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OPB

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread, public health authorities say they’re focused on outbreaks in high-risk settings.

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More than half a million Oregonians have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in the state nearly two years ago, and infections and deaths continue to climb this week. Meanwhile, schools across the state are doing their best to keep up with rapidly changing local situations — moving from in-person learning to remote education and back again, as students and staff call in sick, quarantine and then recover.

Here are the top headlines and latest updates on the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, fueled by the recent surge of the omicron variant.

Oregon reports more than 8,500 COVID diagnoses Wednesday

The Oregon Health Authority reported 8,538 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the state to 549,942 diagnoses since the start of the pandemic.

There were 921 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 statewide, which is 10 more than Tuesday. Of those, 134 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds, down 18 from the day prior. Only 7% of adult ICU beds remain available and 6% of adult non-ICU beds remain available in the state.

The state also reported an additional 15 COVID-19-related deaths, raising the state’s death toll due to the coronavirus to 5,908.

Oregon Health Authority: Transmission is high all across the state

Oregon’s COVID-19 community transmission dashboard shows all of Oregon’s 36 counties are having a high rate of transmission – defined as more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents.

As of midday Tuesday, 911 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across Oregon, including 152 in intensive care unit beds.

While COVID-19 cases rise in Oregon, the World Health Organization is detecting a slowdown globally and a drop in Africa, where the omicron variant was first identified. The number of new coronavirus cases globally rose by 20% last week to more than 18 million, according to the WHO. In its weekly report on the pandemic, the U.N. health agency said Tuesday that the number of new COVID-19 infections increased in every world region except for Africa, where cases fell by nearly a third. The number of deaths globally remained similar to the previous week, at about 45,000.

U.S. government begins taking orders, prepares to ship no-cost COVID-19 tests

The Biden Administration has said it is buying hundreds of millions of COVID tests to distribute as the omicron wave of the coronavirus has spiked cases across the country.

On Tuesday, an online portal through the U.S. Postal Service launched. It allows people to order four free tests per residence that will ship directly to their address. People can also obtain the tests by visiting www.covidtests.gov. The Biden administration said it has plans to also launch a free call line to order the tests.

Additionally, the federal government will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week. The White House said the masks will be made available at pharmacies and community health centers that have partnered with the administration’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Read the full story: USPS is now taking orders for free COVID-19 test kits

Portland students voice frustration with school district’s COVID protocols

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Students at Portland’s Grant High School walked out of class Tuesday in a protest against their school district’s COVID-19 safety procedures. They want Portland Public Schools to provide more N-95 masks and quicker contact tracing.

We talked with a student named Ciela, who feels the school is not doing enough to stop the virus from spreading.

Grant remains open, but the school district has re-instituted distance learning at a handful of schools over the last few days.

Read the full story: Students at Portland’s Grant High School walk out over COVID precautions

Oregon school districts grapple with high infection rates

Several of Oregon’s largest school districts — including Salem-Keizer, North Clackamas and Gresham-Barlow — reopened for in-person learning on Tuesday, after temporarily canceling classes or moving to remote-learning amid staffing shortages and student absences.

The decisions around keeping schools open or closing them temporarily, in some cases as a transition to distance learning, have been largely tied to staffing levels, as well as student sick leaves and the number of available substitutes.

Recent updates and announcements:

Read more in this related story: Omicron and schools: answering your questions

Oregon’s largest school district responds to criticism from nurses

A day after school nurses in the Portland area sent a letter critical of COVID-19 efforts at the state’s largest district, Portland Public Schools responded by defending the steps it’s taking.

The nurses’ letter pressed the district to make improvements, writing, “Messaging that schools are safe – without taking the steps to make them safe – does not keep children safe.”

The letter listed a number of shortcomings inside school buildings, such as inadequate distancing among students, improper mask-wearing, lack of HEPA filters and insufficient nursing staff to properly track and respond to illness.

The district’s lengthy response, provided to OPB late Tuesday afternoon, lists efforts the district and staff are making to keep schools healthy, but it starts by acknowledging the significant difficulties schools face during a challenging phase of the pandemic.

Read the full story: Portland Public Schools responds to criticism from school nurses

Oregonians who’ve had COVID-19 share their advice

Sure, there are official CDC quarantine guidelines and a state hotline and website for people who test positive. But sometimes you want to hear from another human.

Four Oregonians who have COVID-19 share what was difficult and what helped them get through. They tell us how difficult it was to keep a distance from loved ones, how taking time for recovery is important, and how even with what they went through, they need to be on guard against being re-infected.

Read the full story: My COVID-19: Oregonians who’ve had it share their advice

This is a developing story. Watch for updates.

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