As Oregon moves closer to lifting most COVID restrictions, experts at Oregon State University admit the thought of easing government regulations could lead to a surge in new cases.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has promised to reopen the economy and lift most COVID restrictions when the state reaches 70 percent of adults who have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. As of Thursday, the state needed 35,000 people to get the first dose to reach the number.

COVID-19 Concerns

Health experts at OSU are expressing concerns about easing the pandemic health and safety restrictions.

Brett Tyler, the director of the Center for Genome Research at Oregon State University, said he was concerned about the impact of lifting restrictions.

"In Britain, they have 80 percent vaccinated, and they're having a surge right now," Tyler said. "I'm very concerned if all the regulations are dropped it will send the wrong message to people. They will get the message, oh, it's over, I can go back to business and normal. So, I'm very concerned there will be a surge."

Chi Chunhuei, a professor of global health at OSU, said a mass surge was not likely, but he was concerned more people need to get vaccinated.

"With the level of vaccinations we have now, I don't expect to see a big surge," Chunhuei said. "I'm still concerned about the people who are not vaccinated, given the potential of the Delta variant to become the dominant one."

Chunhuei said he was concerned younger children, who are not eligible for the vaccine, could be the source of new cases unless vaccines are approved for younger children.

While the Delta variant is causing concern worldwide, Oregon has not seen a major outbreak.

"We track the frequency of the different variants," said Courtney Campbell, a professor of medical ethics at OSU. "Right now, it seems Oregon is rather lucky, and the number of Delta cases is very low. Our wastewater testing has picked up a few weak signs here and there.

The variants

Tyler said even though numbers are low, there is concern.

"There is concern about the variants," he said. "In Britain, 99 percent of new infections result from the Delta variant. It also shows the ability to overcome immunity in people who only have the first vaccine."

Tyler said those who are fully vaccinated show strong resistance to all variants of the disease.

The OSU experts also said even as the state reopens, there needs to continue to be an effort to get more people vaccinated.

"I see it as we still need to push for reaching a majority of the population with a vaccine," said Daniel Lopez-Covallus, a professor and expert on health equity issues. "I think the primary model of using mass vaccination sites has been exhausted and we need to shift goals, meet people where they are, in communities, in workplaces. We cannot afford not to continue to push.

"There is some evidence that 70 percent is not enough, particularly when we have some segment of the population, children under 12, who are not eligible for the vaccine. The 70 percent, I see as the low end of the threshold. From my perspective, it has to go well beyond that."

Vaccine marketing

With vaccines slowing, the experts also discussed how to get people resistant to getting vaccinated to take the shot. Aimee Huff, a consumer behavior expert at OSU, said the state needs to change the way it is marketing the vaccine.

"People really need just one good reason," Huff said. "For a lot of people, the good reason for them is they trust the science. For some, the one good reason they need is they won't be able to do something if they don't have the vaccine. They won't be able to travel, they won't be able to be with friends. I think the public health message now needs to be more nuanced and more targeted."

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