Oregon state health leaders have jumped at every opportunity to warn the public that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. That warning carries new weight this week as the state and nation brace for a possible fourth wave of infections.
“It’s clear that in Oregon and across the country, the fourth surge of the virus is at our doorstep,” Gov. Kate Brown said during a Friday news conference.
Brown characterized the present moment in the COVID-19 pandemic as a “race” between vaccines and the virus. Inoculations are going up, but infections and hospitalizations are too. The severity of a fourth wave depends on which goes up faster.
The governor and public health officials have previously said that daily case counts would increase as public confidence grows and adherence to precautions like masking and social distancing wanes. That prediction has largely come true.
Oregon recorded 28% more cases of COVID-19 this week than it did the week prior. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations also went up 17% in March.
That’s with almost a fifth of the adult population in Oregon fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and nearly a third having received at least one dose.
Many social restrictions have loosened at the start of the pandemic’s second year. Children are headed back to school. Restaurants, bars and gyms are welcoming more patrons inside. Yet State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said Friday that county risk levels — and associated restrictions — could go back up as virus transmission increases.
“Just because we’re vaccinated doesn’t mean we can return to pre-pandemic life just yet,” Sidelinger said.
Oregon will also expand vaccine eligibility again in an effort to get more shots in arms.
Frontline workers will be eligible for appointments statewide Monday, and many Oregon counties have already started vaccinating them. The governor announced Friday that those workers’ household family members will now be eligible, too. An aide later specified that the expanded eligibility would generally apply to people living in the same household of a frontline worker, but not to relatives living in households other than that of the eligible worker.
Also eligible for vaccination starting Monday are Oregonians 16 years and older with underlying health conditions. The state is expanding its list of conditions to match the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list. Oregon’s updated list now includes current and former smokers, which the state had excluded to this point.
Oregon has reported more than 166,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and nearly 2,400 associated deaths.