Anyone else feel like Al Pacino yet? Just when we thought we were out (of the pandemic), they pull us back in.
Governor Kate Brown’s sudden reversal on universal masks for schools and state offices — regardless of vaccination status — this week was greeted with groans from a pandemic-exhausted Oregon.
The announcement was not without merit or out of the blue: It followed new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (which recommended universal indoor masking in schools for the 2021-22 academic year), amid a dizzying surge in new Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations in Oregon and across the country.
But it also came less than a month after Brown lifted the statewide mask mandate and other business restrictions (promising at the time that they would never return) and, essentially, declared a cautious victory over the virus.
Continued resistance from some segments — for whom the pandemic and attempts to address it (including the vaccine rollout and public health measures such as masks) have become a political issue — was to be expected.
What officials appear to have not fully anticipated was the rise of a new and even more contagious variant of the coronavirus, dubbed “delta,” which is said to be up to twice as infectious as Covid Classic and has quickly become the dominant variant in Oregon and many other parts of the country.
The Oregon Health Authority reported more than 1,000 new confirmed or presumptive cases three times in the past four days — peaking at 1,076 Friday — numbers the state had not seen on a regular basis since January 2021 at the height of the pandemic.
Nearly 300 Oregonians are currently hospitalized for Covid-19, state officials said, 97 of whom — about one-third of total patients — are in intensive care beds.
And, according to new modeling from the OHA, those numbers are expected to continue to rise.
July’s effective reproduction rate — the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average — clearly shows the impact delta has had on Oregon. The figure was estimated at 1.58 through July 14, more than double the 0.74 reported one month earlier.
At that level of transmission over the next two weeks, Oregon would see an average of 1,200 new cases and 95 new hospitalizations per day, according to the modeling report from state health officials.
However, the report also showed the positive impact vaccination has had on the pandemic, even as the rollout slows to a virtual crawl, with slightly less than a third of the state’s adult vaccination declining the free jab.
According to state officials, Oregon’s reproduction rate in July would have been more than double — or 3.18 new cases emerging from every infection — without the vaccine.
And, though the risk is not zero, being vaccinated greatly reduces one’s risk of contracting a serious or life-threatening case of Covid-19. More than 95% of those hospitalized with the coronavirus are unvaccinated, health officials say, and the vaccine’s immunity is more than four times more effective than even the antibodies gained from natural immunity (contracting the virus and recovering).
“Today’s modeling report, although sobering, confirms the importance of protecting ourselves and others by getting vaccinated against Covid-19,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer and epidemiologist, said. “By vaccinating more people, we can more quickly drive down hospitalizations and new cases.”
Wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings also makes a difference. The state this week recommended that all Oregonians wear masks in indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status — though officials stopped short of mandating it.
And OHA is tracking the first known outbreak linked to an outdoor entertainment event, with at least 58 cases linked to the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest held on July 10.
For more information about the vaccine and where you can find it, visit covidvaccine.oregon.gov. If you have questions about taking the vaccine, consult your health care provider.
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