Local doctors weigh in on potential holiday surge as Omicron variant continues to spread

Posted at 11:35 AM, Dec 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-29 00:25:57-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — As the Omicron variant continues to spread, health officials are bracing for a potential post-holiday surge.

Experts say both traveling and large gatherings could cause COVID-19 cases to tick up within a week or so.

"Omicron is really starting to take off in Colorado," said Dr. Michael Roshon, Emergency Physician at Penrose St. Francis and Director of Research at Centura Health.

The Omicron variant has caused fresh concerns for many doctors like Roshon.

"What we've seen with Omicron is that it has a doubling time that is much faster than any of the other viruses we've seen. The number of cases that we've seen in other places like in the UK and South Africa, was doubling every two or three days. That means you can see rapid expansion in the number of cases," said Roshon.

With how easy Omicron can be spread, Roshon says they're seeing a significant number of people rushing to get tested for the virus.

"Even more concerning than the number of tests, the number of positive tests. Earlier in the year, we were down to five percent positivity, now we are up to ten," said Roshon.

Roshon says it's a big indicator of what's to come and the hospital is preparing.

"We have increased testing in our clinics and in the hospital. Both for the community and our doctors and nurses. We know when there is an increase in the community, it hits us too," said Roshon.

"The rapid testing is available at a lot of the Peak Vista Centers, and up and coming at others that don't yet have that," said Dr. Bradley Stokes, Peak Vista Community Health Centers.

While Stokes hasn't seen an increase in the number of people getting tested for the virus, he has seen an interest in the vaccine and booster shot.

"I am getting frequent questions about the boosters. When can I get it, how long do I need to wait? It seems to be a lot of interest in people getting their boosters and getting vaccinated. I haven't felt a pinch in our ability to test as of yet with Peak Vista but I have heard that's going on with other places," said Stokes. "We're doing everything we can to be able to as quickly and as much as possible."

Both doctors say now is the best time to get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot as they brace for a potential surge.

"Less people are getting sick, less people are dying because of the vaccine. It is the best we have, and there is certainly some evidence that omicron might not be as susceptible to the vaccine as others but the reductions in illness and severity seem to be the case for people who've had the vaccine or boosters. I would encourage people who think they're requiring boosters so it may not work, that is not exactly the case. It works on a reduction strategy," said Stokes.

"The vast majority of people who are really sick, in the hospital, or dying are unvaccinated," said Roshon.

The El Paso County Health Department says the four community-based testing sites are seeing an increase in testing. In the last seven days (12/20-12/26), they averaged 3,255 reported PCR tests per day, an increase from the previous seven days (12/13-19) when they averaged 2,535 reported PCR tests per day. Right now, they are meeting the demand but can increase testing capabilities as needed.

For information on testing sites, visit the El Paso County Health Department website.