COVID19-cases in Oregon continue to increase, as do hospitalizations, but health officials say the numbers so far are manageable compared to previous waves.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated nine Oregon counties as being in a high risk for COVID spread. By Friday, that number jumped to 24, including the state’s most populous county, Multnomah.
The agency suggests people living in high-risk counties wear masks indoors in public spaces. Multnomah County had already recommended residents wear masks indoors.
Even so, state health officials said the high COVID cases aren’t a cause for alarm.
“The good news amongst all of that COVID in the community is that we’re not seeing a large increase in hospitalizations,” state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said. “A slow trend up over the last week or so, but not a huge trend up.”
On Wednesday, the state reported 1,875 positive cases, a 305-case increase from the previous Wednesday. Altogether, from June 23-29, the state counted 11,324 positive cases, a 563-case increase from the week before.
From June 23-29, there were 2,550 people hospitalized with COVID — up 419 people from the week before.
While those numbers are the highest they’ve been since early March, they’re not enough to burden Oregon’s hospital system, Sidelinger said.
“We still have over 300 people in the hospital with COVID right now, and people in the hospital for other reasons, and some catching up on care,” he said. “Our hospitals are not empty, and not by any means not busy. But we’re not at a point where we’re near those levels that really strained the capacity.”
Because hospitals aren’t heavily impacted, Sidelinger said he doesn’t expect to see mask mandates coming back any time soon.
“We’re leaving those decisions up to individuals and for counties at those higher risk levels,” Sidelinger said. “While the recommendation is there for everyone to wear a mask indoors, moving it to a requirement is not something we would be doing at a statewide level or from a statewide perspective at this time.”
Oregonians aren’t required to report positive COVID-19 test results to the state. Sidelinger estimates that for every positive case that’s reported by the state, there are likely 30 others that aren’t counted.
A report published by University of Oregon researchers on Sunday suggests the state make it easier for people to self-report. When someone tests positive, they can either call in their results or fill out a survey online, which can take 20 to 45 minutes.
“Do you want to spend 45 minutes to fill out a survey that has a tremendous amount of information, potentially personal information?” said Benjamin Clark, co-director of the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement at University of Oregon, who co-authored the report. “That just seems pretty irrelevant to most Oregonians.”
The survey should only take up to 2 minutes, Clark said. That could help the state better track cases to gauge COVID’s current impact on Oregonians.
But many of the questions asked in the survey — like age, gender identity, race, and disability status — are required to appear on the form by state law, according to Sidelinger. However, those questions are optional, so people can skip through the ones they don’t want to answer.
Health officials are relying more on hospitalization and wastewater data to estimate COVID’s impact, Sidelinger said.
The report out of University of Oregon is based on a survey that garnered about 700 responses. Clark said the respondents, who lived in a mix of rural and urban areas, didn’t know that COVID cases were increasing with the latest Omicron variant.
“People’s perception of the pandemic today is not necessarily accurate,” Clark said. “There was a large percentage of people in the state that felt like things were staying the same or getting better, when in fact they were getting worse.”
In addition to calling on the state to improve its self-reporting processes, the report suggests health officials focus on getting more children vaccinated.
“Even in adults that are vaccinated themselves, they’re still pretty hesitant to get their kids vaccinated,” Clark said.
He added that health officials should continue directing people to their doctors and pediatricians for information because people who are hesitant about vaccines for their children are more likely to trust their doctor’s advice.
Clark said his team plans on publishing another report next month, this time assessing the economic impacts of COVID, as well as the long-term side effects.