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To say that many Coloradoans have a sense of Deja Vu at this moment in December is becoming obvious; not because it’s eight days before Christmas, but because we’ve been here before in this pandemic.

Last year at this time was one of the lowest points of the COVID-19 pandemic and some of the highest case rates, with people huddled, isolated at home for the holidays, and the vaccines just beginning to roll out. Fast-forward 12 months, and the rapid spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant, while we’re still dealing with the violent Delta variant, is just — well — crummy news.

The Omicron variant had been identified in 57 countries and 19 U.S. states, including Colorado, as of earlier this week. First identified in South Africa, it hit Europe earlier than the U.S. and there, countries are doing major lockdowns and mandates in an attempt to control the spread.

Several counties across the state are seeing a dramatic rise in cases, after the past few weeks of falling case rates and hospitalizations, as well as falling positivity rates, After four weeks of declining positivity rates in the state, public health leaders say there is evidence that the new rapidly spreading Omicron variant is present, and positivity rates are again rising. At Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical center, bed capacity has jumped to 95 percent, with seven admissions for COVID-19 in the past 14 days, and 22 visits to the emergency room for COVID.

COVID-19 vaccine Photo by Hakan-Nural for unsplash

“I will admit to some frustration that we are now heading into 2022 facing a new variant of concern and the unknown demands that this may place on each and all of us, I remain grateful for that “all of us” to which we all belong,” said Chaffee Commissioner Greg Felt, in a message to the county leadership that has met every week since March, 2020 to coordinate the county’s COVID-19 response.  “I know of no other county in Colorado that has been able to maintain the level of communication and coordination throughout its leadership that we have achieved here in Chaffee.”

This week Governor Polis discussed Colorado’s vaccination progress since the vaccine first arrived in Colorado one year ago, with more than 4 million Coloradans having received at least one dose, including 81 percent of Coloradans 12 and older and 25 percent of 5-11-year-olds who have to date received their first dose. The Governor also provided an update on the spread of the Omicron variant and emphasized that while Colorado has confirmed five cases and one case of community spread, vaccines, boosters, and masks provide the highest level of protection against all known variants.  Most of the state’s COVID cases are still Delta, but the experience on the East Coast had shown that that can change rapidly.

Eagle County, about to be inundated with holiday ski crowds, is seeing a “dramatic increase” in COVID-19 infections which it attributes to the new Omicron variant; its positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive — went from under 10 percent to more than 20 percent in a matter of two days. Eagle County Commissioners voted to extend the county’s mask mandate through Jan. 17 in a special meeting held Friday morning.

Chaffee County’s positivity rate still looks low, but given how fast the new variant replicates, that can change in a matter of hours. The county had its highest case rates of COVID for the entire pandemic in Nov. 2021 (434 cases). The case number had just began to come down in the past two weeks.

According to the Colorado Department of Public health and Environment (CDPHE), early data indicates that the doubling time of the Omicron variant — the time it takes for two cases to become four and so on — is only two days or less. This is much faster than the Delta variant which has caused the most recent wave, which took about five days to double. CDPHE staff predict a precarious situation over the next four to six weeks across the state.

There is little appetite in Colorado for statewide mandates, for everything from facemasks to vaccines. based on a wide variation in case rates. Thus, Governor Jared Polis has left the decisions related to mandates to the individual counties. At the same time, together with CDPHE, he has warned that we may have dark weeks ahead unless we get the spread of the virus under control.

As reported by Ark Valley Voice, this past week the U.S. hit grim milestones in those who have died from the pandemic. In an attempt to continue to vaccinate Chaffee County residents, the state’s Mobile Vaccine Bus is back in the county this week.

“It’s a dangerous time to be unvaccinated, so please check out fact-based and scientific information today if you’re still on the fence and get vaccinated and boosted. Our administration is committed to partnering with local governments to stand up drive-thru sites like the Aurora Municipal Center and large-scale vaccination sites which have the capacity to serve thousands of Coloradans,” said Gov. Polis. “Spread holiday cheer this year, not COVID; so get vaccinated and get boosted today.”

Data shows that boosted Coloradans are 47 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID than unvaccinated people.