Officials Urge Oregonians to Mask Up Indoors, Especially in Schools

With Covid cases once again on the rise in Oregon, county and state health officials are advising the public to take reasonable precautions — including masking up in indoor public places.

The Oregon Health Authority said Thursday that those at risk for severe disease should consider doing so. Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County’s health officer, said educators and school children should wear masks.

“The academic success, social well-being and mental health of our kids should be a top priority,” Vines said in a statement. “That’s why we strongly recommend indoor masking in schools.”

Health officials said those at high risk — which includes older people — should get tested as soon as they develop symptoms and check with their doctor about treatment.

Options include pills and infusions, like remdesivir, which used to be in short supply. If taken early, it can reduce the chance of needing hospital care. Paxlovid, a pill that’s taken over five days, also has been shown to prevent serious illness.

The agency has logged nearly 1,300 new cases a day over the past week. That’s as high as last winter’s surge and is approaching the level seen last summer during the Delta surge when hospitals were running out of beds.

On September 1, when delta hospitalizations peaked, 1,178 people with Covid were hospitalized in Oregon. On Thursday, Oregon’s Covid hospitalization count was 226, including 32 people in intensive care. That compares with 88 hospitalizations nearly a month ago, with 14 in intensive care.

State health experts expect hospitalizations to peak at slightly above 300 in mid-June.

Behind the current surge is the BA.2 strain of Covid-19, which scientists say appears to be the most infectious variant to date. The strain became dominant in Oregon in March and now accounts for all cases, health authority data show. According to health officials, vaccines are effective against BA.2.

As of Thursday, nearly three-quarters of all Oregonians were vaccinated, and another 38% had received at least one booster dose. People 50 and over qualify for a second booster four months after their first one, and health experts say the state’s high vaccination rates among the most at-risk populations has made a difference in Oregon.

Nevertheless, people continue to die. The total reached 7,548 people in Oregon on Thursday. Nationwide, the fatalities are near 1 million. In their memory, Governor Kate Brown ordered flags on public buildings to be lowered to half staff until sunset May 16.

“Every life lost to COVID-19 is a tragedy,” Brown said in a statement. “I hope that as we remember all those we have lost, we collectively continue to help protect each other from this disease.”

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