Oregon health officials will discuss pandemic status

The weekly news conference comes as OHSU’s latest forecast confirms the omicron wave has peaked in Oregon.

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon health and education officials will discuss the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state at a news conference at 11 a.m. Friday.

KGW will stream the media briefing live in the player above and on YouTube and the KGW app.

State health officer and epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger will be joined by Oregon Department of Education director Colt Gill and Dr. Peter Graven, director of the Oregon Health and Science University Office of Advanced Analytics, who produces OHSU’s weekly pandemic forecasts.

The latest OHSU forecast, released Thursday afternoon, indicates that Oregon has passed the peak of the latest COVID surge caused by the omicron variant.

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The state’s daily new case tally has been receding since Jan. 20, according to updates from the Oregon Health Authority, and OHSU reported on Thursday that hospitalizations topped out at 1,130 on Jan. 27 and will steadily recede in the coming weeks, reaching pre-omicron levels by the end of March.

That’s also when OHA is aiming to lift most of the state’s mask mandates; the agency announced earlier this week that the mask requirements for schools and indoor public spaces would be lifted no later than March 31, although the mandate will remain in place in health care settings.

Despite the positive projections, the state still had more than 1,000 hospitalized COVID patients as of Thursday, according to OHA, and weekday case totals for the past three days have hovered just above 3,000. Prior to omicron, the state’s highest-ever single-day case tally was 3,207 on Aug. 27 at the peak of the delta variant wave.

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“It’s important for people to stick with masking through the next several weeks,” Graven said in a statement. “Even though our forecast projects light at the end of a very long tunnel, we can’t lose sight of the fact that hospitals in Oregon are still struggling to deliver timely care for everyone who needs it.”

If the mask mandate were lifted today, he said, hospitalizations would rise again, back to the omicron peak level, and would remain there much longer.

“With masking and behaviors, we have essentially built a dam holding back a ‘reservoir’ of people who became susceptible to infection with omicron,” he said. “Right now there is a spillway that allows infections to get through at a slower rate. If we remove the dam now, it would flood. By contrast, if we let the water drain out slowly, we can safely remove the dam without flooding our hospitals with cases all at once.”

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