COVID-19 may be a distant memory to many, but in Oregon it remains a danger.

COVID Concerns

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA), said 21 counties in the state are in the high-transmission level as the Omicron subvariant BA5 becomes the dominant variant in Oregon.

According to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), 21 counties in the state are in the high-transmission level as the Omicron subvariant BA5 becomes the dominant variant in the state.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said case counts have leveled to around 1,400 confirmed cases a day, while test positivity rates have climbed to 13.9%.

"We know our reported cases are not capturing the full picture because many people are taking at-home tests and not reporting the results and many others are not testing," Sidelinger said. "Data in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest region indicates there are high levels of transmissions. On July 19, the CDC indicated 21 counties in Oregon are at the CDC high transmission level, indicating high levels of COVID-19 and increased stress on hospitals."

The Omicron subvariants BA4 and BA5 account for almost all the transmission in the state, with BA5 becoming the dominant strain, according to the OHA.

While testing is not accurately tracking COVID due to a lack of reporting, Sidelinger said OHA is continuing to work with OHSU to do wastewater sampling across the state to get a better picture of COVID in Oregon.

"OHA monitors the spread of the virus from samplings collected through the sewage systems," Sidelinger said. "Wastewater monitoring shows high levels of COVID-19 in our communities statewide."

Another area of concern is increased hospitalizations, Sidelinger said, although cases are nowhere near during the peak of Delta of Omicron.

"The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 has risen," Sidelinger said. "Hospitals are stressed across the state due to patients with COVID-19 and other diseases. Since our June 17 update, hospitalizations for COVID 19 have gradually risen for 309 patients reported June 17 to 419 reported today."

During the peak of Delta and Omicron, more than 1,200 patients a day were in the hospital due to COVID.

"While we're projecting there is enough hospital beds available across the state, collective efforts taken by all of us will continue to blunt the spread of COVID-19, and they are important," Sidelinger said.

Those steps included getting vaccinated, wearing masks in crowded facilities indoors and staying home when sick.

On the vaccine front, a new vaccine will soon be available in Oregon, Sidelinger said. The CDC recently approved the Novavax vaccine for use in the United States. The two-dose vaccine is different than any other currently available for COVID.

It is not the MRNA vaccine like Pfizer and Moderna and not the vectra vaccine like Johnson and Johnson. Instead, Novavax uses the traditional system where a portion of the actual virus is used to help the body build up immunity. The technology is used in most vaccines worldwide.

Early testing before Omicron showed in was 90% effective in stopping transmission and 100% effective in preventing severe illness.

Sidelinger said it will be arriving in the state soon.

He also said while vaccines have not stopped all prevention of COVID, they remain the best tool in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

"I want to thank the nearly 7 in 10 Oregonians who have completed the vaccination series," Sidelinger said. "For those who have not gotten up to date on their vaccines, it is still the best tool."

With summer quickly coming to a close, Sidelinger said masking decisions in schools will likely remain a local decision. He said the OHA recommends a layered strategy with things like increased ventilation also recommended.

"Masking still remains a critically important point," Sidelinger said. "OHA recommends universal masking at a time when the community reaches a high level of spread. For now, we're leaving the requirements of masks to local authorities. I don't anticipate in the fall, a requirement of masks at the state level."

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