By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – Two cases of the omicron variant have already been confirmed in Colorado. Medical experts expect the case count will rise as the COVID-19 variant rapidly spreads across the globe.

“If you look at data from South Africa, [omicron] seems to be spreading 2-3 times more quickly than delta, which means it’s going really fast,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, Senior Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at UCHealth.

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Barron said preliminary data shows symptoms may be less severe than those brought on by other variants of the virus. That is encouraging, yet there is still much more to learn about omicron.

“It may be that it is mild in individuals that are vaccinated, and if you’re unvaccinated then it still may be pretty severe,” she told CBS4.

Cases of omicron in the United States, including the two in Colorado, were among vaccinated people, Barron added. However, those individuals had not received the booster shot. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the booster is critical.

“Boosters are going to be really critical in addressing whether or not we’re going to be able to handle this,” Fauci said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. “If you get boosted, you’re going to get your level up, and we feel certain that there will be some degree against omicron variant if, in fact, it starts to take hold in a dominant way in this country.”

Delta remains the dominant variant in Colorado, but Barron said it’s possible for omicron to take over. If that happens and omicron doesn’t cause severe illness, it could be what leads to the end of the pandemic.

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“It has the potential, but a lot of caveats to this that we need to be careful about before we make any assumptions,” she said. “If it did go about the route of being milder and everybody got it and didn’t get too sick, then we would think about this like we do a regular cold…and we don’t have to shut down the world, so to speak, for colds. That’s where we’re hoping to get to at some point.”

It is far too soon to know omicron’s risk and impact, especially on hospitalizations. She also said preliminary data shows prior infection from COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be protective against omicron. A person is 2.5 times more likely to get re-infected, Barron explained, which makes vaccines all the more important.

Still, Barron said it is also important to be hopeful.

“Again, it’s early, but we always want to have hope and being optimistic is never a bad thing in my mind,” she said.

Kelly Werthmann