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Bracing for another COVID Surge

‘A big wave is coming,’ says state health director

A microscopic image of the coronavirus. Since January 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been learning more about how COVID-19 spreads and affects people and communities. Photo courtesy the CDC.

(AP) — Following three confirmed cases of the omicron variant in Oregon, health officials warned on Friday that the state may face its worst COVID-19 surge in the coming weeks, with the number of patients hospitalized more than doubling the pandemic’s peak.

As local scientists predict that the state has a three week window to prepare for the next surge, Gov. Kate Brown and health authorities are urging people to get their COVID-19 booster shot.

“Today’s forecast is a warning we can’t ignore. Like a tsunami alert, the (Oregon Health & Science University) forecast is telling us that a big wave is coming,” said Patrick Allen, the director of the state health authority. “And it threatens to be bigger than any wave we’ve seen before.”

Officials say the threat that the highly transmissible omicron variant poses is “deeply troubling and demoralizing,” especially as hospitals continue to struggle with staffing shortages and limited available beds due to the surge caused by the delta variant.

As of Thursday, 389 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Oregon. There currently are only 57 available adult intensive care unit beds and only 94% of the state’s adult non-ICU beds are full.

“We are approaching this next surge, while still sitting at the halfway point coming down from delta,” said Dr. Renee Edwards, the chief medical officer for Oregon Health & Science University,

During the peak of the delta surge — in September — nearly 1,200 coronavirus patients were hospitalized. Peter Graven, a data scientist at Oregon Health and Science University and author of an influential COVID-19 statewide forecast, predicts the number of hospitalizations in the state could “eclipse” Oregon’s peak by two or three times.

Graven says omicron will likely become the dominant variant in the state within a month and possibly trigger a fifth wave of infections. The first three cases of omicron were detected in Oregon on Monday.

“Oregon probably has a little time, but each day is counting now,” Graven told Oregon Public Broadcasting this week.

Health officials say the best way to combat the quick spread of the new variant is for people to be fully vaccinated and receive a booster shot.

The health authority announced on Friday they are working to expand booster vaccination — with the goal of getting booster doses to one million more Oregonians by the end of January.

As part of the effort to more than double the number of Oregonians with booster shots, the health authority is focusing on getting shots to high-risk individuals in the next three weeks.

Currently, 74% of Oregonians 18 and older are fully vaccinated. Approximately 26% of Oregonians have received a booster or third dose.

Although officials warn of another wave of COVID-19, Gov. Brown did not announce any added statewide coronavirus-related restrictions.

Throughout the pandemic, Oregon has had some of the strictest safety measures and restrictions in the country. In the past there have been outdoor mask requirements, capacity limitations, closure of in-person learning and restaurants have been restricted to outdoor dining. Currently there is a statewide indoor mask mandate.

As for if any restrictions will return Brown said that “nothing is off the table,” but right now the focus is on administering booster doses to vulnerable populations.

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