Researchers Warn that Easing Current Measures Would Create Surge in New COVID Cases

The Oregon Health Authority had some rare good news to share with Oregonians this weekend: New projections from health researchers suggest that continued adherence to the governor’s strict social distancing orders will allow the state to weather the coronavirus storm without overwhelming its health care system.

The new projections from the Institute for Disease Modeling, or IDM, in Bellevue, Wash., are based on the latest actual COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death data.

Based on the data, researchers predict there are actually about 7,000 cases of active infection in Oregon at this time, significantly more than the 1,527 confirmed cases OHA has reported. Fortunately, most of the estimated cases are extremely mild or even asymptomatic — though these carriers can still spread the virus.

Researchers estimate that Oregon’s “aggressive” social distancing measures have prevented as many as 18,000 cases of COVID-19 and 500 hospitalizations.

Researchers noted that Oregon’s “health care systems would likely have become overburdened by late April in the absence of these sustained interventions to keep the number of infections under control.”

Here’s the bad news: their research also shows these restrictions must be maintained into May to prevent new cases from rising above the current, manageable levels of active coronavirus cases.

A return even to more moderate social distancing policies, such as reopening non-essential businesses and allowing gatherings smaller than 250 people, would cause the number of infected Oregonians to rise to more than 60,000 by May 18. Such a surge could easily overwhelm hospital beds if left unchecked, according to the IDM.

With the strict guidelines in place, active infections would stay at currently projected levels of more than 2,000 cases per day through mid-May and then begin to slowly subside, the projections show.

“Staying at home and maintaining physical distancing is difficult and has had serious economic impacts that have affected many people, but the data continue to show that Oregonians are saving lives by staying home,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer at OHA, said.

According to the IDM’s model, the state should expect to see fewer than 500 hospitalizations per day due to COVID-19 if social distancing remains in place and hospitals in Oregon would use fewer than 200 intensive care unit beds per day.

If the current stay home orders were relaxed, Oregon hospitals would need nearly 2,000 beds per day to handle the surge that would be created by May 18, researchers say.

State officials say they are continuing to focus on strengthening the health care system’s ability to meet the influx of new cases, including working with hospitals to mobilize their workforce and keep workers safe, expand bed capacity and secure more ventilators in the event COVID-19 cases begin to rapidly escalate.

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