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Health officials predict another COVID surge in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Following three confirmed cases of the highly omicron variant in Oregon, health officials warned Friday the state’s peak number of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic — about 1,200 —could more than double by the end of February.

Gov. Kate Brown and health authorities are urging people to get their COVID-19 booster shot.

“Today’s forecast is a warning we can’t ignore. Like a tsunami alert, the (Oregon Health & Science University) forecast is telling us that a big wave is coming,” said Patrick Allen, the director of the state health authority. “And it threatens to be bigger than any wave we’ve seen before.”

Officials say the threat the omicron variant poses is “deeply troubling and demoralizing.”

“It’s the holidays and many people have plans to see family and friends they’ve missed during the course of a two-year pandemic,” Allen said. “We all want to put COVID-19 behind us, once and for all. ”

As of Thursday, there are only 57 available adult intensive care unit beds available and only 6% of the state’s 4,139 adult non-ICU beds available.

Local scientists say omicron could become the dominant variant in the state within a month and possibly trigger a fifth wave of infections. The first three cases of omicron were detected in Oregon on Monday.

“Oregon probably has a little time, but each day is counting now,” Peter Graven, a data scientist at Oregon Health and Science University and author of an influential COVID-19 statewide forecast, told Oregon Public Broadcasting this week.

Health officials say the best way to combat the quick spread of the new variant is for people to be fully vaccinated and receive a booster shot.

The health authority announced they are working to expand booster vaccination — with a goal of administering booster shots to an additional million residents, doubling the current number people who have already received the booster.

Although officials warn of a fifth wave, Brown did not announce any added statewide coronavirus-related restrictions.

Throughout the pandemic, Oregon has had some of the strictest safety measures and restrictions in the country. Currently there is a statewide mandate.

As for if any restrictions will return officials say “nothing is off the table.”

“We’re still really early on in what we know about omicron and I think three weeks from now, we may have a completely different picture — maybe worse, but it also could be better,” Allen said.

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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