By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Omicron set to massively overwhelm hospitals still reeling from Delta

The Omicron variant is on track to eclipse the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations seen in September in Oregon during the Delta variant surge.

Hospitals are still overwhelmed and unprepared for such a massive increase, state health officials announced on Friday.

The state is urging vaccinated people to get booster shots, unvaccinated people to get vaccinated, and all Oregonians to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“Today’s news is deeply troubling and demoralizing,” Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said in a Friday press conference with Gov. Kate Brown. “We all want to put COVID-19 behind us. But today’s forecast is a warning we can’t ignore.”

Omicron was sequenced and recognized the week of Thanksgiving, but was almost immediately found around the globe and has been spreading with a speed that has stunned health experts, who say it is considerably more transmissible than the Delta variant, which in turn was more transmissible than the original strain.

On Friday, OHSU released its forecast for the coming weeks, and the governor convened the press conference to announce that the numbers are alarming.

“I had hoped to be able to share better news today, but today’s forecast is going to anticipate another surge of severe illnesses in Oregon,” Peter Graven, Ph.D., OHSU Healthcare Lead Data Scientist said.

He said his forecasts show that more than 3,000 people across the state are likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 in January.

“The peak from Delta was 1,200. So just from that, you can realize what magnitude we’re talking about. It’s much higher than before,” Graven said.

He said he is paying particular attention to the United Kingdom and Denmark, which have “similar immune profiles to Oregon,” for clues about what to expect here.

“Since the first cases were detected there three weeks ago, it is now doubling every two to three days in those countries,” he said. “If we match that up to Oregon ... we can expect to see a surge in hospitalizations by mid-January, with infections that begin sooner than that.”

Hospitals are still struggling with reduced capacity from a combination of high demand for services and exhausted staff.

“To be candid, this feels like another gut punch, particularly for our health care workers, who’ve been stretched truly beyond their limits,” Dr. Renee Edwards, Chief Medical Officer OHSU, said.

“OHSU and other health systems in the Portland metro area continue to be completely full. Despite working together as a collaborative, to leverage our capacities, we sometimes have to make the difficult decision, even now, to decline patients who need a higher level of care from our rural and community hospital partners from around the state, who are also bursting at the seams, because we have nowhere to put them. The hospitals in our neighboring states face the same situation. And even if we do have an open bed, we may lack the healthcare teams required to staff it.”

Edwards said a new surge doesn’t just affect people severely ill with COVID-19.

“This news of another surge is particularly disappointing because we’re just starting to emerge from the Delta surge and turn our attention to other patients whose procedures were postponed to accommodate patients extremely sick with COVID-19,” she said. “Oregonians are already presenting with more acute illnesses as a result of delaying care during the pandemic. And we’re facing a considerable backlog of necessary delayed surgeries.”

Edwards urged Oregonians not to delay in getting their vaccinations.

“We have about two or three weeks before the surge begins, and it takes about two weeks for the full protection of the shot to kick in, so the time to act is now,” she said.

“Here are some facts,” Allen said. “Since the Delta surge began this summer, more than 2,457 Oregonians have lost their lives to a variant that’s less contagious than Omicron. Those deaths occurred in a span of less than six months. Approximately nine in 10 of those lives could have been saved by vaccinations. I know there are many people who will hear that Omicron is more resistant to vaccines, and assume there’s no point to getting vaccinated. But here’s what the science tells us: Early indications do show that Omicron is more resistant to vaccines, as you’ve heard. But even if a vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting Omicron, people who are vaccinated are less likely to become severely ill.”

He said that “Every single previous wave we’ve seen in Oregon has begun to recede when Oregonians took action like wearing masks and getting vaccinations. ...

“The weeks between today and early January are critical. We are not powerless. The actions we take in the next few weeks will determine how many Oregonians survive the Omicron tide.”

Brown said the state is rushing to try to get more resources to hospitals, and that she is meeting with business and industry leaders to talk about possible mitigation efforts. The state is also racing to get booster doses especially to more vulnerable residents of long-term care facilities, she said. It has set a goal of having one million Oregonians achieve their booster shots by the end of January.

“It appears that individuals who are vaccinated and boosted are very unlikely to get severely ill from Omicron,” Graven said. “However, only about 20 percent of Oregonians have received their vaccine booster. We can reduce the upcoming surge in hospitalizations by increasing the number of Oregonians who get vaccinated, get their booster if they’re already vaccinated, wear their mask in indoor public places, and avoid large gatherings.”

Brown said she was not ruling out other restrictions to try to curb the spread of Omicron.

“We just got this information over the last 24 hours; we’re processing it,” she said, of the new forecasts.

Yamhill County reported another death on Friday, an 87-year-old woman who tested positive Dec. 10 and died Dec. 13 at Willamette Valley Medical Center. There have been 153 deaths in the county.

The county and state had not yet updated their case information by press time on Monday.

Comments

Scotty

Rotowang, “two weeks she said”. Did I get that right? Nothing predictable about you.

Rotwang

They skipped the letter Xi. I wonder why.

sbagwell

Because alphabetical order makes it K, L, M, N, O — kappa, lambda, mu, nu and omicron.

Steve

Rotwang

I have seen the Greek alphabet ordered in several places as follows, with xi before omicron: http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/greek.html

sbagwell

Just another insidious government conspiracy for the wingnuts to worry about, I suppose. You can find them everywhere if you are so inclined. Nothing but conspiracies everywhere you look.

Steve

RobsNewsRegister

They were pretty clear regarding why they skipped both Nu and Omnicron. Nu is too close to 'new' and Xi is a common last name including that of the PRC leader.

https://thehill.com/changing-america/well-being/prevention-cures/583390-who-skipped-xi-in-naming-the-omicron-variant

Loretta

So tired of inflammatory statements to invoke fear. Hospitals are overwhelmed if they are understaffed either by layoffs early on, or forcing staff to leave or firing them because they refuse to turn over their bodies to the government. I asked the questions of hospital staff in June and was told they only had x number of beds because that is calculated by staff members available to cover the occupied beds, not that all the beds are full, and those occupied beds were not mostly Covid as we have been led to believe. People still have medical issues other than Covid! If fear and threat of job loss or restriction of lifestyle were not used to control people, this whole “pandemic” would look different. This was mishandled and we lost many people due to lack of proper treatment. It is so sad and was preventable.

tagup

“We lost many people due to lack of proper treatment “....are you kidding?.....Multiple vaccines were developed in record time and 40% of the population still refuse to take it!.....Hospital personnel have been heroic in their efforts to save people that wouldn’t take simple steps to protect themselves......And you are correct that most of this was preventable.