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COVID-19 fatigue begins to set in despite extreme demand on Oregon hospitals

Updated forecast reveals Oregon may be at a tipping point for another surge in transmissions
Image of the front of OHSU on a sunny autumn day.
Oregonians appear to be tiring of activities such as masking and refraining from gathering in large indoor events, according to the latest COVID-19 statewide forecast by OHSU. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

Oregonians appear to be tiring of behavior to prevent the spread of the highly contagious delta variant despite ongoing extreme strain on Oregon hospitals, according to an updated forecast released today from Oregon Health & Science University.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are continuing to decline from the peak four weeks ago, but the new forecast shows hospitals will remain extremely full well into December across the state.

Image of Peter Graven, Ph.D., at OHSU. A man with light hair and fair skin, smiling.
Peter Graven, Ph.D. (OHSU)

“We’re in a moment right now where we’re going to see what happens as fatigue sets in,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., lead data scientist in OHSU’s Business Intelligence unit. “We’ll need to monitor caseloads closely to see if we continue to see decreases – or if we begin to see increasing transmissions and severe illness.”

Graven’s updated forecast reveals Oregonians reduced their use of masks from 84% to 81% over the past week while also slightly increasing the frequency by which they gather indoors at bars or restaurants.

Fatigue with public-health measures could threaten to reverse the general decline in hospitalizations, as there are still plenty of Oregonians who remain susceptible to infection because they haven’t yet been vaccinated or recently infected.

Meanwhile, hospitals throughout the state remain full with 816 people hospitalized statewide as of today, Sept. 30, in the Oregon Health Authority’s latest figures. That’s still well above the previous peak of 584 people hospitalized during the winter surge and also close to 41% of the total capacity of the state’s intensive care units as of Sept. 27.

That demand on critical care resources is sapping the ability of hospitals to deliver other types of critical care, as hospitals and health systems continue to postpone many nonurgent surgeries of all types of care.

“We know there is a lot of patient care that isn’t able to happen right now,” Graven said. “Many cases are still being postponed and delayed because health systems don’t have room or staffing to do it.”

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