As Omicron cases increase, state leaders promote vaccines, boosters and masking to blunt the spread

As Omicron COVID-19 cases continue to set new records in Oregon, leaders from Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) urged people to get vaccinated and boosted and to practice safety measures, during a joint press conference Jan. 7, 2022.

OHA State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger, OHA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dana Hargunani, ODE Director Colt Gill, and Director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics Dr. Peter Graven also answered questions from members of the media.

Omicron is in Oregon and moving fast

Dr. Sidelinger opened the news conference with the report of 10,451 new daily cases of COVID-19. The seven-day average for new cases over the last month increased 373%. OHA has recorded new pandemic highs in daily cases every day this week. The percent positivity rate reached 23.3%. COVID-19 hospitalizations are once again climbing, with a 57% increase over last week. Hospital capacity is near a breaking point and we anticipate the surge in cases to peak over the coming weeks.

Supporting Oregon’s hospitals so they can continue to serve everyone

In addition to today’s announcement from Governor Kate Brown on deploying 500 National Guard members to support frontline medical workers, OHA has created a surge tool of up to 1,000 additional clinicians to support nurse crisis response teams and extended clinical staffing for hospitals, long-term care facilities and other congregate care settings.

In the unfortunate event that a hospital does not have enough staff or equipment to provide treatment, OHA has provided a crisis care tool to help clinicians make decisions about who receives care in a fair, non-discriminatory way that is focused on equity. OHA developed the interim tool based on several existing triage tools and in alignment with Oregon’s health equity principles of non-discrimination, patient-led decision making and transparent communications.

Keeping schools open

Director Gill reinforced ODE’s commitment to provide in-person learning , when possible, in the face of the Omicron variant. Some schools have had to temporarily shift to short-term distance learning due to staff and faculty illness. Gill reinforced the importance of layered mitigation strategies in keeping schools open: vaccination, boosters, masking, physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and good airflow all work together to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on learning communities.

What can we expect in the coming month

Dr. Graven predicts a steep increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 with a peak of 1,652 people in Oregon being hospitalized with COVID-19 by the end of January. That’s a 30% increase over the peak hospitalizations due to the Delta variant.

Graven noted that Omicron is infecting vaccinated people and even though vaccination and boosters protects against severe disease, if infected vaccinated people can still spread the virus and reinforced the importance of following public health guidance to protect all in the community.

While Omicron appears to result in milder illness, Graven said, the sheer number of people getting infected with Omicron will have an impact on hospitalization rates.

All speakers emphasized the urgency of doubling down on personal safety measures over the next several weeks such as vaccinations, boosters, masks, washing hands, and limiting gatherings while the Omicron variant is spreading in community.

Click here to watch the news conference.