Too early to tell if a new COVID wave is starting in Colorado, state epidemiologist says
The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is trending up in Colorado, but it’s not clear if that’s a fluke or the start of a new wave of the virus.
State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said the positivity rate trended up from about 2.5% on March 17 to about 3.3% on Monday. While that meets the state’s goal of keeping the rate below 5%, it’s something Herlihy said she’ll be “closely watching.”
“I think it’s too early to know if it’s a true trend,” she said at a news conference Monday.
It’s also difficult to know which way cases are trending, because when the numbers are low, they tend to be more volatile, Herlihy said. In the past week, the state has averaged fewer than 300 new COVID-19 cases per day, though the number appears higher because the public health department is still processing cases from earlier in the most recent wave, she said.
“Colorado continues to have very low case rates at this point,” she said.
Some experts have raised concerns that increasing reliance on home testing kits means that states won’t have accurate data if another surge arrives, according to The Associated Press. Colorado officials have acknowledged most people don’t report their results from home testing.
Cases are rising in parts of western Europe and the East Coast as the BA.2 variant replaces omicron, restrictions are lifted and people’s immunity starts to wane. BA.2 appears to be more contagious than omicron, but there’s no evidence that it causes more severe illness or further erodes protection from vaccines or prior infections, Herlihy said.
While the state’s wastewater data didn’t turn up any signs of BA.2 in the first week of March, that’s probably because relatively few samples have been processed at this point, Herlihy said. A model used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated about 21% of cases in Colorado are caused by BA.2, which is lower than the national average of 35%.
The federal government recently stopped shipping sotrovimab, the main monoclonal antibody treatment currently available, to states where BA.2 has displaced omicron. Lab data indicated it didn’t work well against BA.2. Three antiviral drugs are still available, though, as is a monoclonal antibody called bebtelovimab — though there’s not much data about how that option performs outside the laboratory.
Colorado hasn’t made any changes to how it recommends providers treat patients at a higher risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19. The state will watch for additional guidance from the federal government on how to use treatments going forward, Herlihy said.
Guidance on vaccination is expected to change in the near future, said Heather Roth, immunization branch chief for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It appears that people who are 50 or older will be told they can get a fourth shot soon, but they should ask their doctors if that’s the right step now, she said.
“We do expect this to be kind of an optional recommendation,” she said.
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