The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon appears to be nearing a peak of a little over 1,200 people over the next few days and will begin to drop by next weekend, according to the latest forecast from Oregon Health & Science University.
The new update reflects the fact that Oregonians have stepped up on behalf of their neighbors and communities to curtail the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant and thereby reduce the number of people with COVID-19 crowding into hospitals at the same time.
The update projects a peak of 1,220 people hospitalized by Feb. 6 — about 330 fewer and five days later than last week’s forecast.
Hospitals across the state will remain severely strained for the next week.
“The current number of hospitalized patients in Oregon is at near-record levels,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics. “Hospitals have very little space right now to handle new cases of COVID-19 on top of what they’re already dealing with. Our hospitals and health care workers remain under severe strain.”
Nonetheless, the new forecast offers a glimmer of good news, assuming Oregonians continue to stick with proven measures that have demonstrably reduced the spread of infection compared with other U.S. states. The forecast reflects data showing the average Oregonian has maintained relatively high rates of masking, refrained from large indoor gatherings, and reduced activities such as visiting bars, restaurants and shopping.
The per-capita rate of severe illness driven by the omicron variant is less in Oregon than in East Coast states, where the variant initially took hold in the U.S.
“In Oregon, our vaccinated population is once again stepping up to slow the spread to unvaccinated people,” Graven said. “Compared with other states, Oregonians have been much more willing to take the measures necessary to ensure timely medical care for everyone who needs a hospital bed.”
Graven said he adjusted the peak hospitalization downward due to the willingness Oregonians have demonstrated to sustain public health measures.
“We have flattened the curve a lot,” he said. “It’s really important for people to stick with it for another week.”
The omicron variant has shown an ability to evade immunity, which enables it to spread more easily to people who remain susceptible to severe illness because of age, underlying medical conditions, or refusal to get vaccinated.
Among the 107 people hospitalized at OHSU Hospital and OHSU Health Hillsboro Medical Center as of Friday, the overwhelming majority are not fully vaccinated.
A total of 1,125 people were hospitalized in Oregon as of Friday, Jan. 28, according to the latest figures from the Oregon Health Authority.
The projected peak in Oregon is still above the previous pandemic high of 1,178 on Sept. 1, 2021, during the surge of cases driven by the delta variant. And Graven projects that the hospitalization rate will remain elevated over the next week before descending, as the virus finds fewer and fewer Oregonians susceptible to infection and severe illness.
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.