New COVID strain in MultCo will ‘shove other types aside’

Coronavirus

Health leaders say Oregon's public health workforce has shrunk in recent years due to budget cuts

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Health leaders have admitted Oregon got off to a slow and bumpy start in its efforts to roll out COVID-19 vaccines compared to Washington state. Complicating efforts is a new strain confirmed in the Portland area.

Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines explained Washington has a more robust public health infrastructure. Oregon’s public health workforce has been diminished by budget cuts in recent years.

Oregon has also been challenged by the vaccine supply and not knowing until the last minute how many doses it will receive from the federal government.

Multnomah County has received slightly more than 10,000 vaccine doses and expects another 4,100 to arrive on Wednesday.

“It felt like a bumpy start but I feel like we’re on a better path now,” Vines said. She said there’s no question that Oregon needs to improve communications and linking eligible groups to vaccine opportunities. “There’s a perception that we had months to plan but the same people who would’ve done that vaccine planning were also responding to a surge in cases — responding to wildfires last September.”

A more contagious strain of COVID-19, first found in the UK, was discovered in Multnomah County last week. Dr. Vines said the strain is 50% more contagious and is better at latching onto cells in a person’s nose and throat.

“The estimates are that this particular strain is contagious enough that it kind of shoves the other types of COVID virus aside,” Vines said. “Based on modeling out of the United Kingdom, the Centers for Disease Control is estimating that we have about three months before this more contagious version kind of elbows out the others.”

Only one person has tested positive for the new strain far but Dr. Vines said it’s likely there are more undetected cases in the community. The development makes the effort to vaccinate people even more urgent.

Though the new strain is more contagious, it’s not known to cause more severe damage.

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