The first laboratory evidence of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the San Luis Valley was received this week, confirming the earlier assumption that the variant was present based on the recent rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. Over the last two weeks the number of known active cases has risen from 101 at the end of December to 496 known active cases in the San Luis Valley today. Our test positivity rate is 18%, indicating that there are many more cases unidentified. 


The extreme transmissibility of the Omicron variant is presenting challenges for workplaces, many of which face temporary staffing gaps due to illness. Even vaccinated people are getting infected, although a booster greatly reduces the likelihood of COVID-19 illness. Everyone age 12 and older is encouraged to get a vaccine booster. 


If you have even one of the following symptoms, stay at home and away from others: sore throat, congestion, runny nose, cough, headache, diarrhea, fever or chills, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting. 


A common scenario right now is that people are going to work, school, and other public places while they have symptoms of illness, and discovering a couple of days later that they have COVID-19. Home tests are good, but sometimes they are unable to detect the virus in the earliest days of illness because the viral load is still low. COVID-19 is not the only infectious illness with similar symptoms making the rounds right now. Flu and RSV are also in the community and can be very dangerous for young children as well as older adults. If you have symptoms, err on the side of caution and stay at home. 


Masks are an important part of a prevention strategy, along with hand washing, social distancing, ventilation, and vaccination. However, not all masks are created equal. Whichever mask you choose, make sure it covers your nose and fits well on your face without gaps. If the mask is too loose, it may help to tie a knot in the ear loops for a better fit. 


The most effective masks are N95 respirators. These are most frequently used in healthcare settings for infectious disease control. Healthcare workers who use N95s are tested for proper fit. KN95 masks are very similar to N95s in that they are constructed with layers designed to filter out small particles. Some people find a KN95 mask more comfortable to wear than an N95. Both are rated to filter out 95% of very small particles when worn correctly.


The next best type are surgical masks, which come out of the box like a flat rectangle with earloops and wire that allows the mask to be fitted to the shape of the nose. Surgical masks are also manufactured with layers designed to block particles and droplets from passing through, but they are less effective than N95s and KN95s. Single layer fabric masks, including gaiters and bandanas, offer the lowest level of protection. 


County level COVID-19 data, vaccination information, and testing location information is available at www.slvphp.com or by calling 719-480-8719. Data is not updated on weekends and holidays.