19 cases in the county that occurred after Thanksgiving appears over now that Aspen is beginning to fill with Christmas crowds.
Thursday’s incidence rate was 141 per 100,000 people, and has been within the Centers for Disease Control’s red or “high” transmission rate, which is above 100 per 100,000, since Monday, according to Pitkin County’s online COVID-19 dashboard. The county logged 39 new cases in the past week, including 25 residents and 14 out of county cases.
Eagle County issued a public health advisory Friday warning of a “COVID-19 surge” of cases in that county. The incidence rate was more than 300 per 100,000 people, equal to 165 new cases per week, according to the advisory.
“This is an indication that community spread is very high and the likelihood for exposure has increased considerably,” the advisory stated. “In addition, local testing is quickly reaching its capacity and persons with symptoms will be prioritized for testing.”
An official with Garfield County Public Health announced Wednesday that a county resident tested positive for the omicron variant, the first time the new variant has been detected on the Western Slope. The person reported no recent travel history, which could be an indicator of community transmission.
The positive test at the time marked the fourth case of omicron detected in Colorado since Dec. 2, when the first case was announced in Arapahoe County. At least three of the four cases occurred in fully vaccinated people. The vaccination status of the fourth person was not released.
Omicron was first identified last month in South Africa. Preliminary data indicates it is much more transmissible than the delta variant, which caused the latest wave of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Sabella said.
“Once it’s here, it will do its best to spread quickly,” she said.
The severity of omicron remains unclear, with some reports indicating it causes a milder case of the virus. That unknown, coupled with the likelihood that it spreads more quickly, is more reason for people to get vaccinated and sign up to receive a vaccine booster shot, Sabella said.
“Booster doses are proving to be incredibly important to fight omicron,” she said.
But even if omicron proves to be less severe or equal to delta, it is expected to infect many and could further strain statewide hospital capacity that remained at 95% on Friday, Sabella said. Eighty-four percent of hospitalized COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated residents.
Eagle County’s advisory Friday also noted the current hospital crisis.
“Taking COVID-19 precautions now will not only prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations, but will help ease the state’s strained hospital capacity, which puts every Coloradan who may experience a health emergency or have routine health care needs at risk,” according to the advisory. “Keep holiday gatherings small this year and, if possible, hold them outside.”
Hospital status is key to the future of Pitkin County and Colorado residents, according to the county’s current public health order. Provided Aspen Valley Hospital remains able to care for everyone who needs it, or can transfer those that need higher levels of care to other hospitals, community lockdowns will remain off the table.
A lockdown can occur once AVH reaches “crisis” standards of care, meaning that it cannot take care of everyone who needs it and cannot transfer patients.
Sabella encouraged people to continue to wear facemasks — which remain mandated inside businesses and public buildings in Pitkin County — and practice social distancing and good hygiene during the upcoming Christmas gatherings.