Oregon reports record number of weekly cases
The latest weekly numbers from Oregon health officials are further evidence the state is dealing with rapid spread of COVID-19. The Oregon Health Authority reports that the week ending Sunday, Jan. 9 counted a record 47,272 cases — a six-fold increase from two weeks ago, and nearly three times more than the previous record from last August. Hospitalizations are also up by 68% from the previous week, according to OHA. Deaths were also up over the week before, from 89 to 113.
OHA reported a small increase in daily cases Wednesday — 8,760, up from 8,040 on Tuesday.
New hotline opens to self-report COVID-19 positive results
Oregon health officials have set up a hotline for people to self-report their at-home positive COVID-19 test results, about a month after announcing a multi-part plan to confront the omicron variant, including launching a phoneline to largely replace contact tracing investigations. State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said the move is necessary in the face of “widespread transmission” in the state.
“The current and rapidly growing surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant has outpaced the capacity of Oregon’s public health system to effectively conduct active case investigation and contact tracing,” Sidelinger said in a press release announcing the hotline.
OHA is encouraging — but not requiring — people who have tested positive for the virus to call the COVID-19 Case Support Hotline at 1-866-917-8881, or complete an online survey to share their results with government officials. In “highly recommending” that Oregonians share their COVID-19 status via the hotline, OHA says people can get questions answered regarding their health, isolation and quarantine protocols, and get other advice.
But health officials in much of the state are advising people with positive COVID-19 test results to contact local authorities rather than go through the new OHA hotline. Local health departments in eight counties and three Tribes are asking to be called directly, including Multnomah and Washington counties in the Portland area; Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties in southern Oregon; as well as Clatsop, Jefferson and Umatilla counties. The three Tribes asking to be contacted directly are the Burns Paiute, Siletz and Warm Springs.
OHA says the hotline is part of a broader shift in priorities, with a focus on “outbreaks in high-risk settings” including long-term care, health facilities, schools and “food chain industries.”
Oregon to deploy additional National Guard help to hospitals
Current hospitalizations in Oregon are over 700 and daily COVID-19 case counts are alarmingly high. Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that she’s sending 700 more National Guard members to Oregon hospitals, for a total of more than 1,200. Brown originally announced deployment of 500 members on Jan. 7.
On social media, the governor wrote: “Thank you, once again, to our Guard members, their families, and their employers for this sacrifice and support. As they step up yet again, I am asking all Oregonians to continue to do your part. Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear your masks, and stay home when you are sick.”
More than 50 hospitals will receive help.
Oregon receives new antiviral drug Paxlovid
Oregon has given most of its initial supply of Paxlovid, a promising new antiviral drug from Pfizer to treat COVID-19, to non-profit community health clinics across the state. The clinics, also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers, provide primary care to low-income, uninsured, rural, and historically disadvantaged populations.
Nationwide, the drug is in extremely limited supply due to the time it takes to manufacture it. Oregon had received just 680 doses of Paxlovid as of Tuesday.
The federal government is allocating doses to states based on their population, and leaving it to states to decide how to distribute it.
Read the full story: Oregon has its first doses of Paxlovid. Here’s where it’s going.
Multiple Oregon and Southwest Washington districts announce remote plans
Multiple Northwest school districts have announced plans to move some or all schools to remote learning schedules as a surge in COVID-19 infections keeps educators and students at home. They include all Parkrose and David Douglas district schools and some schools in the Portland, Salem-Keizer, Tigard-Tualatin, and Vancouver school districts.
Salem-Keizer leaders announced Tuesday that their staffing shortage has reached crisis level; Friday, Jan. 14 will be a non-student contact day
“For families in need of childcare, we have reached out to area childcare providers who will communicate their availability directly to families,” according to a memo from the school. “They are doing their best as they are also experiencing staffing shortages.”
Oregon’s largest high school and its surrounding elementary and middle schools will close to students on Thursday and Friday to prepare for a potential switch to online learning. David Douglas School District administrators announced the two-day closure Tuesday, stating that they need to prepare for schools or the entire district to return to comprehensive distance learning due to understaffing.
In Tigard-Tualatin, after a district-wide teacher planning day on Wednesday, Tualatin and Tigard high schools, and Fowler, Hazelbrook and Twality middle schools will move to distance learning through the end of next week. The district previously moved Durham Elementary into distance learning at the beginning of this week.
“It is like playing Jenga, or putting a very complex puzzle together, within a 24-hour period, school by school,” Tigard-Tualatin Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said of the quick decision-making behind these decisions. “And so we try to make sure we have exhausted all our alternatives at that point before we make the final call. Because no one does not want to be in front of their kids if they can help it.”
The Parkrose School District did not hold Tuesday classes, and on Wednesday all students will begin temporary distance learning. The district, in outer Northeast Portland, had reported an average of 20% to 30% of its students were absent last week, and staff absences were as high as 25% in some cases.
In Portland Public Schools, Faubion School announced it would be closed Tuesday and transition to distance learning Wednesday through at least the end of this week. It joined four other PPS campuses —Cleveland, McDaniel and Roosevelt high schools and Ockley Green Middle School — that already returned to remote learning starting Monday because of high numbers of student and teacher absences. Those closures will also last at least this week.
On Tuesday night, PPS announced that Jefferson High School would close Wednesday and transition to distance learning through at least Jan. 19.
Forest Grove High School announced Monday night that, with 18% of staff and 32% of students absent, it would pause in-person learning through at least Jan. 21.
Vancouver Public Schools on Monday night announced that all of the district’s middle and high schools would be moving to a temporary remote learning schedule. See the full schedule here.
In Central Oregon, the Jefferson County School District announced that it’s closing the Warm Springs K-8 Academy campus. Administrators said the decision wasn’t because of absences, but “to be good partners” with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
In Southern Oregon, Ashland High School announced it would move to distance learning until Jan. 31. Other Southern Oregon schools are opting not to go online, despite rising case counts and absences.
Schools in Grants Pass and Medford are requiring masks on campus, enforcing social distancing and have implemented test-to-stay programs. In the Grants Pass School District, 144 students and staff are quarantining. In the Medford School District, over 200 people are isolating at home.
The omicron surge is also impacting some public services, including transportation. The Portland area mass transit agency, TriMet, shifted 20 of its 84 bus lines to less frequent service because of a driver shortage.
New distance learning, quarantine guidelines for Portland Public Schools
With a handful of Portland schools -- four high schools, a middle school, and a K-8 -- in distance learning over the next several days, Portland Public Schools Chief of Staff Jonathan Garcia announced a return to sports and performing arts at those schools, with a limited number of spectators allowed.
There will also be “limited in-person supports” for students at schools in distance learning.
“In-person academic supports to those students who need to successfully complete coursework, and for students who need in-person counseling, resources, or other things,” Garcia said Tuesday.
Portland schools continue to offer meals and technology support for students.
PPS also heard from two health experts from the Multnomah County Health Department on new isolation and quarantine protocols that will be effective next Tuesday.
Under Multnomah County’s new guidelines updated Tuesday, quarantine is shorter for people exposed to or who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Read the full story: PPS updates distance learning, quarantine guidelines
Blood shortage in Oregon leads to delayed surgeries and procedures
The American Red Cross has declared its first ever national blood crisis.
Hospitals in the Portland area struggled with blood shortages before the first case of COVID-19 struck the region, according to Dr. Rachel Cook, the quality director of the bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Oregon Health & Science University.
Now, two years into the pandemic, hospitals in the region are facing the worst blood shortage they’ve seen in over a decade.
Hospitals now have to prioritize their limited supply of blood and platelets to those who are actively bleeding, or undergoing emergency surgeries.
According to the Red Cross, the decline in donations coincided with the outbreak of the delta variant of COVID-19. With omicron on its tail, blood drives are being canceled and there have been staffing shortages.
Read the full story: Blood shortage hitting Oregon hospitals as Red Cross declares crisis
COVID pandemic strains Oregon’s public defense system
Dozens of criminal defendants in Oregon are currently facing charges without a defense attorney.
According to the Office of Public Defense Services, more than 45 people who qualify for a public defender don’t have one. As of Friday, 19 were in custody on pre-trial offenses.
An increase in crime in some counties and nearly two years of the global pandemic have contributed to a strain on Oregon’s criminal justice system. Though the larger issue, public defenders argue, is a public defense system that has long been understaffed, overworked and inefficient.
Read the full story: Oregon’s public defense system falters as pandemic continues
Ventilator use climbs at Oregon hospitals
Oregon health authorities reported Monday that 18,538 new confirmed or presumptive COVID-19 cases were identified over the weekend.
The state has a positive test rate of just over 22% as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 692, but hospitalizations were still about 40% below their peak during the summer surge of the delta variant.
The number of COVID-19 positive patients on ventilators was dropping until a week ago, the state’s data shows. At that point, the number on ventilators started climbing sharply, from a low of 27 on Jan. 5 to a high of 53 on Jan. 10.
That’s still about a quarter of the number of COVID-19 patients needing a ventilator during the peak of the delta wave last year.
Health officials diagnosed 47,272 coronavirus cases over the past week, three times as many as the previous week.
Eighteen new COVID deaths in Oregon were announced Monday.
Oregon’s February legislative session will be open to the public
The Oregon Capitol will remain open to the public when lawmakers convene Feb. 1 for a month-long session.
In a joint statement, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek announced that, while all legislative committee meetings during the upcoming 2022 session will take place virtually, the public will be allowed in the building.
Kotek and Courtney had issued statement last week expressing concern over the omicron variant of COVID-19 and troubling projections by doctors at Oregon Health & Science University. The two presiding officers of the Oregon Legislature clarified their stance Monday.
“We are committed to ensuring the legislative process is accessible and safe during the upcoming session,” the statement said. “The recent wave of cases and hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant is concerning. After speaking directly with OHSU infectious disease doctors and public health officials, we decided to move our committees to a virtual format.”
Oregonians will be able to enter the Capitol during regular business hours and may watch legislative proceedings from the galleries of either chamber located on the third floor.
Read the full story: Oregon Capitol to remain open during February legislative session
This is a developing story. Watch for updates throughout the day.
The Associated Press and Jefferson Public Radio’s Sophia Prince contributed to this report.