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Omicron is in Colorado. State officials say vaccines are the 'best defense' as COVID-19 cases rise

Virus Outbreak Colorado
David Zalubowski
Medical personnel administer COVID-19 swab tests at a mass testing site in the parking lot of Citadel Mall on Dec. 22, 2021, in southeast Colorado Springs. The state has reopened mass testing sites in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the country.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Jared Polis and other health officials said that the “best defense” against the omicron variant is getting vaccinated.

Omicron cases have been reported throughout Colorado this week.

The Weld County Health Department confirmed seven cases of COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant. The cases were identified in five communities: Windsor, Greeley, Evans, Dacono and Milliken. The patients who tested positive range in age from 7 months to 78 years old.

Larimer County reported nine confirmed cases in persons ages 18 to 57 this week. Omicron was also detected in wastewater samples.

In Boulder County, COVID-19 cases were up more than 160% last week and health officials say that the demand for testing is significantly increasing.

The mask mandate for indoor settings in Denver is being extended into the new year, as cases of COVID-19 persist. The public health order will remain in effect through Feb. 3. Businesses and venues may drop mask requirements if they verify full vaccination status of patrons.

Eagle County instituted an indoor mask order last week. A mask mandate issued in October in Larimer County is still in effect.

Polis advised people going to large gatherings for New Year's celebrations to "be smart" and careful to avoid spreading the virus to more vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or immunocompromised.

"You have a high risk of getting it if you go out," Polis said. "Obviously that risk is reduced a bit if you wear a mask. But as long as you're fully vaccinated, hopefully with all three doses, the risk of you getting severely sick with the omicron variant is very, very small."

The state health department will distribute up to 3 million KN95 masks to school districts as students return from holiday break. Polis encouraged school districts to require testing for students to return.

Health officials stressed practicing the current COVID-19 prevention protocols — getting vaccinated, including a booster shot, and masking up in public.

The state is waiting to see how the recent spike in cases will affect hospital capacity. The statewide patient count was 50% lower this week than it was a month ago. But health officials are expecting an increase as soon as this week because of holiday gatherings.

Scott Franz contributed to this report.

Corrected: December 29, 2021 at 5:23 PM MST
This story was updated to clarify advice from Gov. Polis about attending New Year's gatherings.
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