Local health leaders bracing for omicron
The good news for Crook County is COVID infections have been steadily declining since a peak number of weekly cases in early October.
However, local health officials are preparing for another, potentially bigger surge of new infections as the Omicron variant spreads throughout the country.
"Weekly totals for new cases have been steadily declining from the peak number of cases during the Delta surge," said Crook County Health Department Director Katie Plumb. "It is important to keep in mind that our numbers are still elevated. The good news is even though cases are still elevated, preventative measures (vaccine) and treatments (monoclonal antibody therapy) are keeping current hospitalizations low."
Plumb noted that most people in Prineville have likely been vaccinated or infected, resulting in the community having some level of COVID-19 immunity. Nevertheless, the community experienced an increase in testing after the holidays and health officials anticipate a similar trend this season.
Local vaccinations rates have slowed recently after an uptick following the emergence of the Delta variant.
"Now, there are just a few people coming in for their first doses of vaccine," Plumb said, adding that most of their recent vaccine work is related to people seeking a booster shot.
"We have not yet seen an increase in demand for vaccine that we can associate with the anticipated arrival of the Omicron variant," she added.
No reports have yet emerged that suggest the presence of the Omicron variant in Crook County, but local health officials are preparing for its arrival.
"Omicron appears to be three times more contagious than the Delta variant. It does not seem to be more severe, but it also does not appear to be any less severe than Delta," Plumb said. "What this means is that we are preparing for a peak of as many as 600 new cases in one week here in Crook County."
The peak single-week number of cases in Crook County so far is 201.
Plumb said that increased cases will likely mean increased hospitalizations and deaths.
"The number of new illnesses projected will also likely have a negative impact on workplaces," she added, "especially those that are already short staffed."
To prepare for the anticipated omicron surge, the health department is working with St. Charles Health System Mosaic Medical, Oregon Health Authority and other local partners.
"We are making sure that vaccine is available, especially boost doses for everyone who is at least six months after their last dose. Boost doses, especially of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are proving to be highly effective in keeping people infected with the Omicron variant out of the hospital."
She added that health officials are working to increase testing availability in the community, noting that early testing "will be key to helping people stay home when they are contagious and also to get them connected with treatments that can reduce the severity of illness."
Plumb went on add that health officials are working to secure treatment options for people who become ill. She pointed out that monoclonal antibody therapy is already available in Crook County.
"We are working to make sure that is an adequate and sustainable resource before Omicron becomes an issue," she said. "The first oral antiviral treatment was just approved by the FDA (Paxlovid) and we are working to make sure it is available to people here who may need it."
Plumb concluded that it is incredibly important that people do whatever they can to prevent infection. In addition to getting vaccinated, wearing masks and avoiding large social gatherings, she urges people to eat well, get good sleep, exercise and stay current with preventative medical practices.
"These are great ways to care for ourselves, families, friends and neighbors," she said.
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