PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In every surge the state of Oregon has suffered through during this pandemic, there has been one constant pattern in the data. First the cases go up, followed a week later by the number of patients in the hospital, followed a week later by a rise in deaths from the virus. The delta variant is proving to be no different.
Since the start of July when cases finally bottomed out from the spring surge and the delta variant began taking hold, cases in Oregon have nearly quadrupled. For the most part, that rise has been seen across nearly all counties. Multnomah County went from 139 cases in a week to 580. Over that same time Linn County went from 74 to 207. The difference is in the number of cases per capita, and how areas with more of the unvaccinated are suffering at a far worse rate.
Washington County has the highest vaccination rate at 76%. Despite going up over four-fold in the number of new cases, its weekly total of new cases for the 7-day period ending August 4 was 472. That measures out to 7.6 new cases per 10,000 people.
On the other end of the spectrum, Umatilla County has the worst vaccination rate for counties with at least 50,000 people: 44%. Over the last 7 days, 411 new cases were reported in the county, equaling out to 50.4 new cases per 10,000 people.
Southeastern Oregon is deadly hotspot
One of the biggest hotspots right now is in southeastern Oregon, and it’s proving to also be the deadliest.
Jackson County is home to over 223,000 people and yet only posts a vaccination rate of 55%. Over the past 7 days, 684 new cases of the virus has been confirmed. That’s 37.3 new cases per 10,000 people. That’s a number which has been sharply on the rise — in the previous 7 days the county had 343 new cases, and 226 the week before that.
Following the pattern that comes with each surge, hospitalizations are now on a dangerous rise.
Between Jackson and neighboring Josephine County (which only has a 49% vaccination rate), there are 92 patients hospitalized with COVID. That’s the highest for those two counties at any time during the entire pandemic. Their previous high was only 69 on January 2, 2021. This for a region where 53 of the 57 available ICU beds are already taken.
To compare, in northwest Oregon — between Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Tillamook, Clatsop, and Columbia counties — there are 151 COVID patients hospitalized. While still a lot, it’s still 12% less than during the peak of the spring surge in May, and 53% less than the all-time peak during the winter surge right after Thanksgiving.
To be completely blunt: Counties with high vaccination rates have vastly dropped their surge hospitalizations while the counties who lack in shots are hitting all time record highs.
Next step in the pattern: deaths
Since the Delta variant began taking hold a the start of July, the 2-week period for related deaths to follow is now in full swing. So for a good baseline, let’s look at the death counts since July 13.
Through August 4, a total of 54 deaths have been reported by Oregon Health Authority. Washington and Multnomah counties each reported only one.
To put it another way, one in every 724,820 residents have died from the delta surge in Washington and Multnomah counties where vaccination is high.
But in Jackson County, where vaccination is low, the death count is 10 and in Josephine County it’s 3. That means — combined between the two counties — one in every 23,831 have died since July 13 from COVID-19.
It means people in Jackson and Josephine counties are over than 30 times more likely to die during the delta surge than people in Multnomah and Washington counties. And with ICU beds in the two low vaccination counties running out, that number is likely to only get worse.
The simple answer is to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible, but simple is easier said than done.
For Jackson County to reach the state goal of 80% vaccination rate by the end of August, it will need 1632 people vaccinated each day. That’s the highest for any county in the state. The average number of people getting a vaccination shot over the past 7 days in the county is only 157. That’s more than 10 times less than the daily number that Jackson County needs.
Oregon is proving to be no different than other states across the country with the rise in cases from the delta variant. And while no county is proving immune from the case count, it’s the vaccinated ones which are able to keep the death count down.
The numbers show the obvious truth in life or death clarity: vaccines save lives.
Justin McWhirter is a KOIN 6 News producer who has tracked COVID statistics in Oregon for many months