More than half of Colorado COVID-19 cases now from variants

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DENVER | More than half of new COVID-19 cases in Colorado are now from variants of the virus, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlily.

To date, there have been 1,472 detected cases of the UK variant, 24 of the South African variant, 488 of the California variant and 12 of the Brazil variant, which was first found in Colorado this week.

All of the Brazilian variant cases identified so far are in the Denver metro area, including Arapahoe County.

The Brazilian variant is the one scientists have the least amount of information about, Herlihy said Friday during a news conference. It is more transmissible than the regular virus, and it is possible that it causes more severe illness.

It is unclear whether the vaccine is less effective against the variant, but if it is, Herhily said she believes the impact is small and that vaccines are still by far the best way to combat the virus.

Because of the increase in variants circulating around the state, Herlihy and Gov. Jared Polis said that it is more important than ever that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks, social distance and avoid indoor social gatherings as the state rides out the end of the pandemic.

“We don’t want a setback now,” Polis said.

Hospitalization rates have increased over the past few weeks, and for the first time since February more than 400 people are currently hospitalized with COVID. There is still plenty of hospital capacity, but the increase is a cause for concern, Polis said.

“This underscores the importance of being careful and finishing out this pandemic strong,” he said.

The good news is that while hospitalization rates for people age 18 to 50 are increasing, hospitalization rates have plateaued for people above 50, Herlihy said. This demonstrates that vaccinations are starting to have a significant impact in Colorado.

By the end of May, and hopefully sooner, everyone in the state who wants a vaccine should be able to get one, Polis said.

There’s “no cause for concern” about the adverse reactions 11 people experienced with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Wednesday at the mass vaccination site at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, according to the state. CDPHE chief medical officer Dr. Eric France said the state shut down the testing site for the rest of the day and had the FDA inspect the vaccine lots to make sure there were no issues with the doses.

Upon review, France said that the vaccines were safe.

The reactions were the type that some people routinely have after being vaccinated, he said. The symptoms reported — dizziness and nausea — were likely brought on by people who were anxious about being vaccinated. 

If people are nervous about getting the vaccine, he encouraged them to make sure they bring water and have something to eat beforehand, and consider bringing a friend with them for support.

Three other states have reported some patients receiving the Johnson & Johnson experiencing similar reactions, but so far haven’t reported anything wrong with the doses. 

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