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Hospitals across Oregon experience COVID surge

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As coronavirus cases continue to spike in Oregon, health officials describe the dire situation they are seeing play out in hospitals — especially among unvaccinated people.

As of Friday, 496 people are hospitalized in Oregon due to COVID-19. Based on data from the state health authority, the state's record of people hospitalized was 622 during November's surge when vaccine doses were not yet available.

“We have nursing staff and physicians who have not taken vacations for a year or two year now. And just as we thought things were settling down, they’re starting to build up again," said Grant Niskanen, the vice president of Medical Affairs at Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls. "In our hospital we’re starting to see younger and sicker patients.”

Niskanen said just a couple weeks ago the hospital only had two COVID-19 patients, now they have nine. Their recent projections predict that there will soon be 25-30 patients, a third of their hospital capacity.

Among the patients include a 23-year-old and 29-year-old.

“A year ago, we never saw these younger people in the hospital, so this is a new,” Niskanen said.

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Oregon, some counties — most where less than half of the area’s adult population is vaccinated — are experiencing their highest hospitalization numbers during the pandemic.

In the southwest hospital region, which includes Jackson and Josephine counties, between 49% and 55% of adults have been vaccinated. This week the region’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached an all time high for the area with 104 people. The previous record of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the region was 69 in January.

In the eastern hospital region, which includes Baker, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties, between 38% and 58% of the adult population have been vaccinated. Hospitalizations in the region have reached a record high of 22, the previous record was 18 in November.

Along a coastal hospital region, which includes Coos, Curry, Douglas and Lane, between 47% and 67% of the adult population have been vaccinated. Hospitalizations have reached a record high of 82 people. The previous record was 68 in December.

Dr. Robert Turngren, the chief physician executive at Samaritan Health Services — which has five locations in the state — says that their health system is also experiencing “historic high watermarks” of COVID-19 patient numbers.

“Our hospitals are quite full,” Turngren said. “Our staffing is a challenge — and we are also at our historic high record mark for COVID-19 patients.”

Currently there are 25 patients, all of which are unvaccinated, Turngren said.

“Almost all the patients I treat with COVID say, ‘Can I get the vaccine?’” Turngren said. “And all of them say, ‘If I’d known about this, or how I felt or the effect on my family, I would have got the vaccine.’”

In July, 81% of the Oregon's 12,514 reported COVID-19 cases were among people who were unvaccinated, the health authority reported on Friday. In addition of the 55 coronavirus-related deaths last month, 91% were also among unvaccinated people.

Throughout the pandemic Oregon has identified 4,196 vaccine breakthrough cases to date. However, officials say the number of breakthrough cases “remain very small when compared to the more than 2.3 million Oregonians who have completed their COVID-19 vaccination series.”

Currently around 28% of adults in Oregon are not vaccinated.

“The key to all of this is to get vaccinated,” Niskanen said. “If we all were vaccinated, this would shut down the spread of the virus and shut down the the mutations and the variants that are occurring. We are talking about lives here and I just really I can’t emphasize enough that the importance of the vaccinations.”

Sara Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.