FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Larimer County is seeing its highest rate of COVID-19 positive testing since testing was made readily available in 2020, something that has caused local grade schools and Colorado State University to take new stances on their approach to combating the virus. One of the largest school districts in northern Colorado, Poudre School District, announced they are asking students to wear K-N95 or N-95 masks to school to start the spring semester. Meanwhile, students and staff at Colorado State University will be required to have a booster shot of the vaccine.
Health experts say the new actions come as the Omicron variant surges throughout the country.
In just a matter of two weeks, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 became more dominant than the Delta variant when it came to the transmission of the virus. Something that took Delta more than 11 weeks to complete with the original strain of coronavirus.
To end 2021 Larimer County saw a little more than 10% of tests come back positive for COVID-19.
"Now, (to start 2022) we are looking at positivity rates 20% and higher," said Jared Olsen, Population Epidemiologist for Larimer County. "Once we had testing available, we haven't seen positivity rates this high."
Olsen said studies from other regions which were exposed to Omicron prior to Colorado showed the surge in cases could continue to increase. Areas with less access to testing could see the positivity rate jump to between 30 and 40%. However, places with more access to testing should see the number stay between 20 and 30%. He said the positivity rate could start to decrease, if projections are accurate, by mid-to-late January.
Olsen said he supported PSD's recommendation that students and staff wear stronger masks, especially ones that fit more snug to the shape of one's face.
"That has included improving the masks we wear. So, a step up from cloth to surgical, or a step up from surgical to a high filtration mask-like N-95," Olsen told CBS4's Dillon Thomas.
PSD said they have purchased KN-95 masks for the staff and will offer them access to them to start the 2022 Spring semester.
At CSU students will be required to submit saliva testing which will be completed on-campus.
Lori Lynn, Executive Director of CSU's Health Network, said the university decided to require students and staff on-campus in 2022 to have a booster shot for COVID-19 after seeing Omicron surge.
The percentage of people who are vaccinated and still being hospitalized for COVID-19 is increasing. However, researchers say those who are vaccinated are still less likely to experience severe and deadly symptoms of the strain.
"There is waning effectiveness of the vaccines," Lynn said. "We want to ensure that those working and living on campus are as protected as possible."
All students and staff on-campus, excluding those with approved exemptions, will have 30 days to get their boosters once becoming eligible to do so by CDC guidelines. Proof of further vaccination will be required by the university.
"The added benefit of having a booster seemed to be important. It has been shown to help mitigate and decrease the likelihood of severe disease," Lynn said.
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