Peak yet to come, as Oregon sets daily record for COVID cases

Oregon health officials predict the number of COVID-19 cases will peak over the next week amid a boom caused by the omicron surge.

And authorities believe that by early February, coronavirus-related hospitalizations will likely surpass numbers from the previous wave.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said Friday that the omicron variant is fueling “a steady increase in hospitalizations, record daily cases and staggering test positivity rates. It is distressing for all of us. »

The Oregon Health Authority reported 10,947 new coronavirus cases on Friday — a new record. Prior to omicron, Oregon‘s highest single-day case count was 3,207 new cases in August 2021.

Although Friday’s case count is a record high for the state, it’s likely that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is much higher.

“Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a discrepancy between the number of cases reported to public health and the actual number of COVID-19 cases,” said Tim Heider, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority. , to the Associated Press. “Initially, this was true due to the proportion of COVID-19 cases that cause only mild or no symptoms. Over time, test acceptance has also resulted in this discrepancy. The use of home self-test kits has exacerbated this gap.

As more people use home self-test kits — giving them an instant, sometimes inaccurate answer whether or not they’re infected with COVID-19 — they aren’t required to report their results to the state. , likely resulting in significant undercounting of cases.

While the undercount impacts health officials’ ability to understand the “true burden” on disease in real time, Heider said it does not affect “our ability to respond to surges in a meaningful way.” appropriate” nor on federal state resource allocations.

Earlier in the pandemic, daily case counts played a central role in shaping policy responses to the pandemic. In the first half of 2021, capacity restrictions in Oregon counties were partially determined by the number of cases per capita.

However, as case counts have become less accurate — due to accessibility issues, asymptomatic cases going untested and unreported home test kit results — some health officials no longer consider the number of cases as being of great importance.

Peter Graven, data scientist at Oregon Health and Science University and author of the influential statewide COVID-19 forecast used by the health authority, said the accuracy of the case count has little effect on his predictions.

“For my own model, I don’t look at cases at all,” Graven said.

Instead, he said one data point to pay particular attention to is hospitalizations.

Health officials reported Friday that more than 1,000 people in hospital with COVID-19. Hospitalizations are expected to peak around February 1 with 1,550 patients.

“We’re on track to eclipse last fall’s highs,” Sidelinger said, referring to the delta’s peak surge of nearly 1,200 hospitalizations.

State data currently shows that about 94% of adult inpatient beds in hospitals are occupied.

On Thursday, the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems described the pressure on hospital staff and raised concerns about rising cases in the coming weeks.

Several staffing agencies are contracted to help provide staff to hospitals to increase capacity or replace sick employees. Additionally, elective surgeries at many hospitals are being canceled to open more beds.

Although hospitalizations are approaching record numbers in Oregon, health officials say the good news is that patients with COVID-19 are generally not as sick as people battling the disease during the last wave.

Additionally, Sidelinger said many Oregonians are taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, including getting vaccinated and boosted, limiting large gatherings and wearing a mask.

“I want to thank the vast majority of Oregonians who continue to take these steps to protect themselves, their loved ones in our communities,” Sidelinger said. “Your actions have helped keep the COVID death rate among the lowest when we compare to other states.”

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Cline is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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