PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Like everywhere else in the country, Oregon is currently in the full surge of the omicron wave.
Since this latest spike began around the Christmas holiday, there is now enough data to base how this wave is trending and what lies ahead for the state.
The numbers show us this wave is vastly different than anything Oregon has previously gone through. It seems every day the state is breaking new daily case numbers and that would be devastating if we were still living in the delta or pre-vaccine alpha waves of COVID-19.
However, omicron is different than those waves and needs to be viewed differently. To do so let’s compare the first two weeks of the omicron surge (Dec. 26 through Jan. 8) with the two-week span that saw the peak of the delta variant (Aug. 22 through Sept. 4).
That two-week span of the delta surge saw a total of 30,017 new cases of which 5,474 were breakthrough cases. When broken down by population, it means during those two weeks there were 226.6 breakthrough cases per 100,000 fully vaccinated people. Hospitalizations were at 11.4 per 100,000 fully vaccinated people with 2.6 deaths. Those numbers are far lower than the unvaccinated population which saw 1,325.3 cases per 100,000 people, 55.8 hospitalizations, and 20.0 deaths.
Data from Aug. 22-Sept. 4 per 100,000 people
That matches what we’ve come to expect throughout the pandemic: get vaccinated and your chances of getting the virus are vastly lowered and if you don’t get the virus, you don’t get hospitalized. Now compare that to what we’ve seen during the two-week surge of omicron.
In that time Oregon has recorded 60,567 cases, which is more than double the peak of the delta surge. There have been far more breakthrough cases with 18,390. However, there have been fewer total breakthrough hospitalizations. To put it into comparable terms, let’s look at this wave by 100,000 populations.
For the vaccinated that means breakthrough cases are up at 659.4 per 100,00 people. But hospitalizations are down to only 9.2 per 100,000 and deaths down to 1.3 per 100,000. What it shows is that omicron is getting around the vaccines more often to get people sick, but it’s not proving to be as severe as we’ve seen with other strains.
A better way to illustrate this is to look at the percentage of breakthrough cases in our two selected time periods. During the delta peak, 18.2% of all cases were breakthrough cases, as well as 5.0% of all hospitalizations. Meanwhile, during the omicron surge, there’s been an increase to 30.4% of all cases are breakthrough but the hospitalizations percentage is down to 1.4%. It shows the vaccines are weaker against omicron from getting sick, but stronger against this strain from serious illness.
Percentage of breakthrough compared to total cases
|Delta Peak||Omicron Surge|
This does not mean there is no danger with omicron. While omicron is not as severe as delta was, it still has the power to be a devastating illness. Just look at what it has done to the unvaccinated.
There are still nearly 1.5 million unvaccinated people in Oregon and they are getting hammered by omicron. In these past two weeks, the rate of cases has skyrocketed to 2,851.6 per 100,000 unvaccinated people. That’s over twice the rate as during the delta peak. While the hospitalization rate for the unvaccinated has dropped due to omicron’s lower severity, it is still at a rate of 35.2 per 100,000 people.
Data from Dec. 26-Jan. 8 per 100,000 people
At the start of the omicron surge OHA predicted hospitalizations could reach around 1,200 in a single day, which would be right around the state record seen during the delta variant. As of Jan. 13, there are already 756 cases and climbing. With the vaccinated population needing the hospital at a far lower rate than we’ve seen before, it will be the unvaccinated community filling Oregon’s hospital beds that are running in very short supply.
What this data shows us is we need a new way to focus on omicron. Any case of COVID-19 is bad, but with omicron’s severity being less than other waves the two biggest numbers to watch are vaccinations and hospitalizations. If you are fully vaccinated and still come down sick with COVID, do not be discouraged. The vaccines are working. They are what is keeping you from needing to go to the hospital and that, in turn, is likely what is keeping you alive.
The good news through all of this is these are the numbers that were expected and similar in comparison to other omicron outbreaks ahead of us in New York and the United Kingdom. The surge in both of those places is already starting to trend downwards. What it means is the omicron variant is unlike any other version of the virus we’ve ever seen, and that includes the length of time the surge will be in full effect. So the best thing you can do is get vaccinated, stay safe, and that will help us get out of this together sooner.