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Once again, we are approaching a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, the virus has mutated and presents new risks and challenges. Once again, we are not adequately equipped to combat this evolving virus. And once again, I feel compelled to address our collective response to this situation.

County Commissioner Greg Felt.

Here is some information that is guiding my thinking:

  1. The Omicron variant is much more contagious than Delta. Omicron has an R(0) factor that is at least several times higher than Delta’s.
  2. The time from exposure to infection with Omicron is much shorter than Delta.
  3. The J&J vaccine does not appear to be effective against the Omicron variant.
  4. Previous infection with COVID-19 provides much less protection against reinfection from Omicron than from previous variants.
  5. People who have received two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines but have not received a booster shot are significantly compromised in their protection from Omicron.
  6. The readily available monoclonal antibody treatments are not effective against Omicron.

I have spent the last 21 months working on COVID response. It has required a conservative mindset. By that, I mean that we have had to build plans that best cover all contingencies. We are now at a moment where that conservative mindset will serve us well again.

As I write this on Thursday, Dec.23, COVID-19 is “spreading like wildfire” in the resort counties of Eagle, Summit, Routt and Pitkin. On a statewide level, Omicron has quickly become the dominant variant and is driving a rapidly escalating caseload. Summit and Eagle Counties report their case counts are doubling every 24-48 hours.

There is significant evidence that infection from the Omicron variant frequently does not lead to severe symptoms. It is important to remember, though, that “mild to moderate” symptoms are not really as mild to moderate as they sound.

A mild case of COVID-19 means one is sick and not able to effectively work. A moderate case means one seeks therapeutics from a medical provider but is not actually hospitalized.

Rampant community infection with COVID-19, even at this mild to moderate level of symptoms, presents a massive challenge for the functioning of our community. Think about the staffing and supply chain issues we already face and multiply that by the Omicron R(0) factor.

There are currently conversations happening among the leadership of counties in the central mountains region of the state. The topic is both basic and familiar: what can counties do to maximize the COVID resources available and to most effectively influence community behavior?

We will do everything possible in terms of resources. As regards a collective Chaffee County stance toward behavior and implementation of available mitigation measures, the last two years have shown me that accurate, timely information is what our citizens need most in order to be responsible, accountable, and effective in their decision-making.

If that sounds a little vague, I’ll put it another way. People who have received two shots of Pfizer or Moderna should obtain a booster shot immediately; people should wear the highest quality mask they can acquire when spending time at indoor public spaces; people should temper their social activities over the next several weeks (think quality over quantity), and people should stay home and seek testing if they feel sick or have been exposed to a known COVID-positive person.

I believe that many Chaffee County families will experience infection from Omicron over the next two months. Hopefully, emerging therapeutics and more effective vaccines will become available quickly. In the meantime, our community’s overall experience, both physiological and societal, will be largely a reflection of how well we “flatten the curve” during this time. Doing so will help ensure that those who need medical care can access it. Doing so will help preserve uninterrupted essential services. Doing so will allow our schools to reopen for in-person learning after the break. And doing so will allow our businesses to remain open and operational.

Our county community has demonstrated tremendous willpower and compassion over the last 21 months. I am sorry to request that once again. But action is required, now, if we are to avoid the severest impacts of the Omicron variant. Thank you for doing your part.

By Greg Felt

Chair, Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners

Chair Chaffee Board of Health

Editors note, courtesy The New York Times: R(0), pronounced “R-naught,” represents the number of new infections estimated to stem from a single case.