The dire predictions of public health officials are coming to pass this week, as a surge of new Covid-19 infections fueled by the highly infectious Omicron variant is leading to record case counts and hospitalizations across the state — with the impact being felt in the Canby community as well.
During a news conference Friday, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, said Omicron will sicken more people much more quickly than other variants, causing a steep rise in hospitalizations.
More than 10,000 people added in one day to the rolls of those infected, and hospital admissions for Covid continued to climb around the state.
Sidelinger said the thousands of unvaccinated Oregonians should consider the developments a “red alert.”
“It will overburden our already exhausted health care workers and oversaturate our health care system,” Sidelinger said. “It will disrupt lives and livelihoods.”
Canby Fire Chief Jim Davis told The Canby Current Friday the district has seen a sizable uptick in Covid-related calls.
“We’re seeing a significant increase of the coronavirus, like everyone else,” Davis said. “It’s going around like crazy.”
The district has pivoted back to “crisis mode” with regard to staffing, Davis said, which means firefighters and EMTs who have been infected or exposed to the virus may return to work after only five days as long as they are symptom-free.
Several local civic organizations, including the Canby Rotary Club and Canby Kiwanis, have canceled regular weekly meetings due to members reporting positive cases and the high levels of community spread.
Schools have also been impacted, with some in Portland even returning to the remote learning environment that was ubiquitous in the early months of the pandemic.
The situation in Canby is nowhere near so dire, fortunately, but Communications Director Kristen Wohlers said the school district has recorded a slight influx of student absences this week, and Friday in particular — when 15.5% of the district’s students were out of class.
Anecdotally, dozens of local parents shared their experiences on local Facebook groups this week, with many reporting that their kids were home sick this week — though not all of them with Covid.
“It’s obvious the current Covid-19 spike is affecting our community, and the school district isn’t immune,” Wohlers said. “Along with students, some staff have been personally affected and have had to be out as well.
“Still, somehow, Canby School District staff are filling in the gaps and working to make school as normal as possible for students. It’s pretty impressive to see behind the scenes.”
Davis said the district’s medical adviser, Dr. Sean Stone, expects Omicron to peak within 10 to 14 days and begin to recede by the end of the month, which is in line with the predictions of state health officials.
Peter Graven, the Oregon Health & Science University professor who’s shaped the forecasts that have driven state policy on the pandemic, told the Oregon Capital Chronicle he expects those needing a hospital bed to peak at about 1,650 cases by the end of January.
That’s 30% higher than the September peak for the Delta variant when some hospitals in Oregon ran out of beds.
Oregon has about 4,700 adult beds in total, including nearly 650 in intensive care units, according to Friday’s tally. State hospitals have about 300 pediatric beds, including 40 in intensive care, with another 280 dedicated to neonatal intensive care units.
As of Thursday, only 6.5% of adult intensive care beds statewide were available and only 5% of regular adult beds were open. Hospitals in eastern and north-central Oregon had almost no intensive care beds available on Thursday; north-central Oregon also lacked regular adult beds as did hospitals in Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.
Nearly 600 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 across Oregon as of Friday, according to state officials. The lack of existing beds now is likely to be compounded by hospital staff getting sick or becoming infected and having to quarantine.
“It’s spreading among vaccinated people, including staff,” Graven said. “We’re going to have shortages of staff.”
He said even booster doses, which are the most protective, only thwart about 50% of cases.
“That’s not super great considering how quickly it spreads,” he said.
Governor Kate Brown on Friday announced she would be deploying up to 500 Oregon National Guard members to support frontline health care workers during the Omicron surge.
Beginning next week, 125 Guard members will be deployed to hospitals around the state to provide needed logistical support as materials handlers and equipment runners, as well as assisting with COVID-19 testing and other necessary non-clinical services to support hospital operations.
The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon National Guard will continue to work with the hospital systems to monitor ongoing need and determine additional deployments as necessary.
“With more than 500 current hospitalizations and daily record-breaking numbers of Covid-19 cases, we are at another critical point in this pandemic — and the Oregon National Guard is stepping up again to assist,” said Brown.
“While Guard members work to support our frontline health care workers, I am asking all Oregonians to continue to do your part to help. Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear your masks, and stay home when you are sick.”
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