Oregon’s short-term Covid-19 outlook remains bleak, the state’s lead epidemiologist said Friday, with hospitals nearing a peak in the demand for hospital beds and case counts skyrocketing. But after that, things appear to be looking up.
“The Omicron variant continues to cut a destructive swath through Oregon, fueling steadily rising hospitalizations, record-shattering daily cases and a staggering test positivity rate,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist said in an online news conference.
“There is some light at the end of this very dark tunnel. The recent modeling suggests that cases could peak within the next week or so and hospitalizations, a lagging indicator, peaking in the following week.”
Sidelinger is basing his outlook on projections by Peter Graven, assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University, who released his latest forecast on Thursday.
Graven expects a peak of about 1,550 people hospitalized for Covid on Feb. 1. If the subsequent trend in Oregon follows those in East Coast states, where Omicron hit earlier, hospitalizations would then fall rapidly.
Graven’s forecast shows Omicron hospitalizations dropping to about 300 people by the end of February, which compares with the numbers in early August before the Delta surge or in late December before the rise in Omicron hospitalizations.
Hospitalizations are currently nearing 1,100 people, with a rise of nearly 130% since January 1, Sidelinger said. State data show that intensive care beds for adults are starting to run short in eastern Oregon and in Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.
Hospitals are also running out of regular adult beds in the Portland area to the coast, north-central Oregon, and Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.
Urban areas were hit first by Omicron hospitalizations, Sidelinger said. He expects to see a rise in hospitalizations in rural areas in the days ahead.
“While cases in our urban enclaves have leveled somewhat, we’re seeing surging cases and more serious illness in less vaccinated rural areas and amongst those who are elderly,” Sidelinger said.
He emphasized when Oregonians increase mask use and limit travel and indoor gatherings, they help moderate the spread of Omicron.
Graven initially projected that Oregon would need more than 3,000 hospital beds for Omicron cases by late January. But he quickly whittled that back, revising his forecasts in part on behavior changes reported through Facebook surveys.
His model showed that following Christmas, there was a steep decline in the number of Oregonians attending large indoor gatherings. There’s been a drop in people going to restaurants and bars, shopping indoors and gathering indoors as well. Mask wearing has remained about the same, the forecast showed.
Nevertheless, the daily case count has surpassed 10,000 cases in recent days, with state officials reporting yet another pandemic high on Friday of nearly 11,000 cases, about 900 more than Thursday.
Compared with Delta, however, Omicron is putting more children in the hospitals, with pediatric cases surging since the end of December, state data indicate.
“Right now, there are a lot more children hospitalized with Covid-19,” Sidelinger said.
That trend mirrors other states. Children younger than 5 are not eligible for vaccination, and children are especially susceptible to upper respiratory diseases. Delta attacks the lungs while Omicron hits the respiratory tract.
Overall children account for about 17% of infections in Oregon while making up 20% of the population. The rate of pediatric cases per 100,000 is highest among teens aged 12 to 17.
Like its mask policy, the Oregon Health Authority plans no changes in testing. The latest test positivity rate, which does not include results from most at-home tests, was 22% the week of Jan. 9 to Jan. 15, state data show. That compares with more than 7% the week of Dec. 19 to Dec. 25 and nearly 16% from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.
Oregon has purchased 6 million rapid test kits, which each has two tests, and received 1.9 million to date. It has distributed 110,000 kits to K-12 schools, nearly 800,000 to hospitals and 260,000 to local health clinics that mainly serve low-income residents.
Sidelinger said the state has 500,000 kits in reserve to replenish supplies for schools and hospitals. The state expects another 600,000 kits to arrive in coming days. The state does not plan to follow Washington state’s lead and offer them to Oregonians online.
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