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Aligned with federal directive, Oregon prepares to curb COVID measures

A line of people wait for COVID-19 tests at the Oregon Convention Center testing site operated by Curative, Jan. 6, 2022.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
A line of people wait for COVID-19 tests at the Oregon Convention Center testing site operated by Curative, Jan. 6, 2022.

Thursday marks the end of the federal public health emergency for COVID-19, which means similar changes for Oregon’s pandemic measures.

Just over 38 months since the first case of COVID was reported in Oregon, state officials are lifting many of the protective measures they say helped reduce infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

One change is no longer recommending a five-day isolation period for those infected with COVID-19. Officials say people are best staying home until they’re fever-free for 24 hours and symptoms have improved.

 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, medical gauze, and medical swabs at the ready.
Oregon National Guard, Flickr.com
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, medical gauze, and medical swabs at the ready.

“These are similar to recommendations we make to folks who are recovering from influenza or RSV,” said Oregon Health Officer Dean Sidelinger at an online media event held Wednesday. “And we feel that this is the best response and evolution to our guidance as we enter this phase of the pandemic.”

Still, Sidelinger said going into summer, Oregonians should be as up to date as possible with their COVID vaccinations and boosters.

“That offers you and your loved ones the best protection. If you’ve not yet received a COVID-19 bivalent booster, please get that," he said. "If you are an individual who’s at higher risk or bear complications because you’re immunocompromised or over 65, and it’s been four months since your last bivalent booster, you can get a second bivalent booster.

“We anticipate in the fall, we will have updated boosters available, and we’ll encourage you to get those, along with your flu shot.”

Extended health coverage, services, and supports for older adults and people with disabilities are also ending, as is continuous coverage for Medicaid. Oregonians are advised to update their information and status for the Oregon Health Plan, for a “redetermination” process.

As of March 10, 2023, a New York Times tracker shows Oregon suffered 967,156 cases of COVID, and 9,451 deaths. The state’s overall vaccination rate is 71%.

State officials praised the response to the pandemic, noting Oregon is among those with lower death rates and higher vaccination rates than many others in the U.S. They said going forward, people will live with the possibility of contacting COVID-19 for years to come but expressed optimism that with diminished rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, that outcomes are much better now than at the onset of the pandemic.

In a release, the Oregon Health Authority shared other areas that will see changes regarding pandemic protocols:

Diagnostic testing resources for students and staff with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 in schools will remain available through July 31, 2024. iHealth self-tests will remain available for K-12 schools to request and distribute to their school communities until current stock is depleted. Weekly opt-in “screening” testing for K-12 students and staff without COVID-19 symptoms will end July 31 as funding for the effort wraps up.

The endings of the vaccination, isolation and some testing measures are among a spate of impending changes over the coming weeks as Oregon, and the nation, continue the long, careful transition out of the pandemic. A number of “flexibilities” put in place during the pandemic will remain in effect.

Transmission electron micrograph of particles of SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Transmission electron micrograph of particles of SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The following are among the COVID-era activities and requirements that will continue after May 11:

  • An extension of a 90-day “reasonable opportunity period” for non-citizens to verify citizenship or immigration status to 180 days so they can enroll in Oregon Health Plan (OHP).
  • A requirement that OHP providers, including coordinated care organizations, continue to cover COVID-19 vaccinations and treatment without cost sharing, and that commercial health insurers cover vaccinations without cost sharing. In Oregon, vaccinations are covered no matter where someone gets a shot. Oregonians should contact their health care provider about where they can get vaccinated.
  • A requirement that Oregon health care providers be reimbursed for language interpreter services (spoken or signed) provided during an office visit.
  • A requirement that OHP providers offer access to telehealth services.
  • In addition, state officials are currently implementing previously announced changes in access to Medicaid coverage and other human services programs administered by the state and federal governments.

The following are among many other changes taking effect May 11:

  • A change in how OHA monitors COVID-19. Epidemiologists will transition to a more sustainable and effective model that focuses on measures that indicate transmission, and continue monitoring for severe outcomes, including hospitalizations and death. Case data, which is based on individual laboratory test reporting and is heavily biased, will be retired. The changes align with CDC recommendations and mirror how influenza is monitored.
  • A change in how OHA reports COVID-19 data. Epidemiologists will streamline data reporting to a smaller number of dashboards updated weekly. Data visualizations will include graphs showing statewide percent positivity, wastewater levels and trends, distribution of variants, hospitalization rates and capacity, death counts, emergency department visit and vaccination trends. Dashboards with case counts and county data will be archived.

Copyright 2023, KLCC

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. He is a 20-year reporter who has worked at NPR, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including three Edward R. Murrow Awards and the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award in 2012.