Omicron complicates the picture of Colorado’s COVID-19 spike

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The South African doctor who alerted officials of the possibility of a new variant, later named omicron, said the “unusual but mild” symptoms were what caught her attention. (Photo: Getty Images)

DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado’s COVID-19 case rates are going up at record speeds and the omicron variant adds a new slant to the picture.

Colorado’s 7-day average case rate has spiked up 59% since Dec. 15.

This kind of sharp upward swing is rare in Colorado’s pandemic history. Case rates have only spiked this quickly and sharply twice – once during the initial days of the pandemic and again in the 2020 fall wave.

The good news, however, is that state and national data does not show a corresponding uptick in either deaths or hospitalizations.

Nationally, cases have spiked by 45% and the deaths average has wobbled in since Dec. 15 in a slightly upward direction, but it’s only up 4% over the same time period.

In Colorado, deaths and hospitalizations have fallen in the time period that cases have risen. The 7-day average deaths in COVID cases have dropped by 8%, the number of hospitalized COVID patients has dropped by 19%, and the average number of daily new hospital admissions has dropped by 24%.

It will take more time to tell if this new upswing in cases is the result of omicron’s less severe symptoms or a result of the usual time lapse between a rise in cases and a rise in hospitalizations and deaths.

Since the pandemic began, COVID metrics have usually followed a familiar pattern. Cases rise, followed by a corresponding rise in hospitalizations about a week later, followed finally by a rise in the death rate a week after that. This has been broadly true in Colorado across each large-scale COVID wave since the summer of 2020.

This could mean a wave of hospitalizations is about to start, however, early analysis by the Data Desk shows that the omicron variant may simply be less severe. Early data from the United Kingdom found people infected with the omicron variant were 60% less likely to be admitted to the hospital.

As a result, Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University and a former Harvard health expert said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that cases themselves are no longer a reliable way to measure the COVID pandemic. Instead, he said hospitalizations and deaths alone are the proper way to gauge public danger.

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