Public Health update: Local omicron cases rise five fold, seriously stressing infrastructure

Four Corners Public Radio | By Sarah Flower
Published January 4, 2022

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Positive COVID-19 cases are reaching unprecedented numbers in southwest Colorado leaving local public health overwhelmed. KSUT’s Sarah Flower talks with San Juan Basin Public Health about how the new variant is affecting services for the region.

Interview transcript:

Sarah Flower
Liane, so much has changed with COVID-19, and this pandemic and this surge of cases and hospitalizations climbing, and lag times for the actual numbers due to the holiday season - and reporting of these numbers. There is a lot to cover today, but what I'd like to start off with is cases locally, and how things are faring right now in southwest Colorado.

Liane Jollon
Things are moving very quickly with omicron variant. We have seen here in southwest Colorado in the jurisdiction served by San Juan Basin Public Health, just about a five fold increase in our daily averaging cases since Christmas to now. With a five fold increase in cases in that short amount of time, it puts tremendous stress on our local infrastructure. Our case investigators our outbreak investigators, it also puts tremendous pressure on our testing facilities and has created a lack of availability of the over the counter rapid tasks and other resources that people really want to have available to them to control this virus. So at this volume of cases, we're not going to get to every positive case in a timely fashion.

Lack of testing has been an issue across the nation. And with school starting back this week, are we behind in the number of tests we need to be providing for our community right now.

We're hearing reports of testing locations in other places in Colorado that simply cannot accommodate the requests that they've gotten. We have not gotten those reports here yet. But it would not surprise us if in the next couple of weeks, we do end up in a similar situation to lots of communities in Colorado, where we simply cannot get everyone run through the free community test sites. So if you're symptomatic, get tested right away. If you're exposed, get tested on day five or get tested when you develop symptoms. But if you cannot get a test, the most important thing, if you're symptomatic, is stay home, do not go to work. Don't go to the supermarket, don't go out to any public indoor crowded space, because we really need you to follow the isolation orders or follow the quarantine orders if you've been exposed.

The most recent data we have from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows an insanely steep climb in the number of positive cases, not really even gradual, but just a complete vertical line far surpassing the numbers that we saw in the peak of 2020. And what we do know from two years in this pandemic is that what follows these positive cases is hospitalizations and then ultimately death. With this high number of cases, Liane there is so much we don't know about this omichron variant.

In 2020, the highest daily case count that we ever had in Colorado was just under 7000. And this was last winter in just the absolute crush of our winter surge, before vaccine became available. We are now seeing days in Colorado where Colorado is reporting 11,000 positive cases on a single day. And we know we're missing cases because individuals are not able to get into test sites and are not necessarily able to find rapid tests. But if they happen to have their hands on rapid tests, a lot of those are not getting reported into the system. Historically, with this pandemic, increases in cases have led to increases in hospitalizations and increases in fatalities. We don't know how much hospitalization and fatality this variant is going to lead to. It's going to be really hard to figure out what happens next, until we have some basic questions answered. You know, what is the severity of this variant? What is the transmissibility? And then how does this variant react to the vaccines that are currently available? We do believe that all signs point to it's highly, highly transmissible. As far as how well the current vaccines protects people, a lot of the science and a lot of the recommendations are it is so important right now to be fully vaccinated and be boosted if you're more than six months out from your last vaccine, if it was an MRNA or be boosted if you're more than two months out from a Johnson & Johnson completion. What we have seen locally throughout the last few months is we have seen extraordinarily full hospitals. We do not have any more room in our local hospitals. Yet we've seen 90, 95, 100% of the individuals in our local hospitals as not vaccinated.

That's Liane Jollon with this week's COVID-19 update here on KSUT.