Pitkin County’s transmission rate among highest in country as omicron wave peaks
A new method of reporting positive COVID-19 cases has slingshot Pitkin County’s incidence rate to one of the highest in the state and nation Tuesday, with the current omicron surge expected to last as many as two more weeks, officials said.
“We’re reporting more cases now than we’ve ever reported (since the pandemic began in March 2020),” Josh Vance, Pitkin County epidemiologist, said Tuesday. “(Omicron) has a much higher case count than other variants.”
Based on what other countries have seen with omicron, the wave lasts between three and four weeks after the initial surge, which began Dec. 19 in Pitkin County, Vance said. That means Pitkin County was entering its third week of omicron Tuesday.
“We should peak around next week or a little after,” he said. “(After that) there’s so many infections, it loses the ability to infect additional hosts.”
Previous waves of other COVID-19 variants lasted about two months, Vance said.
Pitkin County on Tuesday began including a large number of positive cases from people who listed Pitkin County addresses but whose residency here public health officials were not able to confirm, said John Anderson, a county data analyst.
Previous analysis indicated that about 80% of those pending cases involved county residents, while 20% lived outside the county, so the county began including 80% of those numbers since Dec. 15, said Anderson and Suzuho Shimasaki, county deputy public health director.
That difference caused the county’s incidence rate to jump twofold, Anderson said. So incidence rate numbers that were around 1,000 to 1,200 per 100,000 residents last week — as reflected in the county’s online COVID-19 dashboards — rose into the 2,000s, according to the dashboards.
The new way of reporting the numbers provides a more accurate picture of the COVID-19 community transmission in Pitkin County, Shimasaki said.
Weekend numbers had not been posted online as of Tuesday evening, though the incidence rate as of Friday was 2,248 per 100,000. Pitkin County’s peak incidence rate occurred Dec. 29, when it hit 2,944, according to the dashboards.
That is one of the highest incidence rates in the state and the country, Vance said, comparable to other resort counties and major cities with high rates of tourism and mobility.
As of Friday, the county logged 438 new cases of COVID-19, including 399 residents and 39 out of county cases.
Vance said that while public health officials continue to see a few cases of the delta variant, more than 90% of the new cases have been omicron, and that number is rising.
The overall severity of cases caused by omicron locally have followed national and worldwide trends suggesting the variant causes a less severe form of the disease, he said. For example, between Sept. 15 and Nov. 30 — the end of Pitkin County’s delta wave — between 1-2% of cases required hospitalization. With omicron, 0.22% of cases have required a hospital stay of some length, Vance said.
The surge has meant that public health officials have not been able to interview or contact trace everyone who’s tested positive in the past two weeks, he said. Instead, officials have sent out surveys to those who test positive, which officials urged people to fill out and return.
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