Increase in COVID cases in Oregon and Washington; stable hospitalizations

Even with the end of mask mandates in most places, medical experts in Oregon and Washington have urged people to continue wearing masks to prevent infection.

OREGON, United States — Health officials in Oregon and Washington are tracking an increase in COVID-19 cases, but said Wednesday there was no cause for alarm yet.

In separate press conferences, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) discussed the status of the coronavirus in each state.

“Unfortunately, we’re not done with COVID yet,” said OHA’s Dr. Tom Jeanne. “But we are closer to normality than ever.”

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“[It’s] the transition from pandemic response to learning about living with COVID,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist of the Washington DOH.

Both states have reported a steady increase in COVID-19 cases as people gather again and reduce mask use. However, hospitalizations have not increased in the same way.

“It means we have good capacity in our health care system,” said Dr. Umair A. Shah of the DOH in Washington.

“Very different from where we were a year or two ago,” Jeanne said.

Experts on all sides have attributed high immunity rates, above 80%, to most people vaccinated against COVID with at least one dose.

The Washington DOH has warned that immunity wanes over time and encouraged people to get vaccinated if it’s been more than four months since their primary immunization.

Both states are using sewage testing to track the prevalence of the virus in communities.

“I think you can take it for granted that there’s a lot of COVID-19 out there,” said OHA’s Dr. Paul Cieslak. “If you are in a crowded environment, you are going to be exposed to the virus.”

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The BA2 subvariant is the dominant strain. In Washington, it accounts for about 90% of documented cases. The variant is highly contagious, but tends to be less severe.

In Oregon, the OHA said the average number of reported cases has risen to more than 600 per week, from a few hundred a few weeks ago. Due to unreported home COVID testing, the OHA said those case numbers could actually be 5 to 10 times higher.

However, as fewer cases result in serious illness and hospitalization, the state is not yet concerned. It monitors numbers and tracks forecasts to ensure hospital capacity remains at reasonable levels.

“The most recent model predicts a slight increase in hospitalizations over the next few months,” Jeanne said.

Even with the end of mask mandates in most places, medical experts in Oregon and Washington have urged people to continue wearing masks to prevent infection, especially in crowded areas.

The OHA said, however, it has no plans or measures in place to reinstate a mask mandate.

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