PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Respiratory virus prevention steps such as masking and avoiding gatherings helped limit RSV, COVID-19 and influenza transmission over the holidays, but the state health officer and epidemiologist says Oregon isn’t out of the woods yet.
“While overall respiratory virus activity in our communities remains high and our hospital systems are still under extraordinary pressure, with some operating near, at or even above 100% capacity, we are seeing some improvements in respiratory virus hospitalizations,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., of the Oregon Health Authority. “Unfortunately, our hospitals are not yet able to resume normal workflows.”
Sidelinger, speaking during OHA’s monthly COVID-19 media briefing Thursday morning, thanked people in Oregon for taking the advice of health experts who implored them to wear masks, keep their distance from others, avoid indoor gatherings, and get flu and COVID shots to reduce transmission during the holidays.
“I know many of you made the tough decision to postpone or limit that family get-together or forego that holiday concert or play,” he said. “Please know our public health and health care partners appreciate your sacrifice.”
The situation with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has improved the most. Sidelinger said the state is well past the peak of RSV in children, which happened Nov. 19, and hospitalizations are decreasing rapidly.
“This is very important for pediatric hospital capacity because RSV causes severe disease mostly in young children, although it can also affect the elderly,” he said.
Influenza activity remains high in both adults and children, Sidelinger said. The state passed the peak of flu season in adults Dec. 3, but hospitalizations in children have plateaued and are only starting to drop. But the situation will continue to improve, he predicted.
“We believe that adult influenza will continue to decline and that cases among children will begin to decrease more rapidly soon as well,” he said.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations remain high following a rapid increase in November, but they dropped in the last week. However, the most recent forecast from Oregon Health & Science University’s Office of Advanced Analytics predicts a small increase in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations into February due to the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant known as XBB.1.5.
“OHA and its health care and local public health partners are keeping an eye on the new XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant that is spreading rapidly in the northeastern United States as it outcompetes other variants,” Sidelinger said, adding that it’s “not yet widespread in Oregon.”
The best ways for people to protect themselves from all three circulating viruses continue to be getting a flu shot and COVID-19 booster – the booster is protective against XBB.1.5 – as well as “tried-and-true measures” that include wearing masks, limiting indoor gatherings, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands and staying home when sick.
“Every one of us has a role to play in slowing the spread of these viruses as we go through winter, and that will help our health care system ensure that hospital beds are available for those who need them most,” he said.
Sidelinger also provided an update on Oregon’s response to the mpox outbreak that began last summer. He said OHA will shift the frequency that it reports data on its mpox website from weekly to monthly after the number of cases dropped to fewer than five per month. He attributed the low case counts to the effectiveness of the Jynneos mpox vaccine and an emphasis on encouraging health care providers to integrate the vaccine into routine health maintenance for high-risk individuals.
“We are not quite ready to declare victory against mpox, as we expect to keep seeing a handful of cases over the coming months,” Sidelinger said. “But we are in a much better place than we were in August and October, and we will continue to work with our partners to promote testing and vaccination among those at risk for infection.”