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Nov. 18 forecast: Oregon remains in a precarious position

Forecast reveals that COVID-19 hospitalizations will remain high well into the new year
The front of OHSU on a wet autumn morning -golden leaves everywhere and raindrops. COVID-19 hospitalizations are dropping throughout Oregon. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)
The front of OHSU on a wet autumn morning. COVID-19 hospitalizations are dropping throughout Oregon. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon won’t drop below 200 until the first of February 2022, according to the latest updated forecast from Oregon Health & Science University.

Hospitalizations have not been that low since July 2021, when the highly contagious delta variant began driving unprecedented spikes in severe illness and death across the state. With an estimated one in five Oregonians still susceptible to infection – meaning they haven’t yet been vaccinated or recently infected – a surge in new cases is still possible if large numbers of unvaccinated Oregonians gather together indoors during the holiday season.

Peter Graven, Ph.D., (OHSU) a man with light hair smiling.
Peter Graven, Ph.D. (OHSU)

“We are still in a precarious situation,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics. “Right now, hospitals can’t handle much of a surge in COVID-19 cases without impacting the timely delivery of health care to other people. We can’t really afford to take off our masks  – especially people who aren’t vaccinated.”

The newly updated forecast does show some relief with hospitalizations dropping by 90 statewide since a week ago. The latest figures from the Oregon Health Authority show 419 people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide as of Thursday, Nov. 18.

That’s down from a pandemic peak of 1,178 on Sept. 1, 2021.

The latest forecast also cites data from The New York Times that reveals many more people are planning to gather for Thanksgiving this year than last year, before vaccines were available: about 47% this year, compared to 22% a year ago.

Graven’s forecast cites survey data revealing that unvaccinated Oregonians are far less likely to wear a mask – less than half, compared with almost 90% of those who have been vaccinated.

Graven cited worrisome data revealing rising case counts in cold-weather states from Alaska through Wisconsin to Vermont. He said it’s possible the delta variant arrived slightly later in those states than Oregon, however it’s also possible it’s spreading more easily as people gather together indoors from the cold.

“Clearly, it’s getting to more people in the Midwest right now,” Graven said. “My feeling is we need to keep our masks on. Especially if you’re not vaccinated, the only thing that might be protecting you this winter is a mask.

“Once our levels get down to a point where we can handle some increase in cases in our hospitals, that’s when we can take on some risk of relaxing indoor mask requirements. We are not there yet.”

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