Oregon set a new record for cases and deaths on Friday as officials renewed their pleas to the public to help curb a disease that is growing exponentially and threatening to overwhelm the state's hospitals.
With 30 reported COVID-19-associated deaths and more than 2,100 new cases, Oregon is "on the brink of a full-blown crisis," Gov. Kate Brown said in an online press conference. "To every one of you that is staying home to the best extent possible and wearing your mask, you are helping protect our doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, postal workers, agricultural workers, and the many others who we count on to keep society going during a pandemic."
While a very small portion of Oregonians will start receiving vaccines in the next few weeks, she and health officials said that people need to increase their physical distancing, rather than relax.
The virus is spreading and growing rapidly, meaning cases and deaths will continue to grow exponentially until transmission slows. The state's latest modeling shows cases are expected to continue growing, to the point where hospital capacity could be overwhelmed by month's end.
"We just need you to hold on a little longer," Brown said.
In all, Oregon has reported 1,003 known COVID-19-associated deaths. With a record 2,176 new confirmed and presumptive cases reported today, that total has grown to 81,437.
Oregon is reaching by far the toughest time of the crisis, said Health Authority Director Pat Allen, adding that Oregonians should stay away from people outside their household, wash their hands and wear masks.
"It's only expected to get worse," he said.
The state is expecting shipments of enough vaccines to cover a small fraction of Oregonians in the next few weeks. They are earmarked for front-line health care workers as well as long-term care residents and workers.
The vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Moderna, are expected to be approved by the federal government later this month. Oregon officials expect shipments of more than 100,000 doses to arrive within weeks, though each person will require two doses to become effective.
The shipments expected are:
• 35,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 15.
• 40,950 Pfizer doses and 71,900 Moderna doses on Dec. 22.
• 87,750 Pfizer doses and 31,700 Moderna doses on Dec. 29.
Priorities for distribution of subsequent vaccine doses will be decided in the coming weeks. Allen cautioned that most people won't receive the vaccines for months.
"For most of us, getting vaccinated is several months away. And until you get vaccinated, you are at risk of getting COVID-19, spreading it to others and keeping this pandemic going," he said.
Oregon Public Health Director Rachael Banks noted that the flu vaccine is typically 40% to 60% effective, while the COVID-19 vaccines are thought to be 90% effective or better.
One question mark? Experts have pointed out that, while information shared by manufacturers has indicated the new vaccines are effective in preventing symptoms and progression of the disease, the extent to which they prevent infection in the first place and subsequent transmission to others is unclear.
The counties responsible for most of the cases newly reported on Friday include Multnomah (388), Washington (319), Marion (188) and Clackamas (176).
The 30 people newly reported as COVID-19-associated fatalities ranged in age from 52 to 96. At least 23 of them had underlying health conditions, according to the state.
At the current rate of growth in Oregon, cases are expected to average 2,700 new diagnosed cases per day, "which is more than twice what we were seeing on a daily basis" this month, Banks said.
"The promise of a safe and effective vaccine arriving in Oregon should give us all hope. But it's too soon to drop our guard," she added. "We need to hold on for a few months longer."
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