PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Health officials told Oregonians to stay vigilant despite growing pandemic fatigue as virus cases continue to climb throughout the state.
During a press conference Wednesday morning, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said the BA.2 variant is responsible for daily reported cases spiking from 600 on April 20 to 1,350 cases as of May 16.
“Let me acknowledge that all of us are ready to move on from COVID, but unfortunately, the virus continues to spread throughout our state,” Sidelinger said.
Cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise across the country, including Oregon. Even so, official case counts are believed to be undercounted because not everyone testing at home is reporting it to a public health authority when they get a positive result.
Oregonians’ return to Springtime activities like traveling and reuniting with friends and family may be partially to blame for the heightened spread, Sidelinger said.
“Unfortunately, these developments tell us the pandemic is not yet over,” he said, referencing rising case counts statewide.
Sidelinger said despite the lower severity of the BA.2 variant because it is “highly transmissible,” he expects that all Oregonians will be exposed to COVID-19. He said wearing a mask may reduce how many become infected, but almost everyone who leaves their house will be exposed to the virus.
“If you’re in a gathering of people outside your home, sooner or later, you will be exposed to the virus,” Sidelinger said.
BA.2 has lacked the punch of hospitalizations and death compared to prior COVID-19 variants, according to an analysis of the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 data.
On Wednesday, Sidelinger said OHA remains “optimistic” that the virus will not overwhelm the state’s hospitals with admissions.
“Evidence suggests our existing vaccines and the level of vaccination and previous exposure to the virus will still provide significant protection to prevent severe illness including hospitalizations for most people,” Sidelinger said.
Instead, hospitalizations are expected to peak at 321 on June 10 — less than one-third of what it was at the height of the Delta and Omicron waves (1,178 on Sept. 1 and 1,130 on Jan. 27).
Sidelinger referenced an advisory sent last week recommending that school administrators return to COVID-19 safety measures before remote learning becomes necessary. He echoes earlier messages from health officials to schools to implement masks as soon as their situations warrant it.
“This was to ensure that schools can continue to operate in person,” he explained.
OHA and the Oregon Department of Education renewed the calls for caution “in direct response” to COVID-19 cases rising in six counties and other respiratory diseases spreading in communities across the state.
Six counties have risen from “low” to “medium” recently in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Community Levels. These include the tri-county metro area — Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties — as well as Columbia, Benton and Deschutes Counties.
In a following Q&A session with reporters, the state epidemiologist said everyone in these counties — vaccinated or not — should consider wearing masks when in indoor public settings.
Outside of the six counties, he said only those who are high risk, those who care for people who are, and non-vaccinated people should wear masks.