Dec 2, 2021 - COVID

Omicron variant found in Colorado woman who traveled to Africa

Illustration of a covid particle over a pattern of stripes, dots, and exclamation points.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Omicron variant is in Colorado.

What we know: An Arapahoe County woman who traveled throughout southern Africa on vacation and returned late last week has Colorado's first confirmed case of the latest COVID-19 variant, officials said Thursday.

  • The woman was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot. She also wore a face mask during her travels, officials said, and is quarantining.
  • She developed mild symptoms after returning home and no cases of community transmission are anticipated.

What they're saying: "This was expected news," Gov. Jared Polis said at a briefing announcing the local Omicron discovery.

  • "Any variant that is so prevalent in the world as the Omicron variant is, we knew it wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when it was identified in Colorado."

What we don't know: Whether to panic.

  • Public health experts are trying to determine whether the variant is more transmissible than others, causes more serious illness and can evade vaccine immunity.

Between the lines: The positive test was flagged by Tri-County public health officials given the woman's travel history and genome sequenced by the state.

  • Colorado sequences about 15% of all positive COVID tests, one of the highest rates in the country, and the state also monitors wastewater for community detection.

The big picture: The Colorado case marks the third-known instance of the Omicron variant in the United States and comes only one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first in California. A second was reported earlier Thursday in Minnesota.

The bottom line: The arrival of the new variant may represent a setback in Colorado's efforts to quash the virus.

  • The state's rates and hospitalizations were showing signs of improvement, but now Polis says all bets are off.
  • “When this virus throws a spitball after a screwball, who knows where we will be two weeks from now, especially after the holiday gatherings,” the governor said.
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