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Dec. 23 forecast: Omicron variant will drive wave of infections in Oregon

New forecast underscores importance of vaccinations, booster shots, avoiding large gatherings
Asian Health & Service Center vaccinations. A man getting a COVID-19 vaccine by OHSU staff.
A dire new forecast from OHSU emphasizes the importance of COVID-19 vaccine boosters, especially among older adults, as the omicron variant takes hold in Oregon. (OHSU/Erin Hoover Barnett)

Oregon will experience an unprecedented wave of infections from the new omicron variant, but new data from Europe suggest a lower overall rate of hospitalizations, according to an updated forecast from Oregon Health & Science University.

Maintaining timely access to health care over the next several weeks will depend on the number of Oregonians who opt to get vaccinated or boosted and who take action to reduce the explosive spread of a highly transmissible virus variant.

Peter Graven, Ph.D. (OHSU)
Peter Graven, Ph.D. (OHSU)

“Oregon has been good at flattening the curve from previous surges,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics. “I expect Oregonians will respond by taking actions to reduce the spread of the virus, especially when they start to see infections accelerate among their friends and neighbors.”

If so, that would help to reduce the expected surge in hospitalizations closer to the previous pandemic peak of 1,187 people on Sept. 1 during the delta surge.

Graven projects that the wave of infections will accelerate by mid-January with hospitalizations peaking in mid-February at roughly 1,250 people. That’s assuming people take action to reduce the spread of the virus. If they don’t, the projection could go as high as 1,700 people hospitalized in Oregon by that time.

At that point, Graven expects the virus will find fewer people who have not already been recently infected or vaccinated and hospitalizations will decline.

Today’s projection is lower than last week’s forecast of about 2,000 peak hospitalizations, adjusted for expected booster shots and behavior modifications by Oregonians to reduce the spread of infection. Graven’s latest forecast incorporates new data emerging from Denmark revealing the hospitalization rate appears to be 70% lower with omicron than from illness caused by the delta variant – a lower rate of hospitalization than known a week ago.

Reducing the wave of severe illness will be critical as people not only need hospital beds for COVID-19, but to maintain access for everything else: strokes, heart attacks, vehicle crashes and other life-threatening conditions that demand care in a hospital. During the most recent surge of illness from the delta variant, people had to wait hours and sometimes days to receive necessary care, often in waiting rooms, conference rooms and hallways.

Portland-area health care leaders this week called on Oregonians to:

  • Get vaccinated or boosted if they haven’t already, and go to https://getvaccinated.oregon.gov/#/ or more information.
  • Wear a mask in indoor public settings.
  • Avoid large gatherings.

In addition, OHSU is providing resources for those seeking a test and vaccine. Those who experience symptoms or who test positive, should first call their health care provider before coming to seek care in a hospital emergency room. OHSU has also established a toll-free hotline for people anywhere in the state to seek guidance about symptoms and care for COVID-19. Oregonians can call 833-OHSU-CCC (833-647-8222) seven days a week between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

A total of 339 people remain hospitalized statewide in Oregon as of Thursday, Dec. 23, according to the latest figures from the Oregon Health Authority.

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