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Health and Medicine

Oregon responds to an ‘alarming spike’ in COVID-19 cases

Some pop-up clinics such as this one on Oregon St. near the Oregon Convention Center take walk-up patients for COVID-19 testing, Jan. 6, 2022.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
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Some pop-up clinics such as this one on Oregon St. near the Oregon Convention Center take walk-up patients for COVID-19 testing, Jan. 6, 2022.

Oregon is seeing an alarming spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

More than 10,000 new cases were reported Friday. The latest modeling predicts cases from the omicron variant of the coronavirus will peak in Oregon at the end of January with 30% more hospitalizations than during the spike last year from the delta variant.

“The short story is the model does show a steep increase in hospitalizations,” said Peter Graven, a health policy professor at Oregon Health and Science University.

“It’s driven by the infections and cases we’re seeing now.”

Those case numbers are troubling, but with so many people testing at home and not reporting their results — or people not getting tested at all — authorities suspect the true numbers are much higher. State health officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said that earlier in the pandemic official numbers likely captured 50-70% of cases, but during the omicron surge, official counts are probably missing more cases than that.

Those Oregonians who are seeking tests often end up waiting hours for them because of significant shortages. Others lose patience and leave before getting tested.

The Oregon Health Authority has ordered 12 million tests to help relieve the situation. Those are expected to start arriving in the state imminently, but authorities think it’ll be several weeks before there are enough tests for everyone who wants them.

Authorities are warning of rapid spread of the virus, but they were loath to pinpoint how many Oregonians are likely to become infected over the next few weeks. Officials acknowledged the number is at least in the tens of thousands.

Graven estimates that 65% of Oregonians no longer have immunity to the virus from previous infection or vaccination.

Sidelinger said omicron is expected to oversaturate the health system.

“All the data is stark and discouraging…The Oregon Health Authority has recorded new pandemic highs in daily cases every day this week.”

The 7-day average of cases in Oregon has seen a 373% rise over the last week. Hospitalizations are rising rapidly, too.

In response, the Oregon Health Authority has developed a triage tool — to help hospitals make decisions about care if or when resources become limited. The state has also given up contact tracing as there are just too many cases to track. Instead, the OHA is setting up a hotline to give advice to people who have tested positive.

“During the current surge, case investigation and contact tracing cannot effectively slow the spread of the disease,” said Sidelinger.

To tackle the omicron surge the state is also deploying about 500 Oregon National Guard members to hospitals.
Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting.