Governor, Health Officials Warn Impact of Omicron May Surpass Previous Variants

The Covid-19 outlook for Oregon has shifted dramatically in the past week, with the state now facing the prospect of having the highest surge yet of infections and hospitalizations, according to officials.

A new forecast by Oregon Health & Science University predicts that more than 3,000 people will need to be hospitalized in Oregon by early February, surpassing the 1,200 hospitalized during Delta’s peak.

If that develops, Oregon will not have enough hospital beds for everyone who needs one and hospitals will have to decide who to treat.

The dire forecast stands in contrast to general expectations that the highly contagious new Omicron variant would be little worse than a bad cold while the Delta variant continued to fade.

The Oregon Health Authority says new information in recent days from Kentucky, Washington state and Denmark suggest that Omicron could become the dominant strain in Oregon in two to three weeks.

The variant was detected in Washington state 16 days ago and now accounts for nearly 40% of new cases there. Various data show cases double every two to three days, which doesn’t give Oregon state agencies and the medical community — especially hospitals — much time to prepare.

“While we are all still learning about this new variant, it is clear from the experiences of the United Kingdom and other countries that we have only weeks to prepare before Omicron hits our communities and health care systems in full force,” Governor Kate Brown said during a news conference Friday.

Health officials are launching a statewide campaign to increase vaccinations, and get booster shots into more people. State data show that nearly 75% of adults in Oregon have received two shots but only about 28% of adults have booster shots. People aged 16 and older can get a third dose six months after the second one.

Though scientists have preliminary data, research published by British scientists this week showed that a third shot can increase the immune defense against Omicron. Brown announced the state’s new goal Friday of getting 1 million booster doses into the arms of Oregonians by the end of January.

“Get your booster shot,” the governor urged. “Boosters work and are incredibly effective. If you aren’t yet vaccinated, now is the time. This truly can be a matter of life or death.”

Brown said that for the moment she has no plans to enact new Covid-19 restrictions, such as requiring masks outdoors, imposing limits on crowds in concert venues or even closing businesses. But she didn’t rule anything out.

“Everything’s on the table,” the governor said.

Brown said she will meet with business leaders over the weekend to discuss steps they can take to keep their employees and customers safe.

“Folks should be aware this is going to impact how businesses operate because this variant spreads so easily,” Brown said.

In spring 2020, federal programs including the Paycheck Protection Program and increased unemployment benefits provided cash to keep businesses and workers afloat. Covid vaccines also hadn’t been developed.

Now, the focus should be on vaccinations instead of closures, she said.

Brown said she was also committed to keeping schools open – as long as it’s safe. Students will be on winter break until after the first of the year.

The state requires all school employees to be vaccinated, and students and teachers alike must wear masks in school. That makes the classroom one of the safest places for children, Brown said.

Help us build a sustainable news organization to serve Canby for generations to come! Let us know if you can support our efforts to expand our operations and keep all of our content paywall-free. #SwimWithTheCurrent!