As the COVID-19 landscape continues to evolve, especially with the advent of the Omicron variant, Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) would like the county and its visitors to be aware of the following:
CCPH recently was informed about its first local case of Omicron from a sample submitted to the state surveillance program on Dec. 12. About 91 percent of samples across the state that have been submitted to the surveillance program have been determined as Omicron, although the sample size has been small. Regardless, Omicron is appearing to be the dominant variant currently, and it is likely that the majority of local cases are Omicron.
At this time, there are very few differences between contact tracing and case investigation expectations for Omicron versus Delta cases. Therefore, these cases will be handled the same as they have been for Delta and past variants. It is clear that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than previous strains of the virus, while it is also evident that vaccinations are optimally effective only when there is a third dose, referred to as a booster dose, administered.
CCPH urges everyone who is eligible to get their booster dose of the vaccine if they haven’t already, preferably Pfizer or Moderna, as soon as possible. There are ample opportunities to get vaccinated and boosted throughout the county, so there is no reason to wait. Data is still being collected regarding the severity of Omicron.
Hospitalizations across the state are creeping up, although they had been on a downward trend for a few weeks. 80 percent of those currently hospitalized are unvaccinated. At this stage in the pandemic, protecting our local and state healthcare system from surging should be our north star, our focus, knowing that it has been expected that cases would surge. At the time of this release, Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center (HRRMC) is reporting one hospitalization with COVID-19 and a capacity of 68 percent. Other hospitals, especially in mountain resort communities, are not so fortunate.
While other counties are issuing or extending their own mask mandates, Chaffee County is not doing so at this time. However, CCPH strongly urges everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to make the personal choice to wear a mask in indoor public spaces when distancing is difficult to achieve. Local businesses and events that wish to establish their own masking requirements have full CCPH support. At this point, the decision to wear a mask should be widely supported, accepted, and normalized, especially due to Omicron’s highly contagious nature.
New Isolation and Quarantine Instructions
To align with the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations regarding isolation and quarantine protocols, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has updated its guidance. The updates help alleviate the burden that the previous isolation and quarantine expectations have had on employment and education and take into account the epidemiology of the Omicron variant as well as workforce shortages and interruption to daily life.
If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. Fully vaccinated means that it has been two weeks since your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or your single dose of Johnson & Johnson. However, it is recommended that you get a COVID-19 test five to seven days after exposure and wear a mask in public for 14 days after exposure or until you have a negative test result. If you need a third dose (also known as a booster) but haven’t yet received one, you should consider following quarantine instructions to reduce your risk of transmitting the virus to others.
These precautions will help protect the people around you in the rare case of a breakthrough infection. If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19 in the 14 days after exposure, you should get tested, even if you have a previous negative test. The recommended time in isolation for those in the general population with COVID-19 has changed from 10 to 5 days, if asymptomatic on Day 5, followed by an additional five days wearing a mask when around others. This change is based on data showing that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the course of illness.
People who live or work in residential or congregate living settings should continue to follow the isolation and quarantine guidance for their setting to mitigate the risk of transmission within the facility. Sector guidance documents from CDPHE are forthcoming. CCPH is working on updating all of its resources and communications to reflect the changes and appreciates everyone’s patience as it does so.
While a full series plus booster vaccination is the best way to prevent significant illness, hospitalization, and death due to or with COVID-19, especially as we all learn more about the Delta and Omicron variants, CCPH recognizes that this strategy has not been widely received by everyone in our community for varying reasons.
Other strategies that CCPH will be promoting in the new year include: increasing ventilation in indoor environments, working remotely until we can get a handle on the recent surge and its impact on the healthcare system, holding virtual or hybrid events for right now when possible, continuing to wear masks in indoor public spaces, especially those where distancing is difficult, educating the community about credible ways to boost immunity and overall health, getting tested, whether at home or through a proctored site when supplies are available and when it is appropriate to do so, and staying at home when sick, which has always been a gold standard practice but one that society has been lax with.
There may be times when rapid tests are not readily available, and PCR tests, albeit with a result time of a couple of days, are.
As we learn more about Omicron, we have learned that there is one Monoclonal Antibody Treatment (mAb) that is effective to reduce the severity of it; sotrovimab. Unfortunately, this particular treatment is only available in limited quantities across the state, and it is almost impossible to secure it in Chaffee County.
While the state treatment bus will be onsite at HRRMC starting the week of January third, inventory is uncertain. Therefore, everyone must do what they can to protect themselves and the people they care about until we have more resources for treatment.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did approve the Pfizer antiviral drug recently (under Emergency Use Authorization); however, it is also being distributed in limited supplies at the time of this press release. CCPH and its healthcare partners will update the community when it is available and under which conditions it is authorized for.
“Not unlike the past two years, the beginning of 2022 is shaping up to be challenging and dynamic. However, with ample vaccine supply and proof that it keeps people from severe illness, hospitalization, and death, coupled with evolving therapeutics, while they are limited at the moment, we are heading into a new year with the hope that we can make COVID-19 part of our lives in a very normalized way at some point soon,” said CCPH Director and Chaffee County Incident Commander Andrea Carlstrom. “In the meantime, please do what you can to mitigate the spread of this virus until we know more.”
“Prioritizing in-person activities to those that mean so much, especially in the holiday season and new year (good thing that many of us have gotten proficient in virtual platforms), wearing a mask when in indoor public places even though there is no mandate to do so, staying at home when symptomatic so that whatever you have is not shared with your peers, getting tested when it makes sense to do so and acting on the requirements of the results once you find out, and getting vaccinated and boosted if you have chosen not to do so yet, [are critical]” she added. “All of these are imperative for us to get out of this disaster. I naively thought that after the vaccination rollout, we could put this chapter in history behind us. Unfortunately, that is not the case. If anyone can weather this storm (a tsunami actually) it is Chaffee County, but we all must do our part.”
By Andrea Carlstrom
CCPH Director and Chaffee County Incident Commander