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The cold, flu and yes, COVID-19 season is still with us, barely a couple of weeks into the new year, and precautions are being advised by medical professionals. While masking is purely a matter of personal choice for healthy individuals, it still is a useful tool in crowded, indoor situations.

Chaffee County Public Health Department (CCPH) Director Andrea Carlstrom reported last week that the “COVID-19 community level is low, while community transmission has been “Substantial” (we are now back to high). Hospitalizations are trending down and deaths are considerably down,” she reported.

Sign of the times (2020)in front of Kaleidoscope Toys features teary-eyed Giraffe Man mask and the streetscape of downtown Salida. Merrell Bergin photo

State and national health professionals are monitoring newer COVID-19 variants; in the news lately, the XBB.1.5 strain continues to spread. Carlstrom said while the variant is “gaining traction,” there is uncertainty about its severity levels compared to previous strains.

About vaccines, Carlstrom said COVID vaccinations are still being offered for those six months of age and older.

“New bivalent booster has been in demand but it is much lower than in the past, though keeping us busy,” she stated, noting some changes have been made with the six-month-5 booster.

CCPH has secured the state vaccine bus locally for January and February, “but it is unclear whether there will be funding for these after February.” she said.

Chaffee County Director of Public Health Andrea Carlstrom.

“The state has increased its administrative burden on us providing off-site COVID-19 vaccinations,” said Carlstrom, “including at our weekly CCC events, so there is a chance we might go back to offering those solely in-house. It is anticipated that vaccines will transition to the commercial market later on this year.”

Plenty of rapid, at-home COVID tests are available and she stressed the public should understand that a positive test means the person should simply follow isolation guidelines and there are very few situations that would warrant a follow-up PCR testing.

Regarding the other viruses of concern – influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV),  Carlstrom said RSV trends have declined to what is typical for this time of year, while flu Type A has a 20.5 percent positivity rate. Flu Type B had zero positivity rate about a week ago, but Carlstrom cautions we are likely to see two waves of flu this year, and it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

She pointed out that past gatherings during the holidays could still impact what otherwise is “looking like a more favorable and normal respiratory illness season in early 2023.”

Statewide, the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) reported an increase in COVID cases recently, though the more than 3,200 cases reported this week are down by 646. Colorado’s seven-day positivity rate is 7.9 percent. There were 342 new hospitalizations this week, with 245 still hospitalized, according to CDPHE.

Overall the pandemic has resulted in nearly 1,740,000 people infected in Colorado since the start, with 14,600 deaths from COVID reported.

The New York Times reported charting of COVID cases recently showed more than 59,000 cases in the U.S., resulting in more than 560 deaths, up significantly (78 percent) from levels two weeks prior. Global cases were listed at 354,594, with deaths up 31 percent over the last two weeks to more than 2,300

The new XBB.1.5 variant, growing in hot spots such as the northeastern United States, where it makes up about three-quarters of new cases, is still fairly rare. Though the variant is of concern because it is multiplying faster than other Omicron sub-variants.