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Most Coloradans immune to omicron variant now, state health officials say

By: - February 17, 2022 1:40 pm

Army Veteran Phil Ross, 73, right, celebrates after getting a COVID-19 vaccine administered by registered nurse Ola Arije, left, at Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora on Dec. 22, 2020. Residents and staff of the Fitzsimons veterans facility were among the first seniors in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post, pool)

State health officials estimate that the vast majority of Coloradans are now immune to the omicron variant of COVID-19, as case numbers and hospitalizations continue a steady decline.

State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said Thursday that new modeling suggests approximately 90% of people in the state are immune to the variant and even more are protected against severe disease. That is due to vaccination rates and the large amount of people who were infected with the strain over the past few months.

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Herlihy said that immunity level should remain high until at least the start of the summer, depending on the characteristics of any future variants. There is also an unknown about the precise nature of immunity omicron infection provides.

“Vaccine and infection acquired immunity will continue to fade over the months to come. We know that occurs and we’ve seen the trend of waning immunity and have seen that throughout the pandemic,” she said.

That level of immunity could be different across the state, Herlihy warned, as different regions might have lower levels of vaccination and fewer people recovered from an omicron infection.

The overall picture of the COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado continues to improve as case and hospitalization rates dip closer to the levels seen during last summer’s low point.

As of Feb. 17, there were 641 COVID-19 hospitalizations. At omicron’s peak in mid-January there were 1,676 hospitalizations. The state averaged just under 1,500 new cases per over the past week and the average percent positivity rate is approximately 7%, down from approximately 30% when omicron was at its height.

“In general, we continue to feel optimistic about the trends that we are seeing,” Herlihy said.

‘Cautious optimism’

Earlier on Thursday, the state deactivated two crisis standards of care for hospital staffing and emergency medical services in response to the improving pandemic metrics. The health care system staffing standards were activated in November and the EMS standards were activated in early January.

“Crisis standards of care are an important tool to help manage health care delivery in times of acute crisis,” Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment chief medical officer Dr. Eric France said in a statement. “The decision to deactivate these standards is based on recent modeling and steadily declining cases and hospitalizations, suggesting the immediate strain COVID-19 places on Colorado should continue to decrease in the coming weeks.”

Colorado’s COVID-19 incident commander, Scott Bookman, said the state has distributed close to 4.2 million free medical-grade masks with 437 enrolled locations in the program. At the same time, he said that some aspects of pandemic life, such as mask wearing, could fall to personal choice as numbers improve. He still suggests wearing a mask in indoor settings during this time of “cautious optimism.”

“It is going to be a period of adjustment, where we can move to a space where there is less mask wearing,” he said. “I think it’s important that we show each other an enormous amount of respect for those that continue to wear a mask. People may choose that for any number of reasons and I think we need to give them the space and support to do that.”

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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