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Oregon COVID-19 Cases Continue To Spike As Vaccine Doses Are About To Arrive

Kaylee Domzalsky

The state passed its thousandth coronavirus death Friday, and Gov. Kate Brown warned that hard days still lie ahead.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown described plans Friday to prioritize who will get the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine doses and how they will be distributed.

During a video conference with reporters, Brown laid out previously released plans for the first shipments, 107,000 initial doses from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, to arrive in mid-December. She said an additional 40,950 doses from Pfizer are expected to be delivered to Oregon on Dec. 22.

While the news of nearly 148,000 vaccine doses to protect health workers — those who will be first to be immunized against COVID-19 — offered a glimmer of hope, the governor emphasized that it will take time and continued diligence to continue to slow the spread until all Oregonians have been able to get vaccinated.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel but we are not there yet,” she said.

Brown and her public-health advisors pointed to Oregon’s ongoing COVID-19 caseload and fatality numbers as evidence that it’s too soon for Oregonians to drop their guard, even as the first vaccine doses are about to arrive.

“I’ve said this before but it needs to be said again, we are not, we are not out of the crisis yet,” Brown said. “Our hardest days still lie ahead.”

Friday’s daily caseload count added 2,176 to Oregon’s totals, which have now hit 81,437 cases since the pandemic began, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen told reporters.

Oregon also passed another major milestone: there have now been 1,003 deaths in Oregon, 30 of which were reported on Friday.

Brown profusely thanked Oregonians for following social distancing requirements — limiting travel, going to stores only when it’s essential, wearing masks and maintaining distances of 6-feet or more when around people from outside their own households.

“I know it’s exhausting and the sacrifices are real,” she said, noting that data shows that Oregonians have been largely compliant. State data shows that more than 84% of Oregonians are masking, transportation across the state is down 35% and cell phone mobility data indicates less people are going to their offices and more are staying at home.

Oregon, California, Nevada and Washington have coordinated closely throughout the pandemic, and plan to continue as vaccines are rolled out. Vaccines will first be distributed to those healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities, and staff in long-term care facilities. The next phase of distribution will focus on at-risk groups and frontline workers, but the logistics of how those groups will be prioritized has yet to be determined.

The first round of vaccines must be followed by second doses within about three to four weeks, depending on which manufacturer produced the vaccine. Allen said Oregon expects to receive 119,450 doses on Dec. 29 to administer as follow-up vaccinations in January. By then, additional shipments should arrive to ensure all first-round vaccination recipients will have received their second doses on schedule.

“We will be ready when these vaccines arrive,” said Rachael Banks, the director of OHA’s public health division. Public trust in the COVID-19 vaccine eroded as the development of one became increasingly politicized. Banks reiterated that so far the virus is reported to be “not only safe and effective but highly safe and effective.”

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, said any increase in coronavirus transmissions brought about through Thanksgiving gatherings and travel would not have shown up in the most recently recorded caseload and fatality figures. Sidelinger said anyone one who caught COVID-19 late last week or during the weekend would just now be starting to display symptoms and he expects test results and hospitalizations from that period to show up in next week’s numbers.

Sidelinger also urged people to stay safe during the upcoming holiday season and avoid risky behaviors. With so many hospital beds being taken up by COVID-19 patients, he said it’s a risk that there may not be enough hospital beds for Oregonians who get injured over the next few weeks.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting