Colorado's New COVID Variant: What You Need to Know

An aerial view of Estes Park, one of three areas in Colorado where the new COVID-19 variant has been detected thus far.
An aerial view of Estes Park, one of three areas in Colorado where the new COVID-19 variant has been detected thus far. YouTube
Late last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed that BA.2.75, a new Omicron subvariant of COVID-19, had been detected in Colorado.

To learn more about the latest Omicron mutation and what it might mean for residents of this state and beyond, Westword reached out to Kristen Stewart, spokesperson for Colorado's joint information center, which is tasked with communicating about COVID-19.

According to Stewart, "There are no confirmed clinical cases of BA.2.75 at this time, which means BA.2.75 is not currently included in the weekly proportion of variants of concern by specimen collection" on the CDPHE's main data dashboard, which is "reliant on clinical detections — meaning a genomic sequencing of a PCR test."

However, she notes, "Public-health officials detected mutations indicative of the presence of BA.2.75 in wastewater samples from Upper Thompson and Estes Park (in Larimer County) and Brush (in Morgan County)."

Wastewater surveillance "supplements human-case data and allows us to identify the presence of a virus in a community without relying solely on results from clinical testing," Stewart explains. "Wastewater surveillance is an important part of COVID-19 surveillance, because it does not rely on people getting tested. This method allows us to estimate trends of disease spread in Colorado." The identification of BA.2.75 in wastewater means "there are likely cases of this variant in Colorado," she continues. "We may not have a clinical sample of this case sequenced because of the prevalence of at-home rapid tests, or even the possibility that someone has COVID-19 and has not taken a test. This is why it is so important to look at all the data sources holistically."

Right now, the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, sometimes shorthanded as Omicron 5, remains the dominant strain circulating in Colorado — and that's true for the United States as a whole. As of August 8, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's online NowCast tool showed that "85.5 percent of cases in the U.S. are due to the BA.5 subvariant, and a further 11.8 percent are due to the similar BA.4 and BA.4.6 subvariants," she says.

Stewart says that the BA.2.75 subvariant was "first identified in May of 2022 in India. Scientists are still learning about the characteristics of the variant. Researchers note that the mutations present in BA.2.75 suggest it could increase the risk of reinfection compared to other Omicron variants, particularly in people whose first infection was prior to the emergence of Omicron."

Health officials are very much aware of this situation, Stewart continues: "On June 28, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted in favor of including an Omicron component for COVID-19 booster vaccines. The FDA has advised vaccine manufacturers that they should develop modified vaccines that add an Omicron BA.4/BA.5 component to create a two-component (bivalent) booster vaccine. We expect that these vaccines will be available this fall, with timing dependent on vaccine manufacturers and the federal government. We are planning for distribution of these boosters."

There is "no current data to suggest that BA.4, BA.5, or BA.2.75 are more likely to cause hospitalization or death than prior Omicron subvariants," Stewart acknowledges. "But data does suggest that Omicron is causing less severe disease in Colorado than prior variants of COVID-19, including Delta."

In the meantime, she continues, "vaccines are the safest, most effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants (and to help avoid severe illness, hospitalization, and death). Staying up to date with all doses offers the highest level of protection. Coloradans can find out how many they need to stay current with our vaccine-dose calculator.

"A complete list of COVID-19 vaccine clinics can be found on our website, as well as a list of over 2,000 vaccine providers throughout Colorado. If you test positive or think you might have COVID-19, you may be able to get treatment to help you recover."

You could also be the first person to officially test positive for the latest Omicron subvariant to arrive in Colorado.
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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