Oregon reports 1,900 daily COVID cases, most since September
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As Oregon health officials prepare for a predicted surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations fueled by the omicron variant, the state reported its highest daily case count — 1,900 — since September.
Tuesday's case count is more than double the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in December. Oregon Health and Science University data scientist Peter Graven said he expects to see cases go up dramatically in the next two weeks.
Graven said this is the beginning of the omicron variant wave, with cases most likely starting in Portland then moving to other areas of the state.
“It’s infecting vaccinated people, so I think that’s the big story, that it’s probably different for most of us who have been through the delta surge,” Graven said. “If you’re vaccinated, you had quite a bit of protection from infections. As vaccinated, you still have protection from hospitalization, but the infections are quite easy to get.”
New COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have soared to the highest levels on record — more than 265,000 per day on average — due to the omicron variant. The previous mark was 250,000 cases per day, set in mid-January, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The number of Americans now in the hospital with COVID-19 is running at around 60,000, or about half the figure seen in January — based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — suggesting that the figures may reflect not only the protection conferred by the vaccine, but also the possibility that omicron is not making people as severely ill as previous versions.
COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 1,200 per day to around 1,500.
Public health experts will be closely watching the numbers in the coming week for indications of the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing serious illness, keeping people out of the hospital and relieving strain on exhausted health care workers.
In Oregon, where omicron was detected in mid-December, local scientists predict that in January the state will see a new wave of hospitalizations that could surpass the peak since the start of the pandemic.
Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, called the prediction a “warning we can't ignore.”
Officials say the threat that the highly transmissible omicron variant poses is “deeply troubling and demoralizing,” especially as hospitals continue to struggle with staffing shortages and limited available beds due to the surge caused by the delta variant.
As of Tuesday, 398 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Oregon. There currently are only 58 available adult intensive care unit beds and only 92% of the state’s adult non-ICU beds are full.
During the peak of the delta variant surge — in September — nearly 1,200 coronavirus patients were hospitalized. Graven predicts the number of hospitalizations in the state could “eclipse” Oregon’s peak by two or three times.
Following confirmation of the omicron variant in Oregon earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials urged Oregonians to get booster shots immediately. Currently 74% of people in Oregon who are 18 or older are fully vaccinated, based on data from the state health authority. In addition, nearly one-third of Oregon adults have received a booster shot.
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.