DENVER — Colorado health leaders held a news conference on Thursday afternoon to give an update on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) state epidemiologist, said cases in the state are steadily declining again after a slight increase following the Thanksgiving holiday.
Herlihy said the decline is in contrast to nationwide trends in case numbers, which are showing an increase in COVID-19 transmission.
In addition, the seven-day moving positivity trend showed the same holiday bump in between two steady declines. However, Herlihy said that the current rate of 7.64% is still higher than the 5% benchmark, which would be a sign the state is processing enough COVID-19 tests to have a full picture of transmission.
When it comes to the newly discovered omicron variant, Herlihy said reports out of southern Africa indicate it is spreading faster than the delta variant, and that reinfection appears to be more common compared to the delta and beta variants.
In addition, while there are indications vaccines are not as effective when combating omicron, Pfizer is reporting that people who have received a third booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine are showing protective antibody levels.
Herlihy said that more data is needed to determine omicron's severity compared to other variants, and whether its apparent increased spread is due to higher transmissibility or because it prompts a weaker response from the immune system.
> Video below: 9Hleath Expert Dr. Payal Kohli discusses the approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for 16- and 17-year-olds.
COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman said that hospitalizations have declined from the most recent peak earlier in December, but remain very high with 1,356 COVID patents still occupying hospital beds. Bookman said that leaves about 518 beds available as of Thursday.
"I do want to stress we still have a lot of people in the hospital with COVID," Bookman said. "Our healthcare workers, our EMS providers, our first responders on the front line are still working around the clock, nights, weekends, and holidays, to take care of a lot of people with COVID."
Bookman said that 115,557 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have received the first dose of Pfizer's COVID vaccine, which is about 24.1% of eligible children in the state. That's nearly 7% higher than the national rate being reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bookman also said that more than 1.1 million Coloradans have received a booster dose, which is about 42.9% of the eligible population.
On Tuesday, Herlihy said that CDPHE's wastewater surveillance system had picked up the omicron variant in Boulder County. She said that points to low community transmission of the variant, though CDPHE didn't yet know how many cases there might be in the community. So far, Colorado has confirmed two omicron cases, according to Herlihy.
CDPHE plans to test specimens from PCR testing in Boulder County to get a clearer picture of transmission, she said. The variant seems to be more transmissible but causes less severe symptoms, according to early studies, Herlihy said.
Colorado detected its first cases of the omicron variant last week, in patients from Arapahoe and Boulder counties. The delta variant continues to account for all other cases in the state, as it has since August.
> Watch Thursday's full press conference
Herlihy also showed data gathered by CDPHE that showed those who get a booster dose are 2.4 times less likely to contract COVID-19 than those who haven't.
About 41% of Coloradans who are eligible for a booster of a COVID-19 vaccine have gotten that third dose. As more people get the booster, the data are expected to show a larger impact, Herlihy said.
On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved booster Pfizer shots for 16- and 17-year-olds.
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