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Oregon hospitals near breaking point during COVID surge

FILE - A nurse cares for a critically ill patient in the ICU at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., Aug. 19, 2021. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/Oregon Public Broadcasting via AP, Pool)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Health officials say Oregon hospitals are near their COVID-19 breaking point as the state is expected to reach peak hospitalizations in coming weeks.

Fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant, hospitalizations could soon surpass the pandemic high, officials said Friday. As of Thursday there were 1,130 coronavirus-related hospitalizations. The record is 1,178, from Sept. 1.

“(The pandemic) is not behind us yet,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer and epidemiologist.

As of Thursday, only 59 adult Intensive Care Unit beds were available, and 94% of non-ICU beds were filled.

“Our hospitals are struggling to maintain the fragile balance between providing care for people who are ill with the virus and others needing medical care,” Sidelinger said.

In addition, earlier this week health officials reported that Oregon surpassed 6,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

“What makes these losses more painful is that nearly all our most recent deaths could have been prevented by COVID-19 vaccines, which remain the best protection against serious illness and death,” Sidelinger said.

Nearly 75% of adults in Oregon are fully vaccinated, however, less than half have received their booster shot.

A report released by the Oregon Health Authority on Wednesday shows that more than 70% of COVID-19 cases last week were among unvaccinated people. Breakthrough cases — fully vaccinated people who test positive for the coronavirus — accounted for about 29% of last week’s cases.

Since the start of the pandemic there have been at least 104,088 breakthrough cases identified in Oregon, which is about 17% of the state’s total amount of reported cases throughout the pandemic. About 2.9% of the state’s breakthrough cases have been hospitalized and less than 1% have died. The median age of those deaths is 81, officials said.

But officials say there is some good news — cases are plateauing.

“We may be seeing a light — a slight slowing of omicron’s momentum,” Sidelinger said. “Due to the recent modeling, statewide daily cases appear to have crested the pandemic highs offering a glimpse of hope, in an otherwise bleak pandemic landscape.”

Last week there were 47,361 new COVID-19 cases reported, a 9.5% decrease from the week before.

Although cases are decreasing, Sidelinger said it will still take several weeks for hospitalizations to peak and then come down to a level that no longer overwhelms hospitals.

Health officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated and receive their booster, wear masks in public and limit large indoor gatherings.

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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.