Extreme risk restrictions eased in several Oregon counties Friday. But while the total number of new COVID-19 cases declined slightly this week, overall case loads remain high in the state.

In a pre-recorded video statement, state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said that new cases this week declined by 3%. It’s a small decline, but a big change. For the previous five weeks, the number of new cases each week rose by over 20%.

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Daily numbers of COVID-19-related hospitalizations have also declined slightly.

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“But COVID-19 remains a source of concern,” Sidelinger said. “The percentage of people testing positive for the virus remains stubbornly high. This is a hallmark of the new, more transmissible variants that are present here in Oregon.”

Sidelinger urged Oregon residents to get vaccinated and continue to wear masks. Walk in appointments for vaccines are now available for people age 16 and older. Although many of those most at-risk from COVID-19 have already been vaccinated, new variants also appear to make younger people sicker.

School reopening, too, has been a factor in new infections.

“We are seeing an increase in people who get sick in the community and then attend schools,” Sidelinger said.

He said that in-school transmission is rare but does occur, and a single case can force all students who are exposed to quarantine.

”That is disruptive to their education, particularly at a time when many just recently returned to in-person education,” Sidelinger said.

There’s some hope on the horizon for masked and distanced students; Oregon is preparing to open up vaccinations to those 12 and over next week if the federal government allows younger Americans to receive doses, and vaccine manufacturer Pfizer expects to ask the FDA to authorize the use of their vaccine in children as young as 2 by September.

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