Coronavirus

What You Need to Know About Omicron 3's Rise in Colorado

A bird's eye view of Denver Health.
A bird's eye view of Denver Health. Denver Health via YouTube
The latest COVID-19 statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reveal that a third edition of virus's Omicron variant is rising steadily in the state amid deteriorating data in several major categories.

According to the CDPHE, the numbers are no reason for panic. But as has been the case over the two years-plus of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's a lot that even the experts don't yet understand about what's technically known as BA.2.12.1 and popularly referenced as Omicron 3.

According to Kristen Stewart, a spokesperson for the joint information center handling COVID-related communication for the state, "Colorado and the United States are seeing gradually increasing test percent positivity, cases and hospitalizations. In Colorado specifically, the predominance of BA.2 and the emerging BA.2.12.1 omicron subvariant are driving slight increases in all those categories."

The percentages related to samples of COVID-19 sequenced by the CDPHE are definitely in flux. The first breakdowns for the weeks of March 27 and April 3 included only two entries: the original Omicron strain subsequently dubbed Omicron 1 and a subvariant known as both Omicron 2 and stealth Omicron. But the department adjusted those reports to include Omicron 3, and it's been gaining ground on the other two. According to the agency, BA.2.12.1 accounted for 1.11 percent of samples on March 27, 8.45 percent on April 3 and 12.61 percent on April 10, the most recent week for which stats are available.

Other states provide something of a preview for what's likely to happen with Omicron 3 in Colorado. Note that an April 30 report from the San Francisco Chronicle describes the variant as "more infectious than its predecessors" and quotes health officials as predicting that it could make up half of new COVID cases "in a matter of days." At that point, Omicron 3 already accounted for nearly 60 percent of such infections in New York and other East Coast states, in part because it's estimated to be 1.5 times more transmissible than Omicron 1 and 20-30 percent easier to catch than Omicron 2.

Still, University of Leicester professor Elizabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska told Medical News Today that based on early studies, the clinical symptoms associated with Omicron 3 are similar to those of its predecessors, as opposed to being notably worse. Most people who contract it should expect to experience "flu-like symptoms that affect the upper respiratory tract symptoms but not the lungs," with milder effects likely for those who've been vaccinated, recovered from a case of an earlier Omicron variant, or both.

State spokesperson Stewart echoes these theories. "We continue to believe there is a high level of community immunity from severe disease in Colorado due to vaccination and prior infection," she says. "State modeling projections indicate transmission is likely to continue to increase for several weeks, but not exceed levels seen during the prior Omicron surge. The impact of potential new variants, or subvariants such as BA.2.12.1, on transmission and hospitalization rates in Colorado is highly dependent on variant characteristics. Preliminary data on BA.2.12.1 suggests it is more transmissible than BA.2 but there is no evidence of increased severity."

As a result, Stewart continues, "The best protection against all variants of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated with all recommended doses of the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone, regardless of vaccine status, who experiences symptoms should get tested immediately and isolate while waiting for test results.

"If someone in Colorado tests positive for COVID-19, they might be eligible for therapeutic treatment," she adds. "These treatments work best when they are administered as soon as possible. CDPHE has the latest information on therapeutics and what might work for those that test positive for COVID-19 (and are at risk for getting very sick) on our website. People who test positive should notify people they’ve been in close contact with, especially those who are at high risk of severe illness, so they can take steps to protect themselves and the people they are in contact with."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts