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COVID In Colorado: Experts Using Multiple Methods To Monitor Omicron Variant

DENVER (CBS4) - In an update on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shared the methods being used to monitor the Omicron variant.  

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of the new variant in Colorado or any other part of the United States. Instead, CDPHE officials said Delta remains the dominant COVID-19 variant in the state, making up more than 99% of current cases.  

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Still, monitoring for the new variant is taking place. State lab director Dr. Emily Travanty said the state is using three different strategies to look for the Omicron variant.  

The first is diagnostic COVID-19 testing, which officials said can detect infections of the new variant. The next is genome sequencing of positive tests through state and private labs.  

The state is also continuing wastewater monitoring, which it used to first identify the Delta variant earlier this year. Officials said they believe this type of monitoring may detect Omicron first because the samples contain virus from multiple people in a community, while diagnostic testing only looks at samples from specific individuals.

There are currently 21 participants in the program. Each submits two samples per week, which are then tested for genetic markers of COVID-19 variants. 

Health officials in the press conference said it could be several weeks before they get a good epidemiological picture of the new variant's transmissibility and severity. In the meantime, they urged Coloradans to continue using the same strategies as before to stay healthy.  

"The delta variant was more transmissible when it arrived than previous variants have been, and what we learned from that was that these more transmissible variants are even more efficient at finding individuals that are unvaccinated and at risk," said Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist. "I think the takeaway here is that individuals who are unvaccinated, whether they've been previously infected or not, are going to continue to be at high risk... Probably higher risk than they have been since the beginning of the pandemic." 

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