By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado is beginning to show an arc of omicron cases as the COVID-19 pandemic is bending toward better days.

(credit: CBS)

“I’m feeling optimistic about the trajectory, about the data. This downward trend we’re seeing,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. 75% of Coloradans are currently immune to omicron, said Herlihy, and by mid-February experts believe that percentage will rise to 80%.

“That high level of immunity either through infection or through vaccination does leave us in a very different place than we’ve been previously in the pandemic.”

(credit: CBS)

“I’m not surprised,” said Cody Ann Carpening as she waited at a COVID Check Colorado testing site at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. “Because at this point I know so many people who have it.”

COVID Check Colorado says in early January it was conducting about 12,000 tests a day at its sites around the state. This week that number was down to between 5,000 and 6,000 a day. Weather may have contributed to some of the drop, said spokeswoman Chyrise Harris.

“I think we’re all hoping we’re going to get out of this state of acute crisis level where you’re worried about hospitals, worried about your kids going to school,” said Dr. Elizabeth Carlton of the COVID Modeling Group at CU Anschutz. The state relies on the team’s look at COVID studies in policy decisions. “I think things are changing. And I think we’re about to see a lull, but the question remains for how long and how do we make sure we’re ready when the next variant emerges or if omicron comes back in the fall?” she added. That means down, but not out. There is still a significant chance of the development of a more severe variant.

Herd immunity that experts talked about early in the pandemic would hopefully be achieved with a vaccination rate of between 70% and 90%. 80% is in the middle, but no one is yet sure says Carlton, what an omicron infection might do in terms of protection.

“We do not know whether omicron is going to protect you against the next variant.”

And immunity either by prior infection or vaccination could wane.

“Are we going to see a new variant emerge that has some sort of competitive advantage over omicron or are we going to see omicron rise again in the fall, when immunity has waned?”

But in the short term, with rates expected to fall, some of the prevention moves might come down as well.

“I think that long term, I am really hopeful that we can slowly phase out mask mandates. In the near term, in the next couple weeks I think it’s still important to realize we are in the acute phase,” said Carlton. But she is optimistic.

“I am hopeful for example that as a parent of a kid that we’re moving into a phase where we’re not so worried about transmission in schools because we have high levels of vaccination, we have high levels of immunity, our kids can have a more normal life … I think we need to get through the next few weeks but I am cautiously optimistic that the spring is going to look a lot different than the last few months.”

At JeffCo Fairgrounds, Christine Hendrickson thought about the potential.

“We don’t know what this could be. And hey best case scenario it goes away.”

But many viruses have hung around.

“Polio did until we eradicated it with vaccines,” she observed.

Alan Gionet