PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Oregon, some counties — most where less than half of the area’s adult population is vaccinated — are experiencing their highest hospitalization numbers during the pandemic.
Statewide coronavirus-related hospitalizations increased to 379 people on Tuesday, 39 more than the previous day. Some hospital officials, including those at Oregon Health & Science University, said they are postponing some surgeries that are not urgent, KOIN-TV reported Monday.
In addition, Oregon health officials reported 1,575 newly confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the most since early January.
“The vaccines that we currently have available to us in Oregon, and across the United States, are highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said Friday. “But that depends on people being vaccinated.”
About 29% of adults in Oregon are unvaccinated and more than 102,000 vaccine doses have been thrown away due to non-use. The impacts of the virus on unvaccinated people are apparent when looking at high-infection rates in counties with low-vaccination rates.
In the southwest hospital region, which includes Jackson and Josephine counties, between 49% and 55% of adults have been vaccinated. This week the region’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached an all time high for the area with 83 people. The previous record of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the region was 69 in January.
In the eastern hospital region, which includes Baker, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties, between 38% and 58% of the adult population have been vaccinated. Hospitalizations in the region have reached a record high of 18 people, which was also reported in November.
Similar to the surge in hospitalizations during the winter, health officials said they are working with hospitals to increase their capacity limits.
“We have been having conversations with our hospital partners and our regional coalition about ways they can increase the capacity in hospitals,” Sidelinger said. “Much of that is happening with some delays of non-emergency procedures so that they can free up space and staff to care for folks with COVID-19 and other acute illnesses that come in.”
In an attempt to decrease transmission, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown announced last week that the state will require students and staff in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors this fall and that state employees, visitors or customers must wear masks in any indoor state agency regardless of their vaccination status.
The health authority made a statewide recommendation that people, vaccinated or not, wear masks while in indoor public spaces, but stopped short of reinstating an indoor mask mandate.
It is unclear whether coronavirus-related safety measures that were in place during previous surges will be reimplemented if cases and hospitalizations continue to increase.
Officials said that while “nothing is off the table” there is no “hardline” for if and when safety mandates would return.
“We know that people would like to move on from COVID-19 – but unfortunately it is here and it is a much more formidable foe right now than it has been for the last year and a half,” Sidelinger said. “But the tools that we have are also more formidable, so lets use them.”
Sara Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.