By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Mac hospital stops patient visitors as COVID spreads

Willamette Valley Medical Center announced last week that it is “enforcing a no-visitor policy for all in-patient units and out-patient areas” because of “increased COVID-19 activity in our region.”

The hospital said on its Facebook page that “we feel these protective measures are necessary for the health and safety of our patients and team.

“We recognize that there are times when having a visitor or family member present is crucial and we will work to accommodate these exceptions. Our care teams truly appreciate your understanding and cooperation,” the hospital wrote.

Providence Newberg Medical Center has not so far announced a change to its one visitor per day policy, but is pleading with area residents to get vaccinated, get booster doses, wear masks and avoid large indoor gatherings.

“After nearly two years of fighting this pandemic our nurses and doctors are exhausted. Clinical staff and hospital beds are in short supply in all of our hospitals,” Providence says on its website. “A significant increase in COVID-19 infection and hospitalizations in Oregon and Southwest Washington will create delays in emergency department care for some patients and additional delays for surgeries, due to the lack of an available staffed bed.”

The most recent projection from Oregon Health and Sciences University for COVID-19 predicts that by Jan. 26, Oregon will see 1,652 people hospitalized from the new Omicron variant spreading across the country — up from 455 people hospitalized on Friday, Dec. 31.

That projection does not include hospitalizations from the Delta variant, OHSU noted.

It is considerably lower than the up to 3,000 hospitalizations that OHSU predicted in early December without precautions such as masking, avoiding indoor gatherings, and getting many more Oregonians to obtain booster shots or first-time vaccinations.

“The masking rate in Oregon remains above both other states, and the states affected early by Omicron,” which can help to lower the number of expected hospitalizations, the forecast states.

It said the state is distributing about 12,000 booster shots per day. Governor Kate Brown has called for one million Oregonians to receive their booster shots by the end of January.

OHSU is drawing on the experiences of other countries and states to try to predict what is likely to happen locally.

It noted that a recent study in Denmark showed “the fully vaccinated have nearly same rate of infection as the unvaccinated (who may be previously infected). It shows that boosters reduced the risk of transmission by 50% in Omicron compared to fully vaccinated.”

In England, hospitalizations have gone up 300% in many regions and 500% in London – from 800 per day to 2,400, the forecast noted.

It said that 75% of people hospitalized in England were fully vaccinated, but cautioned that “This may be due to the reduced effectiveness of the primary vaccine in England (AstraZeneca),” which has not been approved for use in the United States. Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson are the vaccines used in the U.S.

Omicron is extremely transmissible; OHSU is estimating that each person infected goes on to infect an average of 8 and a half other people; compared to the 6 and a half it estimated for the Delta variant, which had been the most transmissible variant, until Omicron was identified.

By comparison, the reproduction rate of the 1918 influenza strain that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, is estimated to have been between 1.4 and 2.8 – meaning that each infected person infected up to three more people. Because it is so highly transmissible, some experts have recommended switching from surgical and cloth masks to more effective N95 and KN95 masks, or double masking with surgical and cloth masks.

Massive numbers of people infected can lead to several results: It can mean more hospitalizations even if people are statistically less likely to be severely ill, and it gives the virus many more opportunities to mutate.

In addition, studies have found that even people who experience only mild symptoms or even no symptoms during their illness may develop disabling symptoms later.

A study from Penn State College of Medicine released in October showed that more than half the people infected with COVID-19 will suffer ongoing problems six months later or longer. The researchers examined studies of unvaccinated people worldwide; however, health experts said that vaccinated people can also develop the condition, known as “Long COVID.” Symptoms can include fatigue, difficulty breathing, difficulty concentrating, chest, joint and/or muscle pain, increased symptoms after exertion (physical or mental), and others, including digestion problems. The virus can also cause tiny clots in the brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys that sometimes result in long-term damage.

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