PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon health officials covered a lot of ground in a media briefing late Wednesday morning that overviewed how the state is faring with the coronavirus pandemic, monkeypox and vaccines.
State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said Oregon is indeed seeing more COVID-19 cases, and now more hospitalizations from the virus. Earlier on July 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 21 of the state’s 36 counties, including Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, had “high” community COVID-19 levels.
Sidelinger attributed the renewed spread to the new BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants that have swept across the country.
According to OHA, BA.5 has become the predominant strain of the virus in Oregon.
Hospitals in the state are seeing more COVID patients, OHA said. But according to a forecasted peak of hospitalizations, the number of occupied beds by those infected with the virus will stay under 500. Sidelinger compared the number to the peak during the Delta and Omicron waves when about 1,200 were hospitalized in the state.
The state is projecting it will have “sufficient” hospital capacity to take care of everyone across the state in this current surge, Sidelinger said. Even so, a number of factors like low staffing and burnout have contributed to a sense that “hospitals are not feeling out of the woods,” he said.
Sidelinger warned Oregonians that BA.5 appears to be “extremely transmissible,” and that some of its mutations make it more elusive of protections offered by the vaccines. Even so, he said vaccines remain “remarkably effective” at preventing severe disease and death.
An international study, led by the University of Washington School of Medicine, shows booster shots with existing vaccines offset some omicron immune evasion tactics.
“Even with the new variant, whether it was Delta, the inital Omicron variant and now the Omicron subvariants BA.4 or BA.5, they’re still providing significant protection against severe disease and even the likelihood of dying,” Sidelinger said. “This is what will keep most of us out of the hospital.”
OHA: Monkeypox spreading ‘typically through sexual activity’
The number of cases of monkeypox virus is also climbing in Oregon.
According to Oregon Health Authority, there are now 32 confirmed and presumptive cases in the state — all among men within four counties: Lane, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas.
Many infections are spreading from skin-to-skin contact “typically during sexual activity,” the state epidemiologist said. In the press conference Wednesday, Sidelinger reported that those with multiple sexual partners may be more likely to contract the virus.
“People who have multiple partners, particularly ones they don’t know, who have been in areas with large numbers of cases, seem to be at higher risk,” he said.
He said virus is also affecting the gay community.
“Many of the infections in the current outbreak have been among men who have sex with men,” he said.
Health officials said OHA is working to secure more doses of the vaccine meant for the human monkeypox virus, which they said can prevent the illness entirely or decrease its severity even among people who have already been exposed.
The health authority will work to set up vaccination clinics for those “most at risk” as the vaccines become available, Sidelinger said.
KOIN 6 News will have more information later in the day.