The Mesa County Public Health COVID-19 dashboard revealed some rather shocking information from the weekend.

It was updated Monday night to include 908 new cases of the coronavirus in the county over the course of the past weekend.

Of those cases, 532 cases were recorded Sunday, making it the highest single-day case total for Mesa County since the pandemic began. The previous high before this week was 322 cases on a day in November 2020.

MCPH believes the omicron variant is the reason for the spike.

Although there’s a huge jump in cases, hospitalizations are not as severe.

“This is omicron. We know it spreads quickly, sharp spikes like this are occurring in other areas of the state and country,” said MCPH Executive Director Jeff Kuhr. “We’re not seeing as dramatic of a spike in our hospital admissions; a sign that illness, especially for those who are vaccinated, is typically milder, so the strain on our hospitals isn’t as severe with this latest surge so far.”

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a rise in hospital admissions, Kuhr warned.

“Because hospitalizations lag behind cases, we are closely monitoring admissions and other key metrics,” he said.

MCPH spokesperson Stefany Busch also identified the recent holiday season as a factor in rising COVID-19 cases. The county anticipated this would be the case after many families and friends gathered indoors for Christmastime festivities and whichever New Years activities weren’t canceled by the snowstorm that made its way through the Grand Valley.

OMICRON NUMBERS COULD RISE

Omicron is likely the main reason for the surge, she said.

“According to our most recent variant data, we only have 29 identified omicron cases in Mesa County. However, due to the sequencing process these positive tests have to go through to be determined if they are the variant, we believe that 29-case number is a few weeks old,” Busch said. “There’s a two-week or so lag on the variant data. The number of omicron cases reflected from this weekend’s data might show up in two weeks.”

Busch also confirmed that Mesa County’s COVID-19 testing site at the fairgrounds has a shortage of rapid testing equipment, meaning MCPH will have to be more selective with choosing those to whom to administer rapid tests for the time being.

“Like other communities across the country right now, there is a shortage of rapid tests, so what we’re doing at our test site is we are prioritizing those who need that rapid test most,” she said. “We continue to prioritize our school-age children. We are prioritizing them and individuals who have symptoms. As of now, we’re not out of rapid tests, but someone who doesn’t fit in the categories I mentioned may not get a rapid test with us.”

ON THE SCHOOL FRONT

Mesa County Valley School District 51 Assistant Superintendent Brian Hill provided an update on COVID-19 in schools, saying the staff positivity rate rose after the break but that, as of the first week of the semester, there were no outliers within any county schools to indicate outbreaks.

That changed this week, when it was announced that Juniper Ridge Community School would temporarily shift to online learning because of the coronavirus.

Additionally, two district schools passed the 2% positive-test threshold this week, meaning its students and staff will be required to wear masks for the next 10 calendar days: Fruita Middle School, which has a 2.3% positivity rate, and Tope Elementary School, which has a 3.2% positivity rate.

“Our goal is to not take schools remote, so that will continue to be the focus,” Hill said. “We use three criteria to decide if a school’s going to go remote or not, and it’s pretty simple: number of staff and students who are out with COVID, number of staff who are absent in general, and however many substitutes we have available.”

Hill and district leadership are consistently monitoring the county’s data ahead of the planned rolling back of mask mandates in schools beginning Feb. 7, a policy shift that could be delayed by rising cases.

The district is hopeful that Juniper Ridge’s outbreak remains this semester’s outlier and that there will be no need for any more shifts to online learning, but they’re prepared for any possibility.

“Last year, if we had a school that was really having a tough time with a lot of staff out and not enough coverage, we would call a meeting virtually between the principal, the site director, myself, the nursing staff, human resources, and take a look at the situation and figure out if we can get coverage and enough folks there to keep the school open in-person,” Hill said. “If not, we make decisions based off of that.”