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New modeling suggests Oregon dodged the surge of infections health experts feared from Thanksgiving and shopping.

COURTESY PHOTO: CDC - The coronavirus spread through person-to-person contact and through airborne transmission, according to the CDC.Oregon does not appear to have seen an increase in transmissions of COVID-19 over Thanksgiving, according to the state's latest modeling report.

"We are not seeing the surge on top of the surge that others saw, particularly our neighbors to the south," said the state's head epidemiologist, Dean Sidelinger late Friday afternoon. He apparently referred to California, where hospitals have been overwhelmed.

Still, a surge in recent hospitalizations and deaths, including a new daily record of 54 reported dead on Dec. 15, has Sidelinger and other health officials continuing to urge extreme caution, includng masks and physcial distancing, citing ongoing restrictions on commercial activity, gatherings and travel.

In its daily update on Friday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 21 additional COVID-19-linked deaths and 1,390 new cases of reported infections. Meanwhile, the total number of reported cases topped 100,000.

On Saturday, the state reported 36 more deaths and 1,542 new cases.

On Friday the number of COVID-19-linked hospitalizations dropped by 12 compared to the day before, to 539. The number of those in intensive care dropped by two, to 111. On Saturday the reported numbers dropped to 536 and 104, respectively.

Given the arrival of the first batch of vaccines to Oregon, as well as the new high death counts, "This has been a week filled with some great news and some horrible news," Sidelinger said Friday.

Hospitalizations and deaths are what health experts call a "lagging indicator," since trends tend to reflect infection rates of a couple of weeks ago.

Click here for the modeling report.

Modeling report

Oregon's latest modeling report projected that infections continue to grow, but as of about two weeks ago the state has not seen the transmission surge it feared would result from Thanskgiving gatherings.

As of Nov. 28, the most recent date with complete statistics, the state's reproduction or transmission rate was estimated at 1.22, about the same as a report two weeks ago found. That means each infection is believed to be causing 1.22 new ones.

According to the state, if that Nov. 28 growth projection rate were to hold true, the state's average of new cases daily could hit 2,200 by Jan. 1 along with 110 additional daily hospitalizations.

That figure, however, should be "interpreted with extreme caution" due the number of estimates involved, according to the state. It noted that other modeling efforts available online projected that number at around 1.0 for Oregon, suggesting a flat curve.

In the past the state has suggested those other models are based on incorrect interpretation of state data. And they largely missed a surge in cases the state saw in November.

However, state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger told the Portland Tribune he believes the state's latest figure may be "overestimated." Also, he thinks the lower case counts reported of late — they peaked on Dec. 4 with 2,176, but have since averaged far less —may mean the growth rate is "bending down towards an improvement"

Last month the state shifted its modeling unit to software that is much simpler than the one it used previously. In all three reports issued under the new modeling, estimates of growth rates for the most part have significantly exceeded national model estimates for Oregon.

Sidelinger said part of the issue is that the new modeling software requires the state to use data that is more dated than under the previous software. He also said there've been changes in aspects of the pandemic and treatment that could be stressing models that are based on old assumptions. He said the state is working with the Institute for Disease Modeling, the nonprofit that produced the software, to improve the state's projections using the different model.

"This model has us a little higher (reproduction) than some of the other models had us at that time period," he said. "So I think we continue to work, with IDM to see if there's some ways we can improve that."

Tri-county cases high

Case counts are based on either confirmed test results or a presumption due to symptoms and contact with a confirmed case.

The counties that on Friday reported the highest number of confirmed and presumptive cases were Washington (221 cases), Multnomah (200), Marion (153) and Clackamas (117).

Of the 21 reported fatalities, at least 15 had underlying health conditions, according to the state. The presence of underlying conditions is yet to be determined in six of them.

The people reported dead ranged in age from 58 to 95.

The health authority considers a COVID-19 death to be "anyone with a COVID-19 test result within 14 days who dies in the hospital or within 60 days following discharge from the hospital."

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