SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -- As the state moves forward with plans to reopen by next Wednesday, many people are wondering whether it's safe or not.
"It is not the safest option for your health related to COVID, but it is the safest option for our society as a whole at this point," said Brenda Ormesher, an infectious disease specialist at RiverBend Hospital in Springfield.
The Oregon Health Authority reports 69.1% of people 18 and up have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to OHA's most recent data, 31,264 more people need to get their first shot before the state reaches the governor's 70% vaccination goal.
But OHA's director Patrick Allen warned that variants circulating in the community could pose a significant risk to unvaccinated people across the state.
"More contagious and possibly more dangerous variants are spreading in Oregon and posing a threat in counties with low vaccination rates," Allen said.
Some public health officials are concerned about those who live in counties with low vaccination rates. In Douglas County, about 54% of people older than 16 have gotten at least one shot.
"There's always a risk," Douglas County Public Health Director Bob Dannenhoffer said. "Given that, there's more of a risk in Douglas County than other places because we have a lower vaccine rate."
At hospitals across the state, many doctors are reporting an overall decrease in COVID-19 patients throughout the past month. That includes RiverBend in Springfield.
"We have definitely seen a more leveling of COVID patients," Ormesher said.
But hospital beds are filling up with other patients, so if another spike in COVID-19 cases occurs, it's possible they will be stretched for resources.
"We're seeing more non-COVID-related illnesses occurring so our hospitals remain very full, so making sure that we minimize people getting sick from COVID is very important," Ormesher said.
There's also concern about the youngest members of our population. Children under the age of 12 years old are not eligible to get vaccinated yet. Ormesher says it's possible that reopening will cause an increase in cases among that age group if proper precautionary measures aren't taken.
"A lot of what children do is what they see their role models, their parents, other adults do," Ormesher said. "So if those people are not masking, the children will likewise also not mask as often."
The state's epidemiologist, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, said that camps and childcare facilities should put other levels of protection in place.
"These locations will have to have a plan so they know what to do if someone with COVID comes to the location," Sidelinger said.