The fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 is pushing new cases up in Oregon, though not as steeply as other parts of the nation.
Weekly new cases of COVID-19 in Oregon were up 25% Monday, Dec. 27, compared to a week ago, according to the Oregon Health Authority. That's a big jump for the state, but less than the more than 60% increase nationwide.
The report comes as the world approaches the two-year anniversary on Friday, Dec. 31, of the first report of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. To date, there have been more than 281 million infections worldwide, leading to 5.4 million deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The United States has the highest number of fatal cases of any nation, just over 817,000.
Since Oregon's first case was reported in February 2020, the health authority said there have been 414,140 cases and 5,623 deaths in Oregon. Oregon officials are waiting for a new forecast from the Oregon Health & Science University that will contain more recent data on the impact of omicron in other states and nations.
A key number — the percentage of tests that come back positive — rose to 9% in Oregon from 5% last week. Epidemiologists have said throughout the pandemic that anything above 5% creates the possibility of exponential growth of the virus.
When will cases peak?
The measure of omicron's impact is made more difficult by a collection of current circumstances and trends. OHA did not report new cases for four days over the Christmas weekend, and will also not report counts over the New Year's weekend.
Official testing has fallen off both in Oregon and nationwide during the winter holiday season. Part of the reason may also be the growing popularity of home fast-test kits that can report a result in about 15 minutes.
While less accurate than the laboratory tests that can take two days or more before a report is available. Many pharmacies in Oregon report they have sold out the kits, which cost about $25 for two tests in each pack.
The delta variant continues to top COVID-19 case counts in Oregon, but for the first time in several weeks it is not the only variant to hit the charts. Omicron officially has accounted for fewer than 17% of new infections in cases surveyed by OHA during the week of Dec. 5. But the sequencing of the virus make-up can take over a week, creating a lag time between signs of its presence in climbing caseloads, but yet to be confirmed by lab results.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 25 new deaths and 3,585 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. The data covered four days, from Thursday to Sunday as reported by county health agencies between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26.
A number being watched closely to gauge the severity of the omicron virus is hospitalizations. On Monday, hospitals across Oregon reported 381 COVID-19 patients, an increase of 23 from Sunday's total. COVID-19 patients were in 94 intensive care unit beds, up two from Sunday.
Oregon has 56 available adult ICU beds out of 649 total — about 9% availability. There are 311 available adult non-ICU beds out of 4,082, or about 8% availability.
Impact on February session
Oregon Health & Science University originally forecast on Dec. 17 that hospitalizations in Oregon could top 3,000. But it revised the figure to 1,200 in its report last week based on additional data from Europe and the eastern United States.
The forecast still shows the number of cases rising sharply to a peak around Feb. 9 and then descending equally fast. The sheer number of new infections caused by omicron will push Oregon's hospitals to the brink of collapse, OHSU reported.
Hospitals are already feeling the impact of even the moderate rise in cases so far. "Emergency departments in Oregon are under significant strain," OHA's report said on Monday.
With OHSU forecasting that the omicron variant spike will peak on Feb. 9, the Legislature is considering its options for the 2022 session, which begins Feb. 1 and ends 35 days later.
Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek issued a statement regarding possible impacts of Omicron on the short session: "The new forecast from OHSU is concerning. It is too early to tell what impact the Omicron variant will have on the February session. We continue to consult infectious disease doctors and public health experts to keep Oregonians safe while ensuring strong public participation in the legislative process."
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