New Forecast Dials Back Hospitalizations for COVID — But Still Predicts Omicron Surge

Oregon’s bout with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus will be less severe than expected but hospitalizations are still forecast to reach a system-straining peak in February.

Oregon Health & Science University said in a statement Thursday that the forecast was modified to account for “expected booster shots and behavior modifications by Oregonians to reduce the spread of infection.”

Even the more hopeful forecast expects about 1,250 people in the hospital for treatment by mid-February, according to Dr. Peter Graven of OHSU’s Office of Advanced Analytics.

Last week, Graven had projected hospitalizations could reach 2,000 and as many as 3,000 because of the fast spread of Omicron. That prompted Governor Kate Brown to declare in a news conference that the state would push to have 1 million more booster shots administered by the end of January.

Health officials say booster shots on top of the regular vaccinations for Covid are the most effective at reducing the severity of an Omicron-related illness.

Graven still forecasts an accelerating spread in January of Omicron in Oregon but with less serious impacts.

“That’s assuming people take action to reduce the spread of the virus. If they don’t, the projection could go as high as 1,700 people hospitalized in Oregon by that time,” OHSU said in a statement Thursday while releasing the latest forecast.

The statement said the new numbers incorporate “emerging data from Denmark revealing the hospitalization rate appears to be 70% lower with Omicron than from illness caused by the Delta variant — a lower rate of hospitalization than known a week ago.”

OHSU officials have said Denmark’s characteristics more closely match those of Oregon than South Africa, where Omicron was first detected. In that country, officials have reported the surge is abating rapidly.

Health and medical officials are watching hospital capacity closely. With previous surges, some medical procedures were postponed to make room for those needing treatment for Covid.

On Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority reported that 7% of the hospital beds — 306 — were available for something less than critical care. Statewide, intensive care units had 67 beds available — 10% of capacity.

Hospital executives have been urging Oregonians to press on with getting vaccinations and adding boosters to reduce the need for hospital care.

In the fall surge, hospitals were so strained that they were employing out-of-state help and 50 relied on contingents from the Oregon National Guard. As of Thursday, Brown had not initiated another deployment. The first involved 1,600 National Guardsmen.

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