As Clackamas County-area school districts return to in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year, COVID-19 cases continue to rise at a rate surpassing the original peak in December 2020.
In the week between Sept. 1 and Sept. 7, 720 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the county, with the current case count at 1,094 — the highest since the pandemic began in March 2020, the county's Public Health Division reported on Aug. 8.
According to the report, positive cases among vaccinated county residents are nearly six times lower than those of unvaccinated residents. Oregon Health Authority (OHA) data shows Clackamas County currently has an above-average vaccination rate of 71.9% among county residents 18 and older.
"Vaccines are one of the most effective tools we have to get through this pandemic," said Public Health Director Philip Mason-Joyner during a county commission meeting Tuesday.
Mason-Joyner added that the number of county residents getting vaccinated is increasing, with last week's 4,000 additional vaccinations nearly doubling many of the weekly reported rates in July and August. He speculated that this is occurring for reasons including Gov. Kate Brown's vaccine requirements for educators and health care workers.
"We're also seeing a lot of unvaccinated folks who have kind of wanted to wait and see or just haven't gotten around to it are now getting vaccinated," Mason-Joyner said.
Only 19 ICU beds remain available of the 357 total beds in the state's northwest region (Region 1), comprised of Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington, Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties.
Interim Deputy of Disaster Management Daniel Nibouar said state hospitals are working on possible procedures to "make space where they can" in the event that those 19 beds become occupied.
Nibouar added that most elective surgeries, including cosmetic procedures, have been "delayed or canceled" statewide to prioritize patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Mason-Joyner said that the county has yet to report an increase in COVID-19 cases among children 18 and younger and will continue to monitor the situation "very closely" as students return to school.
"I think that's why we have such strong school reopening plans and have been so intentional about getting ready for in-person instruction. We're doing all we can to prevent that from happening," Mason-Joyner said.
He added that among children 12 and younger who are not federally approved to be vaccinated, other state requirements, including mask mandates and social distancing, would "go a long way" in preventing COVID-19 cases among youth residents. At the same time, clinical trials are being done to potentially reduce the age of vaccine eligibility in 2022.
Most county-area schools are not offering COVID-19 testing, Mason-Joyner said, adding that the Public Health Division is meeting "daily" with school nurses and other staff to discuss the best methods of preventing outbreaks among students and staff as instruction resumes.
"The school nurses are so busy with contact tracing and supporting teachers and working with families around COVID and other illnesses … that what most school districts have found in our county is that it's a lot more efficient when they message to parents and families to stay home if you're sick," Mason-Joyner said.
Mason-Joyner also referred to an OHA modeling report released Thursday, Sept. 2, that projected a 30% reduction in transmission rate among those of any age who take these additional protective measures against the virus.
Booster shots remain available exclusively for individuals with weakened immune systems due to chronic disease or many other reasons, Mason-Joyner said, adding that they may become approved for the general public soon.
Local hospitals are beginning to offer a new treatment called monoclonal antibody treatment, which has proven effective nationwide in helping moderately ill COVID-19-positive patients from becoming severely ill and hospitalized, Mason-Joyner said, emphasizing that the treatment is currently only available for those who test positive.
"We've seen locally that Kaiser (Permanente) has started to offer this therapy, Providence is looking at this therapy, and I'm very proud of our Clackamas County Health Centers team, they have just now started to implement this as a pilot, last week successfully treated their first patient with this treatment," Mason-Joyner said.
"We continue to promote that prevention of disease (is) better than having to seek the treatment, but this is this is really good that we have another tool in the toolbox available to us," he added.
By the numbers
• Current case count: 1,094, the highest it has been since the pandemic began in March 2020
• Case increase Sept. 1-Sept. 7: The number of COVID-19 cases in Clackamas County increased by 720 with five additional deaths
• Case rates among unvaccinated/vaccinated individuals: Unvaccinated: 460.6 per 100,000, vaccinated: 82 per 100,000.
• Vaccination rate: 71.9% of county residents 18 and older
• New vaccinations Sept. 1-Sept. 7: 4,000, nearly double the weekly rates reported in July and August
• ICU beds available in Oregon Region 1 (Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington, Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook counties): 19 ICU beds available out of 357 (as of Sept. 6)
• Booster shots remain exclusively available for immunocompromised individuals.
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