Oregon’s chief disease specialist threaded a fine line Wednesday between cautioning Oregonians to protect themselves amid a surge in coronavirus infections while not ordering or even recommending statewide measures to prevent infection.
The current bump in identified COVID-19 infections, with a daily average of more than 1,400 reported cases per day, may be reaching its peak, Dr. Dean Sidelinger said at a now-monthly COVID-19 media update Wednesday. But the sustained growth in cases and hospitalizations means “the pandemic is not yet over.”
“If you’re in a gathering of people outside your home, sooner or later you will be exposed to the virus,” Sidelinger said. “The risk of exposure and infection exists in every Oregon community.”
In the more than two years since the pandemic began, Oregon has reported an average daily case load higher than 1,400 for only about four months. And underscoring how widespread the disease is likely to be, the epidemiologist said “most” cases now are not reported to the state, because some people get their results through an at-home test, which doesn’t have to be reported, or simply don’t get tested at all.
Everyone in a county where the federally-determined risk level is “medium” should consider wearing a mask, Sidelinger said. Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties are at that risk level, as are Deschutes, Columbia and Benton counties. He also encouraged people who are unvaccinated, older, immunocompromised, at risk of severe disease or who live with anyone in those categories, to wear a mask.
The key marker of the severity of the current pandemic bump, hospitalizations, remains far below the peaks reached in either the omicron or delta waves. That’s expected to remain true through the peak, projected to hit 321 occupied beds by June 10. Hospitalizations approached 1,200 at the height of the delta wave. As of Tuesday, 255 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to Oregon Health Authority data.
“OHA is optimistic that the overall number of Oregon’s hospitalized patients with COVID-19 will not exceed our hospital system’s ability to care for them,” Sidelinger said.
As for what happens after this wave is over, Sidelinger said he expects Oregon won’t see sustained case growth through the summer thanks to immunity from recent infections and vaccinations and because people will be spending time outdoors.
“But if new variants develop in Oregon, in other states or countries that come to Oregon, that could change as we move inside in the fall,” Sidelinger said.
— Fedor Zarkhin
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