Health officials from Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas Counties warned about the proliferation of the omicron strain of COVID-19 during a tri-county health update Thursday, Jan. 6.
"We are dealing with a new strain of COVID that behaves very differently than previous strains," Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County health officer, said.
The doctors said coronavirus case counts have doubled week-over-week in the Portland Metro region and one Portland-area emergency room ran out of physical space for patients the day prior.
The overall message? If you're going out and about normal activities in public, you're likely going to encounter omicron. More people will become infected, disrupting services and daily life, but most, if vaccinated, will "have mild or no symptoms from omicron."
What can you do?
Stay up-to-date on vaccines and booster shots, reduce the number of people you come into contact with, if possible, and wear a good-fitting mask.
While Oregon has seen record-breaking daily COVID-19 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 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 a big 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."
Why not put restrictions in place?
Asked why county officials aren't recommending limiting indoor dining or other public gatherings, health officials said without state buy-in, they're constrained.
Dr. Vines called restrictions on gathering "a blunt tool to limit the spread."
"As soon as the federal government and the state signaled that that type of approach was off the table, it essentially took it off the table for counties because as you know, a single jurisdiction or even as a region, it's hard to get the same effect."
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