EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- El Paso County continues to lead the state in the number of confirmed COVID-19 variant cases. County health leaders are closely studying the variants and their impact and they are more contagious and can result in more severe sickness.
"This is not over. The process of turning this from a pandemic to an endemic disease is not over and the variant of viruses are amazing from an evolutionary standpoint, and the variant is really showing us the force of the virus," Stephen Goodwin with El Paso County Public Health said.
More than 4,400 COVID variant cases in El Paso County have been confirmed by the state lab, but county health leaders tell us most of the new cases are connected to variants in the delta family.
"They're replicating like hundreds of thousands of copies in your cell, and if one of them actually is a little more effective at spreading itself or, you know, creating a niche for overcoming immunity, or finding a vulnerable population, it's gonna find its way to multiply more than the others," Dr. Robin Johnson explained.
Health leaders tell KRDO the hope that COVID-19 would be less impactful to our area this year was based on the idea that more individuals would be fully vaccinated.
El Paso County Public Health estimates 65% of El Paso County residents have at least had one dose of the COVID shot, but only 58% are fully vaccinated.
Despite reluctance from local lawmakers to issue an indoor mask mandate, county health officials are encouraging mask-wearing for everyone, including those who are vaccinated.
"I think it's really prudent for us to recognize that we can always push to the point where those mandates could come back, I think that there is a lot of wills, power, to really have the vaccine. And the solidarity of our community, step into that void, and not be told that they have to use the tools that are at their disposal to put this behind us," Dr. Robin Johnson said.
El Paso County's COVID-19 incidence rate has increased by 20% in the last week. Current county health data shows that nearly 190 people per 100,000 are testing positive for the virus on a weekly basis. Under previous state guidelines, that would put El Paso County in Level Yellow, which used to mean limited capacities inside many locations.
"By getting vaccinated, by putting on a mask, and all of these other things that we talk about, we actually suppress the virus from the opportunity to shift and mutate to the next bigger and better COVID," Johnson said.
Vaccinated people can still test positive for COVID-19. However, health leaders say their symptoms are typically less severe. Regardless of your vaccination status, health officials say if you have been exposed to the virus you should stay home and test within five to seven days of the exposure date.