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Jan. 20 forecast shows slight reduction of COVID-19 impact on Oregon hospitals

Oregonians stepping up measures to reduce spread of infection, although hundreds of Oregonians are still becoming severely ill
A man waits in his car as an OHSU employee prepares to conduct a COVID-19 test Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, at OHSU's drive through testing site in Lot D at OHSU on Marquam Hill in Portland. This parking lot is a newly added site for patients to schedule a drive through COVID-19 test. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)
A man waits in his car as an OHSU employee prepares to conduct a COVID-19 test Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, at OHSU's drive through testing site in Lot D at OHSU on Marquam Hill in Portland. This parking lot is a newly added site for patients to schedule a drive through COVID-19 test. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon will continue on an upward trajectory through the next week and a half before falling, as the highly contagious omicron variant finds fewer people susceptible to infection, according to the latest forecast from Oregon Health & Science University.

The update projects a peak of roughly 1,550 people hospitalized as of Feb. 1 — about 100 people fewer and four days later than last week’s forecast.

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

“This update reflects the fact that Oregonians are flattening the sharp upward curve of hospitalizations by stepping up public health measures to reduce the spread of infection,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics. “If people can stick with it for another couple of weeks, it will help to ensure timely care for everyone who needs a hospital bed.”

The forecast incorporates data showing that since the new year, Oregonians have increasingly refrained from indoor gatherings with people outside of their household, maintained relatively high rates of masking, and have taken other actions such as reducing trips to bars, restaurants and grocery stores. Graven said he has adjusted the latest forecast to better reflect the fact that actions taken even among vaccinated Oregonians are slowing the spread of the virus.

The omicron variant is highly contagious and also has demonstrated a pronounced ability to evade previous immunity.

However, vaccination still effectively protects against severe illness and death. Among the 93 people with COVID-19 who are hospitalized at OHSU and OHSU Health Hillsboro Medical Center as of today, the overwhelming majority are not fully vaccinated. That’s especially true of the subset of patients in intensive care and on ventilators.

“If you’re vaccinated you may not get severely ill with COVID-19, but there is so much virus circulating in the community right now that even vaccinated people can get infected and spread it,” Graven said. “The virus will find those unvaccinated people, but it’s getting to them a little slower now.”

A total of 981 people were hospitalized statewide as of Thursday, Jan. 20, according to the latest figures from the Oregon Health Authority. The previous peak was 1,178 patients hospitalized statewide on Sept. 1, 2021 during the delta surge.

Incidental cases

The forecast 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 been part of the case mix throughout the pandemic.

Because omicron 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.

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. 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.

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