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Oregon COVID cases rise, but hospitalization estimate drops

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Oregon COVID cases rise, but hospitalization estimate drops

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon has recorded its second-highest single day of coronavirus cases — fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Officials at the Oregon Health Authority reported 2,948 cases on Thursday. Currently the record number of daily cases in the state is 3,207 on Aug. 27.

Although the number of cases is rapidly rising — prior to this week, the average number of daily cases in December was 854 — a new projection from Oregon Health and Science University shows that the state is expected to see far fewer omicron-linked COVID hospitalizations than originally feared.

The adjusted forecast estimates 1,250 will be hospitalized at the peak of the omicron surge in mid-February, a drastic decrease from the original prediction of 3,000 people hospitalized.

Erik Robinson, the senior communications specialist for Oregon Health and Science University told Oregon Public Broadcasting this week, that the forecast “reflects changes in assumptions about omicron,” including new data from Europe that indicates a lower hospitalization rate from this variant than from other strains of the virus.

In addition, the most recent forecast uses data from Denmark that shows the hospitalization rate appears to be about 70% lower with omicron than from illness caused by the delta variant.

Peter Graven, a data scientist at Oregon Health and Science University and author of the influential COVID-19 statewide forecast, predicts that if people take steps to reduce the spread of the virus — such as getting vaccinated and boosted — the surge in hospitalizations would be similar to the number of people hospitalized during the peak of the delta variant, 1,187 people on Sept. 1.

If people don’t take steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, the forecast shows as many as 1,700 people could be hospitalized by February. That has the potential to overwhelm Oregon’s hospitals.

According to the latest figures from the Oregon Health Authority, a total of 440 people are presently hospitalized due to COVID-19 across the state. There currently are only 50 available adult intensive care unit beds and 94% of the state’s staffed adult non-ICU beds are full.

During previous surges, to free up space hospitals have postponed elective procedures.

In addition, last week Gov. Kate Brown extended Oregon’s declaration of a state of emergency as health officials prepare for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks. The declaration is necessary in order to provide resources for the state’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts — allowing for the use of volunteer medical providers in hospitals and at vaccination clinics, providing flexibility around professional health licensing and ensuring that the state has access to federal disaster relief funds.

Following confirmation of the omicron variant in Oregon earlier this month, Brown and state health officials urged Oregonians to get booster shots immediately. Currently 74% of people in Oregon who are 18 or older are fully vaccinated, based on data from the state health authority. Nearly one-third of Oregon’s adult population have received a booster shot.

On Thursday officials announced that the Oregon Health Authority ordered 6 million COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test kits. Each kit contains 2 tests, which means there will be 12 million tests coming soon to the state.

The kits, which can be performed at home with results available in 15 minutes, will be free and distributed throughout January, officials said.

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