PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon has reported yet another daily COVID-19 hospitalization record as the state’s health system battles another surge fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant.
On Monday, 752 people in Oregon were hospitalized due to the coronavirus, health officials said. Prior to this month, the state’s record of hospitalizations during the pandemic was 622 in November, which occurred during a winter surge and when vaccines were not yet available.
In addition, 14 more people — ranging from 27 to 93 years old — have died from COVID-19, health officials reported Monday.
"I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of this crisis for all Oregonians, especially those needing emergency and intensive care," Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said Friday. "When our hospitals are full with COVID-19 patients, there may not be room for someone needing care after a car crash, a heart attack, or other emergency situation."
Oregon — like Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana — has had more people in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic. Last week, intensive care unit beds across the Pacific Northwest state were about 90% full, and some hospital regions had less than five ICU beds available.
Hospitals across the state have opted to postpone elective procedures, nurses and physicians say they are overwhelmed and health officials are desperately urging people to get vaccinated and wear masks.
“We have nursing staff and physicians who have not taken vacations for a year or two year now. And just as we thought things were settling down, they’re starting to build up again,” Grant Niskanen, the vice president of Medical Affairs at Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls, said earlier this month. “In our hospital we’re starting to see younger and sicker patients.”
Last week, Brown announced that she is sending up to 1,500 National Guard troops to hospitals around the state to assist healthcare workers who are being pushed to the brink by a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant.
The first group of 500 Guard members will be deployed on Friday to serve as material and equipment runners in the most stricken hospitals and to help with COVID-19 testing, among other things. Troops will be sent to 20 hospitals around Oregon.
State health officials warned that, without new health and safety interventions in place, hospitalizations would far exceed the health system capacity in the next several weeks. Officials at Oregon Health & Science University estimate that the state will be short by as many as 500 hospital beds by early September.
Dr. David Zonies, the associate chief medical officer at Oregon Health & Science University, described the dire situation playing out in hospitals as “watching a train wreck coming and knowing that there’s an opportunity to switch tracks.”
Oregon, once viewed as a pandemic success story, has seen that progress slip away in recent weeks as the variant gains a foothold in counties with lower vaccination rates.
The state kept an indoor mask mandate and social distancing rules in place until June 30, shut down restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses repeatedly since March 2020 and had strict indoor capacity limits for businesses long after other states returned to near-normal.
Over the past month Brown has announced various COVID-19 safety measures in an attempt to decrease the infection rate and hospitalizations and increase the number of vaccinated people. Recent measures included requiring healthcare workers and state employees be vaccinated and mask mandates at schools.
In addition, a statewide mask mandate was reimplemented on Friday. Everyone in Oregon who is 5 years or older, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
“I know Oregonians are tired of wearing masks. I certainly am too," Brown said. "But every time someone wears a mask, that’s one more unvaccinated kid we’re protecting. That mask could keep your best friend or loved one out of the hospital."
As expected, the mandate was met with pushback where 27% of adults remain unvaccinated. Over the weekend, around 1,000 people gathered at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem to advocate against mandates.
The Statesman Journal reports that attendees, who were mostly unmasked, held signs with phrases such as: "End the child abuse," "Keep Oregon free," "Leave our children alone," and "Give me liberty or give me death."
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod released a scathing statement last week, condemning the governor’s recent coronavirus-related measures.
“The Governor has a serious credibility problem. She obviously has no clear standards for any decision she makes," Girod said. "Instead, these mandates seem to be driven by left-wing activists who want a permanent pandemic to push forward unpopular policies."
Sara 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.