Worrisome omicron COVID-19 variant detected in Arapahoe County


AURORA | State health officials confirmed Thursday the first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Colorado. 

The case was detected in a female in Arapahoe County who had recently traveled to South Africa, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. While the person was considered fully vaccinated, but they had not received a booster shot. 

The person is reportedly experiencing minor symptoms. 

During a Thursday press conference, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said the woman flew back last week after visiting countries in southern Africa.

“She tested positive a day after she arrived,” she said.

Omicron has been classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and suspected to be causing an elevated number of cases in South Africa, where it was first identified.

“There is still a lot to learn about the omicron variant, but due to some of the mutations on the spike protein of the virus, it is possible that omicron might be more transmissible, or immune response may not be as effective,” CDPHE said in an email to press today. 

Herlihy said the concerns immediately are whether the newly identified variant will have increased transmissibility and whether that could be related to the virus’ ability to evade people’s immune systems.

She said that regardless, there’s no indication that masks are any less or more effective at preventing transmission of the omicron variant.

When asked by reporters, Polis said nothing he’s learned so far would change his steadfast push against a statewide mask mandate.

California was the first state in the U.S. to detect an omicron variant case. The second was identified in Minnesota earlier in the day.

Gov. Jared Polis said in response to the news that detection of the variant in the state is not reason to panic, but reason to be more cautious. Tri-County Health has already mandated people where masks in indoor public places. Denver, Boulder and Jefferson counties all have similar mandates.

State leaders also say anybody who is unvaccinated should seek out a shot. Anybody who is eligible for a booster should receive one. 

“It’s particularly critical that Coloradans heed caution and get vaccinated, get a booster dose, wear a mask in indoor public spaces, limit large gatherings, wash their hands frequently, get tested if they have symptoms or were exposed, and practice physical distancing,” the state health department said. “People who have recently traveled internationally should be tested 3-5 days after their return with a molecular or PCR test, regardless of symptoms or vaccination history. Anyone, regardless of vaccination status, who develops symptoms should get tested immediately and isolate.”

Testing sites, like vaccine clinics, are still operating across the state. A list of free sites can be found here.

In other news about the pandemic in Colorado, Herlihy said there’s not yet good data on home many COVID19 infections there have recently been among people who have received booster vaccinations.

“That’s actually a good problem to have,” she said, adding that with so little data, it appears so far that the booster shots are effective.

The state and the nation have increasingly reported infections of being fully vaccinated sixth months or more.

Polis said research shows that the vaccines lose efficacy after six months, making a case for everyone to get booster vaccines.