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State health officials watching COVID data that could signal increase in cases

Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spoke Monday about the "stealth" omicron variant, vaccination rates and testing.

DENVER — COVID-19 cases remain low in Colorado, though state health officials said on Monday that they are watching a slight rise in the 7-day positivity rate that could signal an increase in cases due to an omicron subvariant.

It's too soon to tell whether variant BA.2, informally referred to as "stealth" omicron, will result in a new wave of cases, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, at a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) briefing.

Colorado's 7-day positivity rate is 3.33%, with an average of 294 cases over the past seven days.

"This could potentially signal that we are going to see an increase in cases that could be potentially associated with the BA.2 variant," Herlihy said. "We know that has occurred in other locations. But at this point, again, really too soon to know if this is a true trend or just some variability in the data."

About 21% of specimens tested in Colorado are of the omicron subvariant. That number has been increasing over the past few weeks but is still below the 35% rate in the U.S. overall, Herlihy said.

BA.2 has been detected in about half of wastewater utilities across the state, she said. Forty-seven utilities participate in wastewater monitoring across the state, CDPHE said.

Herlihy said that over the coming days, she will watch the state's positivity rate and case and hospitalization numbers that could indicate a new COVID wave.

The subvariant is more transmissible than the original omicron variant but does not appear to be anymore severe, Herlihy said.

RELATED: Denver ICU has zero COVID patients for first time since pandemic began

As of Monday, 135 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado.

A total of 81.68% of Colorado's eligible population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 73.30% is fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from CDPHE.

More than 2 million people in Colorado have been fully vaccinated and boosted, said Heather Roth, immunization branch chief. Fewer than 1 million people in the state remain unvaccinated, Roth said.

COVID-19 testing sites are open across the state. Dr. Emily Travanty, state lab director, said Colorado is using about 5% of its testing capacity and that health officials are looking into moving COVID testing into health care systems. That would mean patients could get tested in their doctor's office or another health care setting.

The BA.2 variant is often informally referred to as “stealth" omicron because it has genetic mutations that could make it harder to detect through testing, the American Medical Association says

RELATED: BA.2 or 'stealth' subvariant of omicron is more contagious: medical expert explains what is known so far

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RELATED: Colorado to start closing community vaccination sites, ends program for free home tests

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