(Update: Adding Gov. Brown news release)
But officials say if vaccinations continue to rise, state could be out of critical stage by late June
SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials presented an even stronger mix of immediate gloom and long-range hope Friday at their latest COVID-19 briefing, saying the fourth surge in cases and hospitalizations could put at least a dozen counties, including Deschutes and Crook, back in the restrictive “Extreme Risk” category next Friday.
A dozen counties — Baker, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Linn, Marion and Polk — would already have moved to Extreme Risk this Friday, if the statewide hospitalization metrics (topping 300 COVID-19 patients statewide) had been met. The governor and other officials will analyze the data again early next week to see which counties may need to roll back into Extreme Risk, should hospitalization continue to rise.
However, despite worrisome rises in younger people without underlying conditions falling seriously ill, Brown and health officials said the rising number of vaccinations – more than one-fourth of Oregon adults are fully vaccinated and half have had at least the first dose – means this should be the last such fallback, and the state could get out of the critical situation by late June.
“Right now, in the race between vaccine and (COVID-19) variants, the variants are graining ground and have the upper hand,” the governor said, noting that Friday’s case count will top 1,000 for the first time in over three months.
Oregon, in fact, has had the second-fastest growth of infection spread, Brown said.
The state is also poised to top by early next week the 300 statewide hospitalizations “trigger” that was added and that has kept some counties from returning to Extreme Risk restrictions.
“Our doctors and nurses are overwhelmed,” Brown said.
While the data will be reviewed again next week, Brown said the state also is canceling the “warning week” that kept some counties from sliding back immediately – so if that decision is made, “those counties will return to extreme risk, starting next Friday.”
“This is not a step I take lightly,” Brown said, repeatedly noting the major impact on businesses. But she said there are also more federal funding resources to help them make it through — and also, she said, this “may be the last time” they have to impose those restrictions, depending on vaccination trends and the virus’s behavior.
“The goal is to get the state back on track and lift the restrictions the pandemic has forced upon us,” she said. “I think we can get there by the start of summer.”
“Vaccines are the absolute key to moving Oregonians forward,” she said. “The overwhelming majority of cases and hospitalizations have been among people who have not been vaccinated. We’re seeing younger Oregonians now, and those who had no underlying health conditions.”
Dr. Renee Edwards, senior vice president and chief medical officer for OHSU Health, said, “Our current models say the next three weeks are absolutely instrumental,” in terms of continued increasing vaccination rates.
“The relative calm of the last two months caused us to relax behaviors,” she said, but admit an “advancing variant surge, the choices we make in the next three weeks will directly influence the number of hospitalizations and deaths we see.”
One key critical issue, Edwards said, is the Northwest’s limited supply of ECMO machines, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — a life-support machine that replaces the function of the heart and lungs for ICU patients. She said the number available is “dangerous low” and only offered in a few hospitals.
OHA Director Patrick Allen said: “We can safely reopen before summer, if enough of us get vaccinated to protect ourselves and each other. … Today, this relentless, shape-shifting virus is fighting back and trying to regain its control over our lives.” And the key to keep that from happening, he said, is simple: “Get vaccinated.”
The goal, Brown said, is to “get back to pre-pandemic life. … My goal is reopening at the end of June,” calling it a difficult “balance of lives and livelihoods.”
“The good news is, if we have to impose Extreme Risk, it should be for a much shorter time” than previously, Brown said. “The best thing we can do right now is get vaccinated.”
News release from Gov. Kate Brown’s office:
With the fourth surge of spread upon us, Governor reminds Oregonians that vaccines are the best protection against the virus
(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown held a press conference today to provide an update on the status of COVID-19 in Oregon, and to urge Oregonians to make a plan to get vaccinated. The Governor was joined by Dr. Renee Edwards, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, OHSU Health; Olivia Quiroz, Executive Director, Oregon Latino Health Coalition; Patrick Allen, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director; and Dr. Dean Sidelinger, State Epidemiologist, OHA.
“In the race between vaccines and variants, right now the variants have the upper hand,” said Governor Brown. “Today’s cases topped 1,000, with Oregon now ranking second in the nation for having the most rapid growth of infection spread. Our hospitals are about to surpass 300 positive COVID-19 cases. That means several counties are on the verge of having to reinstate Extreme Risk restrictions on businesses and activities.
“At this moment, we are moving backwards. Oregon needs to be moving forward. My goal is to get the state back on track to lift the restrictions this pandemic has forced upon us — I think we can get there by the start of summer, but we will all need to work together.
“In order to fully reopen our economy, we need to reach a significant majority of Oregonians with a vaccine; we need to close the equity gap in our vaccine efforts; and vaccine supplies need to be readily available for all eligible Oregonians who want to be protected. Vaccines are your best protection against the variants and the quickest way for us all to get back to the people and things we miss the most.
“That’s the hill on the horizon. We can climb it together. How quickly we get there is up to each and every one of us.”
A copy of the Governor’s prepared remarks from today’s press conference is available here.
More information on vaccines is available at covidvaccine.oregon.gov.