Oregon’s COVID-19 outbreak continued Thursday with the third day in a row of high cases, rising hospitalizations and rising test positivity rates as the state has remained largely silent on concrete or immediate steps it would take to curb the spread of the disease.
Despite 285 hospital beds now occupied by COVID-19 patients – near the 300-bed threshold Oregon previously used to trigger some COVID-19 restrictions – state officials have yet to say whether, or when, they will intervene.
Governor Kate Brown announced Thursday that she would need masks again in K-12 schools, following a masking recommendation this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the federal government now similarly recommends masks in any indoor public environment in counties with high rates of coronavirus cases, and Brown has so far only issued recommendations for Oregon rather than requirements.
Thursday’s case count reached 1,026, the second time this week with daily numbers reaching four digits. That propelled the state’s daily average for last week to 632, an increase of 167% in two weeks, and the highest level since mid-May.
Hospitalizations among those with COVID-19 have also skyrocketed, with rapid summer swells outpacing the pace of the first weeks of fall and spring flare-ups. And the spread appears to be rampant, with the one-day positivity rate for coronavirus testing rising to 8.9% on Thursday, from 7.8% a day earlier.
While the state has for days insisted that efforts to contain the pandemic must be made locally, policies have in the past changed rapidly during the pandemic, and Brown’s office and the Oregon Health Authority could eventually. change their position if cases and hospitalizations continue to increase. The state is expected to release its latest model on the direction the pandemic will take from by Friday.
“We will continue to have conversations, starting with the recommendation and putting out public information so people understand the seriousness of it,” Public Health Director Rachael Banks said in an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, when asked him Thursday why his agency did not have mandatory masks. “There are a variety of factors that we are looking at. “
Asked about Brown’s decision to require masks in schools in response to a CDC recommendation, but not to require masks in other indoor environments despite federal guidelines, a spokesperson for the governor noted that students 11 and under cannot yet be vaccinated.
“The purpose of the rule is to ensure that all students can return to the classroom for full-time in-person instruction during the next school year with minimal disruption,” Charles Boyle said in an email. “An important distinction is that many children are still not eligible for vaccination, so masks are the best tool available to help stop the spread of COVID-19. “
The federal government is also struggling to find a way to stem the nationwide resurgence of COVID-19, with a mandate put in place Thursday that federal staff either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.
The Biden administration has also called on states to offer $ 100 incentives to the unvaccinated. Boyle said the state offers incentives to people with health insurance for state employees and has given grants to counties to allow them to design their own incentives, and is open to ideas.
“We are not ruling out any option and will take this recommendation from President Biden into consideration,” Boyle said.
Oregon has not released detailed data on new infections, but data from June shows the vast majority of cases were in unvaccinated people. Just over 58% of all Oregonians are now vaccinated, with an estimated 932,000 more to go for the state to reach 80%. Some counties have much lower rates, with Jackson and Josephine counties in southern Oregon at just 46% and 42%.
Those counties now have a total of 65 hospital patients with COVID-19, just below the peak of 69 that the region reached on January 2.
Rudy Owens, spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority, said COVID-19 patients are only one part of hospital capacity. He said the agency was continuing to discuss the requests with hospitals, which may activate surge plans. Even at the peak of fall, Oregon recorded just 584 COVID-19 patients, faring better than virtually any other state.
But some health systems have again started to postpone certain procedures.
Jackson County Medical Officer of Health Dr Jim Shames, whose county recently saw a 128% increase in its daily case rate in two weeks, said many people in the county were suspicious of the government and wary usually people telling them what to do in public places. . He said he was not yet sure what a difference the mask recommendations would make.
But he thinks a warrant from above would probably be more effective than just asking.
“When someone tells you ‘You’ll do something’ you’re probably more likely to do it than if you’re told ‘Please do it,’” Shames said.
Shames warned that whether or not to wear masks is a political question, which he is not qualified to answer. But that’s exactly why it’s been helpful for state and federal authorities to set the standards, such as when Oregon limited trade capacity based on the county’s level of risk, he said.
“A lot of times we’re thankful that others have somehow set the goals for us,” Shames said.
– Fedor Zarkhin
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