Following the worst respiratory virus surge Oregon has ever seen, the state’s top health official today painted an optimistic picture for spring, explaining conditions with COVID-19, RSV and influenza are better overall than they have been in months.
“As we prepare to move into spring in the next couple weeks, my sense of optimism is growing,” Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Health Officer and State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said during a media briefing Thursday, March 9. “Today, I’m here to report that the near-term outlook for our state in the battle against COVID-19 and the other respiratory pathogens is good.”
By the numbers
Sidelinger said his encouraging outlook is driven by high vaccination rates – nearly 87% of adults 18 and older received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines, and more than 25% got the bivalent booster shot – and downward-trending test positivity rates for COVID-19, influenza and RSV. He said, “rates for influenza and RSV (are) now consistently below the thresholds at which we would consider circulation to be a growing concern.”
“And although hospitalizations for respiratory infections in Oregon have stubbornly remained above 200 per day – with a brief increase in the last month driven by a rise in COVID-19 activity – they, too, are declining overall,” Sidelinger said. “Even with recent increases in community transmission of COVID-19, we are not seeing a subsequent increase in hospitalizations.”
Sidelinger pointed to recent state actions as a reflection of the strong outlook for respiratory viruses, including:
- Lifting Oregon’s mask requirement for health care settings effective April 3, which OHA announced March 3. Sidelinger called it “a positive step in our ongoing response to COVID-19. Indicators of COVID-19, RSV and influenza spread have significantly decreased in the last several months and continue to decline.”
- The March 6 expiration of Executive Order 22-24, which former Gov. Kate Brown issued Dec. 7, 2022, expired this past Monday, March 6.
“We’re relieved to have gotten through this very challenging period, but grateful to have had the opportunity to support our health care partners in ensuring continuity of care for their sickest patients,” Sidelinger said.
- A shift from a state-level response to a focus on individual risk assessment, as Oregonians move forward in living with COVID-19 and “manage the constant, but low-level presence of the virus in our communities,” Sidelinger said.
People in Oregon “now have access to tools we didn’t have at the start of the pandemic,” he said, including safe and effective vaccines; antiviral medications for preventing severe illness; information on how the virus affects people with certain medical conditions; and resources for understanding the level of transmission in communities.
Sidelinger said it's especially important for people with chronic conditions or who are immunocompromised – therefore at higher risk for severe illness from a COVID-19 infection – to continue to take steps to protect themselves. That goes for caretakers and household members of people with these conditions as well.
“As Oregon’s health care system prepares for the end of the state’s mask requirement, I want to ask everyone in Oregon to show support, acceptance and kindness for workers, patients and visitors in health care settings, regardless of whether they require masking or choose to wear a mask in these settings,” he said. “The same goes for anyone, in any indoor or outdoor public space. Wearing a mask offers significant protection and should never be stigmatized.”
OHA to launch new hospital capacity tracking data system
HOSCAP, Oregon’s web system used for tracking hospital capacity and COVID-19 hospitalization data, is being replaced this month by the new Oregon Capacity System (OCS).
OHA’s hospital capacity dashboards will begin using data from OCS instead of HOSCAP April 1. Because OCS categorizes some types of hospital beds differently from HOSCAP, the adult non-ICU bed counts OHA reports from OCS will reflect adult medical/surgical and adult progressive care unit beds. The adult non-ICU beds currently reported reflect the medical/surgical and “other" bed categories in HOSCAP.
With the transition to OCS, and in response to the changing needs of hospitals, OHA will no longer report hospital personal protective equipment (PPE) data. The final update to the COVID-19 PPE summary dashboard will be published March 29. The remaining hospital capacity dashboards will continue to be updated weekly on Wednesdays. These changes will be seen on the dashboards April 5.
For more information about the transition from HOSCAP to OCS, visit https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/PREPAREDNESS/PARTNERS/HEALTHALERTNETWORK/Pages/updates.aspx.
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