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Efforts are underway to speed up the slow start to inoculate Oregonians against COVID-19.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is calling out the National Guard to help speed up the state's rocky start to vaccinating residents against the COVID-19 virus.

The troops will "provide vaccination support" at inoculation events beginning Tuesday, Brown said during a news briefing Friday, Jan. 8.

A clinic planned for this weekend in Salem hopes to vaccinate about 250 people per hour to buck up Oregon's slow start to inoculating the first groups against the virus. The first group eligible for the shots includes health care workers, first responders and residents in congregate living situations, such as nursing homes.

The goal is to administer 12,000 doses per day to Oregonians by the end of next week, officials said.

The state has 190 vaccination sites and hopes to add 30 more next week, said Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority.

He admitted it will be months before most Oregonians who want the vaccine can get the shots.

"I think fall is a reasonable target (but) we keep learning new things seemingly every day about this virus. ... That projection could happen sooner, it could happen later," Allen said.

"It is going to take many months before we have vaccinated enough Oregonians to reach a degree of herd immunity," he said.

Allen said the state has received about 250,000 doses of vaccine, split about evenly between Moderna and Pfizer. Of those, 73,286 have been distributed. He said that distribution rate, 24%, is better than Washington state and California have achieved so far.

Many people are anxious to get the vaccine as the COVID-19 virus already has killed 1,575 Oregonians and 122,847 have been infected. That includes the seven more deaths and 1,755 new cases OHA announced on Friday, Jan. 8. Across Oregon 451 people are in the hospital with COVID-19 and 88 of those are in intensive care.

Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill was on hand to discuss the reopening of school buildings, but said most school districts are waiting for additional guidance, expected to be issued Jan. 19, before making decisions about reopening.

About 50,000 students across the state have returned to schoolhouses, but none of the districts in the Portland metro area have reopened buildings.

Gill said, "we've seen very little transmission in schools." He explained that, although districts now can make the decision to reopen, they still have to follow 164 safety protocols, including social distancing, mask wearing and limiting the number of people students encounter during a school day.

Officials also discussed a new modeling report on the possible trajectory of COVID-19 in Oregon, which noted a lot depends on how careful people are about safety precautions.

The rate of new infections in Oregon dropped precipitously in late November, following new restrictions announced by Brown. The rate remained very low until mid-December, but then began a "sharp increase" and infections began to grow exponentially, the report said. The state's new COVID-19 projections are based on the most recent complete data available, ending Dec. 23.

If people continue with the same level of safety precautions they have taken through Dec. 23, the state "would continue to see an exponential increase in diagnosed cases." That could amount to an average of 1,780 new cases per day from Jan. 13 to 26, the report said.

If more people are more careful with safety measures, that could mean about 1,400 new diagnosed cases per day by Jan. 26, the modeling shows.

According to the report, the state's daily COVID-10 new hospitalizations rate could grow from hovering in the mid-40 cases before Christmas up to 85 per day if the Dec. 23 infection growth rate continues. If infections decrease significantly, the new hospitalization rate may still grow, but at a slower rate, to 55 per day.

Brown said depending on how careful people were with COVID-19 precautions over the holiday period, that could determine "whether a second and possibly worse winter surge is headed our way."

Despite worrisome possibilities, Brown said Oregon has "one of the lowest infection and mortality rates in the country."


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