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Thursday, Governor Jared Polis and Dr. Rachel Herlihy, State Epidemiologist provided an update on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the state’s first reported case of the Omicron variant and efforts Colorado is taking to get more people vaccinated and boosted, as well as efforts to deploy monoclonal treatment.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis enters the House of Representatives chamber to make his first State of the State address to a joint session of the Colorado Legislature Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“Thanks to Colorado’s sophisticated lab and hard work, we have identified the first case of the Omicron variant in Colorado. Now is the time for caution, not for panic, so get vaccinated, get boosted, and get your children ages 5 and up vaccinated,” said Governor Polis. “If you’re concerned about this new variant and your loved ones, get vaccinated and get boosted and I urge the remaining Coloradans who have not stepped up to protect themselves with the vaccine to get off the sidelines.”

Much remains to be understood regarding the new Omicron COVID-19 variant but it is believed the variant may be more transmissible, causing it to spread faster. It’s unclear if this variant causes more severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Among the Coloradans who are hospitalized with COVID-19, only 17.7 percent (248) are vaccinated individuals, and 82 percent (1,152) are unvaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccines. Photo by Daniel Schludi for unsplash

The first case of the Omicron variant in Colorado has been identified. This follows Wednesday’s announcement that the first case in the United States was found in California. Additionally, another case was reported in Minnesota Thursday morning, followed now by cases being identified in at least three other states, so far.

Colorado’s first case, identified by the expert epidemiologists at Colorado’s State Lab, involves an Arapahoe County individual who recently traveled to southern Africa. Prior to confirming the genome sequence of this Omicron case, CDPHE had issued an isolation order for this individual and close contacts to the case have been tested and have tested negative.

Colorado’s State Lab, led by Director Dr. Emily Travanty has done incredible work throughout this pandemic to swiftly detect the presence of new variants in the state. With Colorado’s sophisticated tracking system, Colorado was the first state in the U.S. to identify the Alpha variant in late 2020 and now Colorado has quickly identified the first Colorado case of Omicron.

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, State Epidemiologist, joined Governor Polis to provide an overview of the Omicron variant.

“Colorado has one of the highest rates of whole-genome sequencing in the country but of course testing relies on individuals going to get tested. Testing is a fundamental part of our response,” said Dr. Herlihy. “Getting tested, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, physical distancing, washing your hands, all of those strategies remain the same. At this stage, we still have lots of questions about the severity and transmissibility of Omicron.”

Given the unknowns regarding Omicron, it remains incredibly important that people get vaccinated and get their booster shot. As of Thursday, more than 80 percent of Coloradans 12 and older have already rolled up their sleeves and received at least one dose of the vaccine, and Colorado is leading the way with vaccinations for Coloradans ages 5 to 11 with more than 21 percent on their way to full protection.

With concern over the unknown impacts of this new and complicated variant spreading, the nationwide vaccination rates hit levels not seen since May 2021: on Thursday, more than two million people got vaccinated.