(Updated: adding video, comments from state epidemiologist)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The fight against COVID-19 continues as new variants appear and hospitals still struggle with staffing shortages. The Oregon Health Authority held a public media briefing Wednesday morning on the current status of COVID-19, as well as the monkeypox virus.
OHA officials said daily cases of COVID-19 across Oregon have leveled from June to July. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer and epidemiologist at OHA, answered questions and gave an update on the state’s pandemic response.
Sidelinger explained that hospitalizations have climbed and the omicron subvariant BA.5 isn't helping. While people are still ending up in the hospital, there are fewer than during the delta and omicron waves. But Sidelinger also said there are still unknowns surrounding the BA.5.
"We are monitoring the percentage of folks who are in the hospital with COVID-19, who wind up in the ICU, and the percentage seems to be trending up a little bit," he said. "Indicating that there may be increased severity with BA.5."
As of Wednesday, Deschutes County has 84 new COVID-19 cases and two new deaths.
Sidelinger highlighted the struggles hospitals across the state are facing, focusing on St. Charles.
"In Central Oregon, I think the hospital system is more stressed than they are in the rest of the state," he said. "St. Charles Health System in Bend has definitely been working through many staffing challenges and strains on their system."
"The OHA continues to have conversations with them about things we can do together and things they can do on their own to help with those strains," Sidelinger said, adding that the capacity for hospital beds exists -- it's the staff that doesn't.
Through the state's pandemic response, the OHA wants to highlight the burnout health care workers continue to experience.
"The skilled staff, nurses, physicians, therapists, and all the others who need to care for those patients are on limited supply from direct impacts from COVID-19 right now," Sidelinger said. "As well as burnout and exhaustion from these past 2 1/2 years."
You can watch the recorded OHA livestream here, followed by OHA's news release on the briefing:
Hospital capacity, approval of Novavax COVID-19 vaccine and hMPXV response highlights of OHA media event
Hospitals across Oregon are facing capacity and staffing issues related to high COVID-19 spread and other reasons, according to the state’s top health officer.
“Hospitals are stressed across the state due to patients with COVID-19 as well as other diseases, in conjunction with impacts on the workforce from COVID-19,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D. MSEd, health officer and state epidemiologist, during Oregon Health Authority’s (OHA) monthly COVID-19 media availability Wednesday.
Sidelinger said OHA will continue to work closely with health systems to ensure adequate care for patients. He encouraged residents to help reduce the strain on hospitals by getting vaccinated, and staying up to date on their boosters. “We also want to remind older residents and adults at high risk who do get COVID-19 that the highly effective treatment called Paxlovid is available as a pill,” he said.
Sidelinger encouraged residents to consider simple measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure hospitals retain their capacity to care for their most critical patients. This includes wearing well-fitting masks in indoor spaces.
Sidelinger said Oregon continues to have a high level of community spread tied to the predominance of the BA.5 subvariant.
Sidelinger reported the number of hospitalized COVID-19-positive patients, 424 as of July 20, fell below projections in the latest model that predicted hospitalizations would peak at 479 COVID-positive patients in mid-July.
Sidelinger also highlighted news that the Novavax two-dose COVID-19 vaccine for adults was endorsed Tuesday for Emergency Authorization Use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. The workgroup represents Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada.
The Novavax vaccine uses a proven technology to stimulate the human immune system, which has been used for decades for vaccines for shingles, hepatitis B and the flu. Sidelinger said the Novavax vaccine will be available for people not yet vaccinated and will likely arrive in Oregon and be available in the next few weeks.
Sidelinger also provided an update on hMPXV in Oregon, noting 32 presumptive and confirmed cases of hMPXV in four counties — Lane, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas — all among men.
“OHA is working with its federal partners to secure doses of the hMPXV vaccine, which have remained in short supply,” said Sidelinger. “As more vaccine becomes available, OHA will work with its local public health, Tribal, community and health care partners to encourage vaccination among those most at risk, and promote vaccine clinics, which are expected to begin over the next week.”