The Boulder County resident who tested positive for the omicron variant of COVID-19 after traveling abroad likely isn’t the only person in the community who has it, and the public should keep taking precautions against the virus, state health officials said Tuesday.

The delta variant still accounts for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in Colorado. But the state has confirmed two cases of the new omicron variant, both in people who had recently traveled to southern Africa — and a sampling of Boulder’s municipal wastewater system picked up some of that variant’s distinctive mutations, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said at a news conference.

Wastewater testing can’t pinpoint how many people may be infected, but the results suggest more than one person likely has omicron, Herlihy said. However, the new variant doesn’t appear to be widespread in Boulder.

“There’s probably some low level of community transmission,” she said.

The first omicron infection in Colorado was confirmed in an Arapahoe County woman, but state officials have not reported any spread related to that case.

Herlihy urged people who develop COVID-19 symptoms or know they were exposed to get a PCR test, which looks for the virus’s genetic material. While at-home rapid tests are a good screening tool, the state can’t use them to track which variants are spreading in the community, she said.

“Our detection system only works if people get tested,” she said.

So far, omicron doesn’t appear to be causing more hospitalizations in South Africa — where it was first confirmed — than previous versions of SARS-CoV-2, which is “reassuring so far,” Herlihy said.

It does seem to be spreading more rapidly than the delta variant, but it’s not clear if that’s because it’s more contagious, or because it’s better at infecting people who are vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19 infection via another variant. It’s possible both could be factors, but the world won’t know with certainty for a few weeks.

The overall picture of Colorado’s COVID-19 situation is somewhat unclear. Hospitalizations had fallen for about a week, but rose again Tuesday, with 1,419 people receiving inpatient care statewide for confirmed COVID-19. It’s possible that’s a short-term effect from Thanksgiving gatherings, but it will take at least a few more days of data to know, Herlihy said.

The percentage of tests coming back positive has trended down, though it’s still above the state’s 5% goal. The seven-day average number of cases had dropped in late November, rebounded in the first days of December and dropped again over the weekend. Sometimes drops disappear as delayed reports come in, adding another layer of difficulty in sorting out what’s happening.

It’s a good idea to continue practicing social distancing, and to consider wearing medical-grade masks in indoor public settings, Herlihy said.

New data also showed that booster shots can provide an extra level of protection, with Coloradans who received an extra dose about three times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who only completed their first shot sequence — and 47 times less likely than those who are unvaccinated.

People who are vaccinated, but haven’t had a booster shot, are 11 times less likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than those who are unvaccinated.

Gov. Jared Polis urged people who haven’t been able to get an appointment for a booster shot to consider one of the state’s mass vaccination sites:

  • Arapahoe Community College: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
  • Aurora Municipal Center: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
  • Chapel Hills Mall, Colorado Springs: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily
  • Citadel Mall, Colorado Springs: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday
  • Douglas County Fairgrounds: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
  • La Plata County Fairgrounds: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday
  • Pueblo Mall: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
  • Weld County Clerk and Recorder building, Greeley: 8:30 a.m. to 6:10 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 12:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday; 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday

The sites also offer first and second shots for both adults and children. Appointments are available, but not required.

“We want it to be available to you today,” Polis said of the vaccine.

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