Authorities prepare for increase in hospitalizations

Coronavirus cases in Oregon have repeatedly hit record highs this week, and public health experts warn tens of thousands more Oregonians will likely be infected by the end of the month.

An unprecedented spike in hospitalizations is also on the horizon as the omicron variant continues to sweep the state, but its severity appears to be less than that of the delta variant.

The new record for daily reported cases is 10,451, set on Friday. The highest level before the omicron variant was around 3,200.

Dr Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority, said the daily numbers are certainly an undercount of actual infections, with the state likely not reporting more than 50 to 70% of actual infections.

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Many people may be asymptomatic and not realize they have the virus, while others may not have been tested by a healthcare professional. State has no way of recording cases of individuals who test positive with home testing kits.

The public is urged to wear quality masks, avoid large gatherings, and get vaccinated or boosted, if eligible, as the highly infectious variant of omicron continues to spread across the country.

“It will disrupt lives and livelihoods. Left unchecked, it will overload our already exhausted healthcare workers and oversaturate our healthcare system, ”said Sidelinger.

Forecasts released Friday by Oregon Health and Science University predict a peak in late January of 1,652 people taking hospital beds in Oregon sickened by the omicron variant. This would be 30% higher than the peak hospitalization of the Delta variant of 1,200 people in September.

Less severe but still fatal

Data from comparable counties in the United States that experienced the omicron variant first – South Africa, the UK, and Denmark – suggested that the omicron variant causes less severe symptoms than the delta variant, especially in those vaccinated. .

Jasmin Chaudhary, medical director of infection prevention at Salem Health, said studies have shown that omicron causes less disease in the lungs, which could be part of the reason it causes fewer dire consequences.

But she said most studies on omicron have come from communities with high vaccination or immunity rates. High rates of hospitalization are still likely in unvaccinated communities.

A Danish study cited by OHSU in its recent modeling concluded that vaccinated but unboosted individuals have almost the same rate of omicron infection as unvaccinated people.

People who received booster shots reduce their risk of transmission by 50% compared to people who were vaccinated, according to the study.

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Other studies concluded that the omicron could be up to three times more infectious than the delta variant.

So while the hospitalization rate among those infected with omicron is likely below delta, the sheer number of those infected is expected to push hospitalizations to unprecedented pandemic heights.

The less severe omicron is also likely to result in shorter hospital stays than those seen during the delta peak, but “that doesn’t help with the overall impact on hospital capacity that we’re going to see.” said Peter Graven, head of scientific data in the Business Intelligence Unit at OHSU.

“We’re seeing these levels in the east coast states and know they’re coming to Oregon,” Graven said.

Preparing for a flare

OHA chief medical officer Dana Hargunani said the public health authority on Friday released hospitals with a crisis care tool that staff can use to ensure that if decisions need to be made about knowing who receives care in overcrowded hospitals, hospital staff can make these decisions impartially. .

The tool is ‘equity driven’, which is especially critical when medical staff are making difficult decisions about who will receive potentially life-saving care and who will not.

Hargunani said the tool has been under development for the past two years as the state learned of the pandemic and observed other states release similar tools for their hospitals.

“It is a very difficult subject to consider and to work on,” said Hargunani.

Salem Health medical staff are working to test patients for COVID-19 at the Salem Health Lab on Thursday, January 6, 2022 in Salem, Oregon.

At Salem hospital, medical staff said they had been preparing for flare-ups since the start of the pandemic, but had yet to see a major spike in omicron.

According to Sarah Horn, chief nurse at Salem Health, the hospital currently has around 50 COVID-19 patients and, from the start to mid-February, it expects to see a maximum of around 100, similar to what ‘he saw during the delta surge. .

Unlike delta, Horn said, they don’t expect most of these patients to be seriously ill, which will take some of the strain on hospital staff and supplies.

Salem hospital has already exceeded 100% of its capacity, including a 119% capacity on Tuesday, Horn said, and had to book some double rooms or place patients in larger rooms with dividing curtains.

“We will make room for those who need care from us, for sure,” said Horn.

Governor Kate Brown announced on Friday that up to 500 members of the Oregon National Guard will be dispatched to local hospitals to support health workers in the face of the looming wave.

The first 125 members of the Guard will be deployed next week.

Those deployed will assist hospital staff with non-clinical needs, including testing and delivery of equipment. Members of the guard with medical training will not be deployed.

“With more than 500 ongoing hospitalizations and a record daily number of COVID-19 cases, we are at another critical point in this pandemic – and the Oregon National Guard is stepping up again to help,” Brown said in a statement.

How Oregon Stacks Up To Other States

On Thursday, Oregon had a seven-day average daily case count of 4,001, or 95 per 100,000, according to the New York Times coronavirus case tracker.

Those numbers are well above the Delta Variant peak in early September, but still lower than many other states.

Oregon’s daily average per 100,000 new cases is the 12th lowest among the 56 entities tracked by the New York Times (50 states, Washington, DC and five US territories).

As for neighboring Oregon, Washington State had a rate of 124 per 100,000, California was 157 per 100,000, Idaho 51 per 100,000, and Nevada 104 per 100. 000.

In general, the eastern, southern, and parts of the Midwestern states currently have a much higher number of cases than the western states.

“It’s kind of like being at the beach and someone is out there and gets a wave and you’re a little closer to the shore and you get the wave then,” said Marcel Curlin, associate professor of medicine in infectious diseases at OHSU.

Public health experts have said there is still time to take preventative measures that may cope with the impact of the next spike in omicron.

They encouraged Oregonians to get vaccinated and boosted, if they are eligible, as well as to continue proven methods that limit the spread of COVID-19: wear masks, maintain physical distance and wash their hands often.

“It’s still the same virus. It’s a different variant, but it’s still COVID. It is still spreading the same way it does, causing the same kind of problems as in the past, “said Curlin.” The main steps to avoid getting infected and avoid harming your family, your contacts close, your loved ones are always the same. as it was. “

Journalist Connor Radnovich covers the Oregon legislature and state government. Contact him at [email protected] or 503-399-6864, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich.

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