Oct 12, 2022 - News

COVID-19 variant concerns grow among Colorado health officials

Illustration of a COVID virus cell being overshadowed by a significantly larger COVID virus cell.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Colorado health officials are closely monitoring several emerging COVID-19 variants they say could lead to a winter wave of infections — and potentially hospitalizations.

Driving the news: Roughly 30% of Coloradans who have caught the virus are estimated to have long COVID, per the latest figures from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

  • That means about 494,000 Coloradans are living with long-term symptoms like brain fog, hair loss and mental health issues, as medical researchers search for a cure to long COVID nearly three years into the pandemic.

State of play: Local scientists are tracking at least two new variants in recent weeks, including BF.7, which they say appears to be more contagious and elusive to immune response.

  • The state's health department and Colorado School of Public Health published an updated statewide COVID modeling report earlier this month, which shows a variety of scenarios for the remainder of the year, including hospitalizations rising "steeply" by December if a new variant arrived in late September.
  • Whether the state sees a surge as the temperatures fall depends on the prevalence of emerging variants and how many Coloradans receive the retooled Omicron booster, experts advise.

What they're saying: "This latest modeling report … highlights the unpredictability of our upcoming fall and winter respiratory virus season," said state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy.

  • "The best thing Coloradans can do right now to protect themselves is to get both a flu vaccine and … Omicron dose when they are eligible."

By the numbers: As of Monday, 8.9% of eligible residents have been boosted with the latest shot, representing about 344,000 doses — up from 5.3% a week earlier, according to state health department data provided to Axios Denver.

  • COVID-19 hospital demand increased last week, but health officials say patient volumes remain relatively low — at about 10% of previous highs.
  • If a new variant doesn't arise, model simulations indicate a decline in hospital demand over the next 12 weeks.

The big picture: Anthony Fauci, director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week that "we should not be surprised" if a new COVID-19 variant emerges this winter when more people are pushed inside, Axios' Sabrina Moreno reports.

  • Meanwhile, long COVID continues to disable millions of Americans. Of the nearly 24 million adults in the U.S. who currently have long COVID, more than 80% are having some trouble carrying out daily activities, according to CDC data released last week.

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