Although Oregonians are taking steps to reduce the spread of the wildly contagious omicron variant, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 will still severely strain Oregon hospitals, according to the latest updated forecast from Oregon Health & Science University.
The new forecast is almost unchanged from last week’s, revealing a peak of about 1,650 people hospitalized as of Jan. 28.
However, the new forecast also reveals how much worse it would be, were it not for the fact that data show Oregonians are taking actions to reduce the spread: Refraining from indoor gatherings with people outside of their households, maintaining their relatively high rate of masking, and taking other actions such as reducing trips to bars, restaurants and grocery stores.
Had it not been for those behavior changes, the new forecast shows we would experience a peak of about 2,130 people hospitalized by Jan. 28 – a crushing influx that would be almost 1,000 more than the previous pandemic peak during the delta wave on Sept. 1, 2021.
“People’s behavior is making a difference,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics. “If Oregonians can stick with these measures for another few weeks, it will help hospitals ensure we have the capacity to deliver timely medical care to all Oregonians who need it.”
A total of 777 people were hospitalized statewide as of Thursday, Jan. 13, according to the latest figures from the Oregon Health Authority.
The forecast shows hospitalizations dropping sharply by the end of this month as the virus finds fewer susceptible hosts. This decrease would mirror trends seen in Europe and South Africa, where the omicron variant was first identified in late November.
Model factors in 'incidental' cases
The new forecast also factors in assumptions about the number of hospitalized Oregonians admitted with “incidental” cases of COVID-19. The number of these incidental cases – meaning people who are admitted for other conditions but also happen to have COVID-19 – has always been part of the case mix throughout the pandemic.
Because the omicron variant is spreading so rapidly, it will increase the proportion of COVID-positive patients who are in the hospital primarily for other reasons: Heart attacks, cancer treatment, motor vehicle crashes and other conditions that require care in a hospital.
Even so, these incidental cases still increase the burden on health care resources. The reason is twofold:
- A patient who tests positive for COVID-19, even if they’re in the hospital for another condition, must be isolated and other precautions must be taken to prevent spreading infection to other patients and health care workers.
- Even among patients admitted primarily for other conditions, a COVID-19 infection can worsen their underlying condition and complicate their care.
Graven noted that these incidental cases are somewhat balanced out by the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital who aren’t explicitly counted in statewide figures – those who have been in the hospital long enough that they’re no longer infectious but still taking up a hospital bed.
Omicron appears to cause a lower overall rate of severe illness than the previously dominant delta variant, however its rapid spread combined with its ability to evade previous immunity is driving an unprecedented surge of daily infections in Oregon.
OHSU is providing resources for those seeking a test and vaccine. Those who experience symptoms, or test positive, should first call their health care provider before seeking care in a hospital emergency room. People with questions about COVID-19 should contact their provider.