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Highly transmissible omicron variant likely to strain hospital capacity in coming weeks, health officials say

PMG SCREENSHOT: CLACKAMAS COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH DEPT. - A graph charting the weekly COVID-19 case count in Clackamas COunty since the pandemic began in Mar. 2020.COVID-19's omicron variant continues its fast spread worldwide as Clackamas County reaches its highest case count since March 2020, and local health officials say the surge may cause temporary disruptions to regular services and daily activities.

Between Dec. 13 and Jan. 4, 3,500 new COVID cases and 29 new deaths were reported in the county, with the current case count at 1,419 — the highest since the pandemic began in March 2020, the county's Public Health Division reported on Jan. 6.

Public Health Director Philip Mason-Joyner said officials will continue to closely monitor hospital capacity, which sits at 239 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Jan. 5 in the state's northwest region (Region 1), comprised of Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington, Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties.

A COVID-19 forecast released Dec. 31 by Oregon Health & Science University projects a sharp uptick in hospitalizations peaking at over 1,600 patients statewide around Feb. 3, followed by an equally sharp decline in hospitalizations through early March.

According to the report, positive cases among unvaccinated county residents are more than twice as high as those of vaccinated residents. Oregon Health Authority data shows Clackamas County currently has a vaccination rate of 78.5% among county residents 18 and older, slightly lower than the state average of 81.1% who have received at least one dose.

Per Center for Disease Control guidelines, Mason-Joyner said, a minimum five-day isolation period is recommended for those who test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus and have not received their vaccination.

For those who have been exposed to the virus and have gotten vaccinated, continued mask wearing is recommended around all others for a 10-day period.

"If you continue to have no symptoms, or you have mild symptoms after five days, then carry out daily activities and wear your mask and do what you can to protect to protect yourself and others from spreading COVID-19," he added.

Health officials from Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties told reporters at a media briefing Jan. 6 that while Oregon has seen record-breaking daily COVID case counts since late December, including many breakthrough cases in vaccinated people, the actual number of infections is likely much higher. That's because many people are using at-home test kits to test themselves for the virus. Results from home kits don't get reported to public health agencies.

"People who are positive for COVID at this time should expect that they have omicron and should not expect to hear directly from public health," Dr. Sarah Present, Clackamas County public health officer, said Thursday.

Access to testing has been hard to come by.

Dr. Present said the state doesn't have enough supply of test kits for the general public, but urged people not to go to their local hospital if all they need is a COVID-19 test.

As far as treating positive patients, health care officials said treatments are limited and some aren't effective against the omicron variant.

"You may have heard about treatments like monoclonal antibodies and the new antiviral pills," Dr. Christina Baumann of Washington County said. "Unfortunately, these are really limited in supply, especially since some monoclonal antibody treatments aren't as effective against omicron. Vaccines are still our best and most available tools to prevent severe disease."

Those who need non-emergency health services or have questions about the virus can call 211.

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