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Oregon’s COVID-19 surge expected to worsen before it gets better

The surge in COVID-19 patients will keep rising over the next week according to research out of Oregon Health & Science University.

“We’re seeing the number of people hospitalized going up at rates we’ve never seen before,” said OHSU’s Peter Graven.

Graven, an associate professor of health management and policy, had expected the statewide mask mandate to curb infections, “but we’re not seeing that yet.”

Graven projects 1,197 Oregonians will be hospitalized with COVID-19 by the start of Labor Day weekend. That’s up from 1,085 as of today.

Oregon’s health system is under severe strain, with 45% of intensive care units occupied by COVID-19 patients. When patients with other illnesses like heart attacks and strokes are included, 93% of Oregon’s ICU beds are in use. On Friday, state health officials reported 20 more deaths from the virus and another record number of new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19: 3,207.

“I’ve been a physician for more than 30 years…and never before have I experienced the level of crisis that we find ourselves in now,” said OHSU chief medical officer Dr. Renee Edwards. In addition to the surge, the hospital is seeing many other patients, “including those who delayed care during the past year due to the pandemic.”

Some patients are waiting hours, and even days, for a hospital bed at OHSU, while others are being treated in waiting rooms, conference rooms and hallways.

Asked whether people should stay home over Labor Day, the governor’s spokesman Charles Boyle said: “We are strongly recommending that unvaccinated individuals avoid all non-essential activities, as they may find there is not a staffed hospital bed available for them if they need emergency care.”

He said when people find themselves in crowded situations, they must wear a mask.

“Vaccines and masks will save lives and help keep our schools, businesses, and communities open,” Boyle said.

Specifically on schools, which are in the process of welcoming students back to classrooms, Boyle said the governor’s priority is for Oregon students to return for full-time, in-person instruction, with minimal disruptions.

“Returning to the classroom is critical for students’ academic learning, as well as their social, emotional, physical, and behavioral health,” Boyle said. “That’s why the Governor has taken action to implement K-12 mask requirements, as well as vaccination requirements for staff and educators.”

Meanwhile, so many people have been using the drive-through COVID-19 test site at St. Charles hospital in Bend, that it is restricting use.

Spokeswoman Lisa Goodman said the drive-through will now only serve people who are scheduled for a medical procedure; who’ve had a known exposure to the virus; or who are symptomatic.

“Due to currently extremely high volumes of testing that’s slowing out ability to report COVID test results to patients, we’re only going to be performing tests going forward for clinical indications,” said Goodman.

The change means people in Deschutes County who need a test so they can travel, go to a concert or sporting event, will have to go elsewhere. COVID tests are available at doctors’ offices, clinics and retail pharmacies.

While the best protection against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated, the Oregon Health Authority said monoclonal antibody treatment is now available by injection. The treatment can reduce the severity of the virus in people who have already been infected.

People 12 and older, who weigh at least 88 lbs., can get the treatment under certain requirements. Among other things they have to be COVID-19 positive, experiencing symptoms, and be at high risk of hospitalization because of their age, weight, pregnancy or chronic disease.

The Oregon Department of Corrections is reporting that a man who tested positive for COVID-19 died in custody August 21. The DOC only identified the individual as a male between 50 and 60 years-old who was incarcerated at Oregon State Penitentiary. He died at a hospital.

The DOC said he’s the 43rd inmate to die who tested positive for the virus.

The Oregon State Police have been notified and the Medical Examiner will determine cause of death.

The DOC has offered COVID-19 vaccinations to all staff, contractors and inmates. Vaccine acceptance rates are estimated at 78% for inmates, and 55% for employees.

Flipping COVID-19 patients from their backs to their stomachs at regular intervals can help maintain bodily functions, staving off death to give the body a chance to fight the virus.
Flipping COVID-19 patients from their backs to their stomachs at regular intervals can help maintain bodily functions, staving off death to give the body a chance to fight the virus.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a veteran journalist/producer working for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He started as a cub reporter for newspapers in London, England in 1988. Then in 1991 he moved to Oregon and started freelancing. His work has appeared in publications as varied as The Oregonian, the BBC, the Salem Statesman Journal, Willamette Week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and the Voice of America. Kristian has won awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. He was embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and now specializes in business, law, health and politics.