COVID hospitalizations declining quickly in Oregon, OHSU says

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — COVID-19 hospitalizations in Oregon are declining faster than previously expected, according to the latest forecast from Oregon Health and Science University.

The omicron variant drove the state’s hospitalizations up to a peak of 1,130 on Jan. 27, but the count has already fallen to 788 as of Thursday, OHSU announced in a press release.

The previous forecast predicted that hospitalization rates would return to pre-omicron levels — about 400 patients — by March 31, but the latest estimate bumps that timeline up to March 20.

“We have had a substantial drop in the number of hospitalized patients in Oregon over the past week or so,” Dr. Peter Graven, director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics, said in a statement. “This doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods. The number of cases are still significantly higher than they have been for most of the pandemic, but the decline over the past week provides relief for hospitals operating under severe strain — and will benefit all Oregonians who need timely care in a hospital.”

Oregon health officials announced earlier this month that the state’s mask mandates for indoor public spaces and K-12 schools will be lifted on March 31, although masks will still be required in certain places such as health care facilities.

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a similar mask rollback plan earlier this week, scheduled to take effect March 21.

When the omicron variant first arrived, initial estimates projected that the peak hospitalization level could be as high as 1,700, eclipsing the delta wave peak of 1,178 hospitalizations on Sept. 1.

The omicron wave ultimately fell just short of that level, an outcome which Graven and other public health officials attributed to high levels of vaccine booster uptake and public compliance with mask rules in Oregon, which slowed down the speed of the surge.

Survey data shows roughly 80% of Oregonians have continued to wear masks indoors, Graven said, making Oregon’s masking rates among the highest in the country. The state’s peak omicron hospitalization rate was comparatively lower, and Graven said that if Oregon’s trends had mirrored the national average, the result would have been a peak of about 1,540 hospitalizations.

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Oregon’s tally of daily new cases has plunged as well, from a peak of 10,941 on Jan. 20 to 1,844 on Thursday, although that’s still higher than before omicron, when case tallies had fallen to less than 1,000 per day.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Thursday that it would stop operating a trio of mobile vaccine units in Oregon by the end of February, closing vaccination sites at the Hood River Fairgrounds, the Douglas County Courthouse in Reedsport and Linn-Benton Community College in Albany.

Most of the Oregon Health Authority’s own mass vaccination sites are scheduled to remain in operation at least through the end of March.

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