By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4)– Inside the Colorado Department of Public Health Laboratory Building, they are hunting for a possible killer. That killer is the coronavirus known as COVID-19.

(credit: CBS)

More than 9,500 people have died from COVID-19 in Colorado. The lab has examined 2.9 million tests. Last week, they discovered the first case of the Omicron variant tied to an Arapahoe County woman who had been in Southern Africa.

Emily Travanty is the state laboratory director says, “This person experienced complaints and sought testing and the result of that test, which was not done here, once the results came back into the state reporting system, Tri-County and CDC epidemiologists flagged.”

The second case was discovered elsewhere tied to a Boulder County man who had also traveled in Southern Africa.

(credit: CBS)

The positive results here are rendered safe to handle and given a tag to identify the person with the sample.

Then comes what’s called sequencing to determine the variant. The positive samples are put in high-tech machines nicknamed Lucille, the other is called Buster. When the data came back, it showed Omicron was here in Colorado.

Travanty added, “I think we are always surprised with something new but this sample was from a patient who had a travel history that was already flagged by the WHO and CDC as being a risk factor for the Omicron variant.”

(credit: CBS)

Tri-County Health and the state lab examined the sample more closely and confirmed the Omicron variant.

“Wearing a mask, vaccination, as well as social distancing, are our best line of defense,” Travanty added.

She says they also checking past tests to see if Omicron may have arrived earlier. In this often thankless job, words of thanks are posted on the wall, calling them heroes for their work.

Rick Sallinger