Oregon enters a new phase of the pandemic: COVID-19 resilience

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The Omicron surge has passed. COVID-19 has receded.  Because Oregonians got vaccinated, wore masks, and limited indoor gatherings more than people did in most other places, the state has fared better than much of the US:

  • Lives saved: Actions Oregonians took to prevent the spread of COVID-19 saved an estimate of nearly 5,800 lives.
  • Cases: Oregon’s  ranking among states (including Washington, DC) in COVID-19 cases (per 100,000): 2nd lowest
  • Deaths: Oregon’s ranking among states (including Washington, DC) in COVID-19 deaths (per 100,000): 7th lowest
  • Vaccinations: Oregon’s ranking among states (including Washington, DC) in percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated: 18
  • Boosters: Oregon’s ranking among states (including Washington, DC) in the percentage of eligible residents who have received a booster: 10
  • Hospitalizations: Oregon per capita hospitalization rate during the Omicron surge: approximately one-third lower than the per capita average compared to other states.
  • Masking: Highest percentage of Oregonians who reported wearing masks during the Omicron surge (OHSU modeling report): 84% (currently 74%).

Oregon can now lift most mask requirements and enter this new phase of the pandemic. But we still need to take care of each other. Today, Oregon released a new plan, called Resilience in Support of Equity (RISE)  that describes how the state will help people in local communities protect each other from COVID-19, restore social cohesion and eliminate the inequities the pandemic exposed and worsened.

Here are five major takeaways from that plan:

Oregon will protect communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in Oregon, but not every person has been affected equally. Certain populations face systemic barriers to care, including lower rates of health coverage, less access to vaccination and testing sites and a history of trauma and racism. Oregon’s communities of color have all be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To close these health equity gaps, Oregon has been partnering with more than 175 community-based organizations. The state has distributed masks, tests and vaccines doses to local community organizations, supported door-to-door outreach, held vaccine events at local community centers like faith centers and grocery stores, and provided funding for local organizations to support their communities. In the next six months, Oregon will strengthen these connections with a focus on health equity.

Oregon will protect people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

COVID-19 is still in circulation, and OHA regularly monitors for potential new variants, shortages of tests, and gaps in vaccination efforts.

The state’s monitoring efforts include genetically sequencing positive COVID-19 tests as well as testing wastewater, which can represent a whole community – even those with lower access to testing. Wastewater testing can show the spread of disease and presence of variants. Oregon is prepared to distribute up to 200,000 tests each month to schools, local public health authorities, and healthcare centers.

Vaccination efforts in Oregon have been wildly successful – 2.9 million people (67% of our total population and 83% of people over 18) have been fully vaccinated. Over the next few months, Oregon will maintain the capacity to administer more than 25,000 doses per day through pharmacies, health care providers, mobile clinics and clinics serving priority populations in local neighborhoods.

Oregon will also ensure that everyone who is eligible has access to COVID-19 treatments as the supply grows. The state already receives about 1,200 doses of available monoclonal antibody therapies and about 5,000 courses of antiviral pills every week. Our therapeutics teams are committed to prioritizing those who have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including communities of color, tribal communities, rural communities, and people with medical conditions or disabilities that make them higher risk for severe disease.

People who live in long-term care facilities (LTCFs), nursing homes, adult foster homes or are disabled have been among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Oregon has maintained protective measures at these locations to slow the spread of disease and keep people safe and will continue to do so in the months ahead.

Oregon will expand access to vital health care and support a thriving workforce.

To achieve OHA’s goal to eliminate health inequities by 2030, the state will expand the number of people who have health coverage and lay the foundation to achieve universal coverage in our state.

During the pandemic, health care coverage in Oregon increased to 95 percent. When the public health emergency ends, 300,000 people risk losing coverage. To help expand coverage, Oregon has proposed a ‘bridge health plan’ which could be offered to lower-income people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still struggle financially. The plan, if approved, would cover about 55,000 people who make between 138 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

In addition to improving access to care for people in Oregon, the state will also improve access to training the health care workforce. Investments into programs that support historically underserved populations will ensure that more people have access to the education and training required to enter the health care workforce.

Oregon will keep schools safe for students, staff and families and help students recover instructional time.

Many students were disproportionately affected by schools pivoting to online learning during the pandemic. During these turbulent times, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) ensured that all students had access to breakfast and lunch at no cost, worked with the state legislature to secure nearly $200 million for summer programs for K-12 academic activities and enrichment, and worked with communities to ready schools for safe, in-school learning.

Over the next six months, Oregon will focus on several areas to support students and school staff. ODE will develop and implement a Communicable Disease Management plan that will help schools open safely and manage potential COVID-19 outbreaks, support students’ mental health with new initiatives, and more.

Oregon will restore social cohesion by listening to and supporting the priorities of local communities and the steps people take to protect themselves and others.

And as much as large majorities of people in Oregon stood by each other and faithfully adopted public health recommendations, the virus also amplified wedges between us. As surges came and went, cycles of fear and fatigue tested public patience.

Even though the state requirement for mask-wearing is lifting in most indoor spaces, Oregon will support anyone who chooses to wear a mask to protect themselves and their communities, including in schools. The state will also continue to offer COVID-19 vaccines at high-volume sites and smaller, local sites around the state.

A vital priority of Oregon’s RISE plan is to establish or rebuild trust between local communities and health experts, restore social cohesion and help people navigate the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic together.

To achieve this, OHA will continue to hold vital listening sessions with communities who have experienced the most health inequities, such as communities of color and tribal communities, people with disabilities and others. Listening sessions will center each community’s values, culture and wisdom while seeking input on how the state can support them.

Moving forward, state and local health officials and local partners will co-create community strategies to strengthen health resilience and work towards a more equal health landscape.

The pandemic isn’t over. And Oregon is prepared to support all people in the state as we learn to navigate through this next phase.

Tips for keeping yourself and your community safe:

  1. Get vaccinated. Get your booster dose. COVID-19 vaccines are effective in reducing your risk of severe disease and hospitalization.
  2. Know the risk of COVID-19 in your community. Check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s community-level tracking to see how much COVID-19 is spreading in your community.
  3. Be prepared for a possible infection. Keep rapid COVID-19 tests on-hand. You can now order four tests from the federal government for free. Keep a supply of high-quality, well-fitting masks (like a KN95s or N95s) for times when community spread increases. If you can, have enough food and household goods to isolate for five days if you become sick.
  4. Continue to wear a mask if you want. If you are unvaccinated, are at high risk for severe disease, live with someone who is at risk, or spread is moderate or high in your community, wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask.
  5. Isolate when you have symptoms. If you have potential COVID-19 symptoms, isolate away from others for five days, then wear a mask around others for the following five days.