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The Omicron Wave

Oregon reported its highest COVID case numbers of the pandemic, though hospitalizations and deaths lag behind the Delta surge

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The Oregon Health Authority reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Oregon over the past week as the more contagious but less severe Omicron variant spreads across the U.S. On January 10, OHA said over 18,000 people either tested or were presumed positive over the previous three days.

About 700 Oregonians were in a hospital with the illness at the time this article went to print, which is still lower than the nearly 1,200 in early September at the peak of the Delta variant. Omicron is outcompeting the Delta variant in the state and now makes up at least 64% of cases statewide.

The Oregon Health Authority is reporting record-high cases in the state as Omicron surges. - OHA
  • OHA
  • The Oregon Health Authority is reporting record-high cases in the state as Omicron surges.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown deployed the Oregon National Guard on Monday to assist hospitals and avoid an overloaded healthcare system. In August of last year Brown deployed 1,500 National Guard members to assist hospitals. They began pulling troops out of hospitals in October amid waning caseloads, and by mid-November only a small amount of guardsmen and women remained.


With more than 500 current hospitalizations and daily record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases, we are at another critical point in this pandemic—and the Oregon National Guard is stepping up again to assist,” said Governor Kate Brown. “While Guard members work to support our frontline health care workers, I am asking all Oregonians to continue to do your part to help. Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear your masks, and stay home when you are sick.”


Seven percent of Oregon’s 647 ICU beds were available at of press time, as are 7% of its 295 non-ICU beds according to an OHA press release on Monday. Oregon’s region 7, which includes Deschutes, Crook Grant Harney Jefferson, Klamath, Lake and Wheeler counties, was among the second most staffed region of the state with 14% of ICU beds and 20% of non-ICU beds available. 


Several school districts in Oregon, mostly in the Portland metro area, opted to remote learning as more and more staff and students called in absence due to an infection, with some districts reporting over 20% of students and staff called out. In a letter to families on Jan. 7, Bend-La Pine Schools announced new policies in the district, though it reaffirmed its commitment to in-person learning.  


“To be clear, our goal is to keep our students learning in-person, every day, as we know that this is the best place for them academically, socially, mentally and emotionally,” BLPS Superintendent Steven Cook said in a statement to parents. “We believe we have proven that, with mitigation strategies in place like masking, and distancing, our schools are among the safest places for our students. However, we cannot continue to provide on-site instruction in a safe environment if we do not have sufficient staffing.” 


The superintendent urged parents to have a contingency plan in case remote learning becomes necessary. The school district will move classrooms or entire schools into remote learning if it isn’t able to adequately staff them. Any transition to remote learning would last at least five days, but all Bend schools were open for in-person learning when this story went to print.  


The district is also modifying its spectator policy by lowering capacity at extracurricular events to four attendees per participant. Each athlete, cheerleader, coach or member of the dance team participating at the event will be able to invite four spectators, with the exception of novice wrestling, middle school wrestling and swimming which will only allow one spectator per participant. No spectators will be allowed at larger events with more than two teams. 


OHA and the Oregon Department of Education recommended schools pause all extracurricular activities in a memo released on Jan. 3, or ensure there are safety protocols to minimize any viral spread.  


Redmond School District reported a total of 77 student cases and 34 staff cases when this article went to print, but also haven’t had to switch any classes or schools to remote learning.  


About 75% of Oregonians have completed their vaccination series, 81% have received at least one dose and 36% have gotten a booster shot by Jan.10. President Joe Biden announced that insurers will be required to cover the cost of at-home tests on Monday. 


“This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp-up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost,” said Housing and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a press release. “Since we took office, we have more than tripled the number of sites where people can get COVID-19 tests for free, and we’re also purchasing half a billion at-home, rapid tests to send for free to Americans who need them.” 


In Deschutes County testing sites are available Monday through Friday from 7am-5pm at Bend’s Central Oregon Community College Campus, Thursdays through Monday from 12-7pm at COCC’s Redmond campus and daily from 8am-5pm at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend. 

 

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...

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