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Less Deadly, More Contagious 

Omicron makes up nearly 30% of COVID cases in Oregon


The Omicron variant of COVID is spreading in Oregon and gaining ground against the Delta variant, which has been the leading strain since August. The Oregon Health Authority reports the new variant made up 27% of cases on Dec. 19, the most recent data available, since appearing in early December. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows Omicron accounts for nearly 60% of cases in the United States. 


Hospitalization rates from the first countries infected suggest Omicron has less severe health outcomes than Delta, including fewer hospitalizations and deaths. New research also suggests the variant is more contagious. A Danish study shows the variant is 2.7 to 3.7 times more likely to cause a breakthrough infection in vaccinated and boosted people than Delta. Omicron’s strength may be in its ability to evade immune responses from the vaccine or prior infection, meaning transmissibility among unvaccinated people is no different than Delta. With Delta, unvaccinated people were five times more likely to catch Delta and 11 times more likely to die from it versus unvaccinated people, according to the CDC. The study showed individuals with boosters are about 50% less likely to get a breakthrough Omicron case. 

click to enlarge OHA reported number of cases by vaccination status released on Dec 30, 2021. - COURTESY OF THE OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY
  • Courtesy of the Oregon Health Authority
  • OHA reported number of cases by vaccination status released on Dec 30, 2021.
“Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems," said Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the World Health Organization during a Dec. 14 media briefing. 


Oregon Gov. Kate Brown extended the COVID-19 emergency declaration on December 21 over caution that the rise in cases could overwhelm state hospital systems. The declaration allows the use of medical volunteers in hospitals, flexibility in professional health licensing and gives Oregon access to federal disaster relief funds. The Governor rescinded her last emergency declaration in June 2021, and the current one is scheduled to expire in June 2022. 

“As Oregon prepares for what could be our worst surge in hospitalizations during this pandemic, I know that this is not the beginning of the new year any of us had hoped for,” said Brown in a press release. “Time and again over the last two years, Oregonians have proven that we will stand with each other in our most difficult times. Your actions have saved lives, and it is because we have worked together to keep each other safe that Oregon still has some of the lowest infection and mortality rates in the nation.” 


Oregon Health and Science University predicted that Omicron cases will peak in mid-February and cause about 1,250 hospitalizations in the state, assuming people take steps to protect themselves over the coming months.  


“Oregon has been good at flattening the curve from previous surges,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics in a press releasee. “I expect Oregonians will respond by taking actions to reduce the spread of the virus, especially when they start to see infections accelerate among their friends and neighbors.” 


Over 3 million Oregonians have received at least two doses of a COVID vaccine, or about 74% of the eligible population — about a third have gotten a booster. Over 80% of Deschutes County residents are vaccinated, and the county has averaged about 160 cases a day over the past week. St. Charles Medical System reports they’re treating 32 COVID-positive patients, four of whom are in the Intensive Care Unit and one on a ventilator. All but seven of their patients with COVID are unvaccinated, and all patients in the ICU were unvaccinated as of press time. 

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...
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