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Region sees sharp rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Jackson and Josephine counties have jumped 162% over the past week, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

As of Tuesday, 34 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals in the two counties, referred to by the Oregon Health Authority as Region 5, according to OHA data.

A week earlier, on Nov. 3, there were 13 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“We don’t, for the short time, see a slowing of that increase in hospitalized patients,” Asante Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jamie Grebosky said Tuesday at an OHA news conference. “We also see a challenge on discharging our patients as well, and so as the pandemic has spread locally at skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, memory care, other places that act as discharge locations for an acute care facility, we're really unable to accept patients, either because they have COVID in the facility, or there are staffing issues. And that really impacts our ability to care for the community in our capacity.”

Region 5 has 57 adult intensive care unit beds, and 41 were occupied Nov. 10, according to OHA. The region has 447 non-ICU adult beds, with 386 occupied Tuesday, the data show.

“I’ve said this before, but from the outset our goal has been to save lives and avoid overwhelming our health care systems,” Gov. Kate Brown said. “When people become ill, we need to ensure there are enough hospital beds, [personal protective equipment] and staff to provide lifesaving care.”

As of Tuesday, Oregon hospitals had 146 available adult ICU beds and 701 available non-ICU adult beds, OHA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dana Hargunani said. The state also has 130 pediatric intensive care unit beds and 116 non-ICU pediatric beds. On Tuesday, 762 ventilators were available in Oregon.

Overall, Hargunani said, the state is “much better prepared” to handle higher case counts of the disease. Hospital systems coordinate regularly, and if one is unable to meet demand, others step in to help, allowing patient admissions to be distributed within a region or across regions if capacity is strained.

“But there are limitations to what Oregon’s health care system can handle,” Hargunani said. “Even with regional planning and the hard work of all of our hospital partners. We cannot handle ever-growing high daily case counts and widespread hospitalizations. The system is flexible and has capacity, but only to a point.”

Health officials reported the new data on the eve of a two-week “pause” for nine counties where COVID-19 has seen an accelerated spread, largely due to an increase in social gatherings.

The new guidelines, in effect Nov. 11 to Nov. 25, apply to counties that have either had more than 200 cases of the illness per 100,000 people over a two-week period, or more than 60 cases for counties with fewer than 30,000 people.

The protocols limit restaurant capacity in those counties to 50 people, including staff, and 50 people for indoor recreation activities such as bowling alleys, gyms and museums. They also ask affected businesses to let employees work from home as much as possible, limit indoor social gatherings to six people, and ask households to keep the same six people in their “social gathering circle.”

Officials continue to encourage Oregonians to practice proper physical distancing, wear a facial covering in public, and do frequent, thorough hand washing.

“Every action we individually take, from wearing a mask to staying home when you feel under the weather to truly limiting your social interactions can really make a huge difference,” Brown said.

Eight other counties — Malheur, Umatilla, Marion, Multnomah, Baker, Clackamas, Union and Washington — will be under the tightened restrictions, too.

For the week of Oct. 18-24, Jackson County Public Health reported 176 cases, followed by 245 Oct. 25-31, for a total of 421 cases in two weeks. From Nov. 1-7, the county reported 431 new cases, an increase of nearly 76%. The county’s test positivity rate has increased to 18.1%, while the number of tests performed has remained steady.

Jackson County Public Health reported 56 new cases of the illness Tuesday, raising the county’s case count to 2,436. Of those, health officials considered 580 cases infectious. Eight local people have died from the disease, and 169 have been hospitalized, according to county data.

The surge in new cases continues to affect public schools. From Oct. 25 to Nov. 7, Jackson County saw a case rate of 305.9 cases were 100,000 people, well above the Oregon Department of Education’s threshold of fewer than 50 per 100,000 people required for those students to return to in-person instruction.

OHA officials reported three more deaths from the illness across the state Tuesday, raising Oregon’s death toll to 737. Health officials reported 771 new cases of the illness Tuesday, raising the state’s total to 51,909 cases.

“We went from just under 40,000 cases three weeks ago to now nearly 52,000 today,” Hargunani said.

As of Nov. 8, the state had reported 5,177 new cases for the week, with 3,452 cases the previous week.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.