PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Despite only three confirmed cases so far of the highly contagious omicron variant in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown and health officials warned Friday that based on global data, the state’s peak number of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic — about 1,200 —could more than double by the end of February, possibly even top 3,000, as an Omicron wave hits.
They strongly urged people to get their COVID-19 booster shots and continue other steps such as masking indoors, which they also made clear they know most Oregonians are weary of, heading into a second holiday season under pandemic conditions.
The Oregon Health Authority announced it is working to expand booster vaccination, with a goal of administering booster shots to an additional million residents by the end of January, doubling the current number of people who have already received the booster.
“We only have a few weeks to prepare before Omicron hits in full force,” Brown said. “I know bracing for a new variant as we head into our second pandemic holiday season is not what we all hoped for.”
“I know we’re all ready for COVID-19 to be over,” she said. “If you take one thing away from today’s press conference, let it be this: Get your booster shot,” which she said is “incredibly effective to protect against serious illness and hospitalization.”
Brown also noted that “as Omicron spreads, more states are following Oregon’s lead,” in terms of indoor mask requirements. “We have a three-week window to prepare for the next surge. … We are literally in a race against the clock,” with a focus on vaccination boosters for the most vulnerable Oregonians, especially seniors and long-term care facility residents.
Dr. Peter Graven, lead data scientist at OHSU’s business intelligence unit, said his latest forecasts, based on the spread seen in the UK and Denmark, as well as data from Washington state, show that “while the severity (of the Omicron variant) is less, it is not low enough to prevent us from seeing” a big spike in hospitalizations. “The rate of severe illness appears lower, but it is causing some severe illness.” More data is expected next week from the Centers for Disease Control, he said.
The best news seen so far from Omicron is a "dramatically lower death rate," Graven said. "But people are still going to show up at the hospital," and a surge bigger than others before is quite possible.
The other pluses seen to this point include predictions of a lower length of hospital stays, he said, but the Omicron variant “spreads incredibly faster” than Delta did, and those previously vaccinated are getting infected, especially without booster shots.
OHA Director Patrick Allen called the news “deeply troubling and demoralizing. We all want to put COVID-19 behind us, once and for all. But today’s warning is a forecast we cannot ignore. We’re tired to being swamped and battered … but this isn’t the moment to give up.”
Allen noted that since the Delta surge arrived, nearly 2,500 Oregonians have lost their lives to Delta, which is far less contagious than Omicron. "Approximately 9 in 10 of these lives could have been saved by vaccinations," he said.
"Even if a vaccine doesn't prevent an Omicron infection, people who are vaccinated are less likely to become severely ill, and preliminary research tells us that a booster dose further builds antibodies," Allen added.
OHA also will work to quickly deliver the new COVID-19 treatments and expand testing, support health care workers and hospitals and connect more people to boosters, treatments and testing.
Dr. Renee Edwards, chief medical officer at OHSU Health, also stressed that the Delta surge isn't over. "We're approaching this next surge at the halfway point, coming down from Delta." So that raises more concern, as “our hospitals are full right now,” she said not just from Delta but other conditions, some delayed in care due to the pandemic’s impacts -- which she noted is not just on full hospital beds but staffing numbers and burnout.
Brown said she is “absolutely committed to keeping schools open, to the extent that we can do that safely,” with steps underway such as ramped-up testing at schools to avoid widespread quarantines. And she said it will impact businesses, due to how fast the variant spreads.
Governor Kate Brown Urges Oregonians to get COVID-19 Booster Shots to Protect Against Omicron
OHSU modeling shows the state is weeks away from a spike in cases, fueled by the quickly spreading Omicron variant
Governor calls on 1 million Oregonians to step up and get their booster dose by January 31
(Portland, OR) — In a press conference today, Governor Kate Brown provided an update on the current state of COVID-19 in Oregon. She was joined by Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Chief Medical Officer at the Oregon Health & Science University Dr. Renee Edwards, and Lead Data Scientist at OHSU’s Business Intelligence Unit Dr. Peter Graven.
"This week we identified the first cases of the Omicron variant in Oregon. While we are all still learning about this new variant, it is clear from the experiences of the United Kingdom and other countries that we have only weeks to prepare before Omicron hits our communities and health care systems in full force," said Governor Brown. "Masks, vaccines, and the incredible efforts of our health care workers, public health partners, and National Guard members have seen us through the Delta surge. We will need to make the same statewide, collaborative efforts to see us through Omicron.
"OHSU’s modeling shows that we have about a three-week window to prepare for this next surge. Boosters are our best protection against Omicron. The state will be taking important steps to make sure our most vulnerable Oregonians have access to booster shots and to make sure we are ready to support our hospital systems for another surge. A big part of that plan will depend on each and every one of you.
"Today I am calling on one million Oregonians to step up and get their booster dose by the end of January. I’ve directed OHA to get the vaccine supply and distribution capacity in place to support this goal. However, we will only reach it if everyone does their part. Get your booster shot. Boosters work, and are incredibly effective at continuing your protection against this virus and hospitalization. If you aren’t yet vaccinated, now is the time. This can be a matter of life or death."
- A recording of today's press conference — with an American Sign Language simulcast — is available on YouTube.
- Please note the video starts at the 8:21 mark.
- A copy of the Governor's prepared remarks from today's press conference is available here.
- A copy of the Oregon Health Authority's Omicron Response Plan is available here.
- A copy of Dr. Peter Graven's weekly COVID-19 forecast, completed on December 17, can be found here.
Becky Hultberg: Omicron Poses a Serious Threat to Oregonians
Oregonians should get vaccinated, boosted, and continue masking
Lake Oswego, Ore. – September 30, 2021 – Becky Hultberg, President and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health System, released the following statement regarding today’s press conference by Governor Kate Brown and forecasts about the omicron variant in Oregon.
“Today’s alarming forecast about the arrival and eventual spread of the omicron variant in Oregon is a stark reminder of the need to protect ourselves and our communities. Hospital staffing and capacity are overwhelmed from the delta surge, seasonal influenza, and patients needing urgent, delayed care. Now, more than ever, is the time to do all we can to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors from COVID. The single best thing you can do is to get vaccinated and receive your booster shot if you haven’t already. Please continue to wear a mask, physically distance, avoid large gatherings, and wash your hands regularly. It is not too late to protect yourself. The time to act is now. Our hospitals, our workforce, and our communities need your help so we can care for those who need us the most.”
About OAHHS: Founded in 1934, OAHHS is a statewide, nonprofit trade association that works closely with local and national government leaders, business and citizen coalitions, and other professional health care organizations to enhance and promote community health and to continue improving Oregon’s innovative health care delivery system.
News release from the Oregon Nurses Association:
OREGONIANS MUST TAKE ALL STEPS NECESSARY TO PROTECT THEIR HEALTH -- AND OUR STATE'S NURSES -- IN THE FACE OF THE COMING OMICRON SURGE
Tualatin, OR – With the first cases of the Omicron variant already reported in Oregon, and as the variant continues to spread quickly across the globe, Oregon has only a few weeks to take immediate steps to prepare for yet another deadly surge in our state. Governor Kate Brown’s announcement today of the dire predictions of the impact of Omicron on Oregon is a stark warning to all Oregonians to take immediate steps to protect themselves, our communities, and our health care systems.
For nurses, and for all health care workers in Oregon, this is a particularly crucial time: the state continues to face unprecedented staffing challenges in hospitals and clinical settings in every community. The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) is calling upon Oregonians to take all possible steps to protect their health in the face of this threat. By doing so, we can help mitigate the devastating impacts on our health care systems, and our dedicated nurses, from an Omicron surge.
OHSU’s modeling indicates that Oregon has a three-week window to prepare for the coming surge from Omicron – a surge that is likely to be more severe than previous Delta surges. There is no doubt that any surge in Covid infections will add additional pressure to our already strained health system, so taking steps now can have a significant impact. ONA looks forward to more details from the Governor on the state’s plans to support health care workers.
If you are not vaccinated, get vaccinated.
If you are vaccinated, get your booster shot.
In addition to vaccinations and boosters, please consider taking extra steps related to your family’s plans for upcoming holiday gatherings, including:
- Consider going virtual rather than in person. Everyone is exhausted by the ongoing impact of Covid 19, and Oregon’s nurses understand the frustration of having to be separated from our families and loved ones during the holidays. However, given the upcoming surge, please consider holding virtual gatherings, limiting the number of people who gather and ensuring high-risk individuals are protected from potential exposure.
- Wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces if you are not fully vaccinated or have a weakened immune system. Fully vaccinated individuals should also wear a facemask indoors in areas with significant COVID-19 transmission or if gathering in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces with unvaccinated or high-risk individuals. If you’re not sure, it’s safer to wear a mask.
- Wash your hands. Handwashing is a proven tool to prevent disease transmission. Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Clearly communicate expectations. Even among family and friends, it can be difficult to know who is vaccinated or who is at a greater health risk from COVID-19. You can always ask about vaccinations and employ other health and safety measures like opening windows to improve indoor ventilation, meeting outside, maintaining social distance or asking unvaccinated guests to quarantine or get tested in advance.
- When in doubt, get tested. If you have COVID-19-like symptoms or have been recently exposed to COVID-19 you can visit your state’s health authority website to find COVID-19 testing options near you. You can also consider using a self-test at home before large gatherings as an extra precaution.
- Stay home if you are sick. If you have COVID-19 symptoms or are sick, stay home and avoid hosting or attending gatherings.
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The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) is the state’s largest and most influential nursing organization. We are a professional association and labor union which represents 15,000 nurses and allied health workers throughout the state. Our mission is to advocate for nursing, quality health care and healthy communities. For more information visit: www.OregonRN.org.