“We are in a dire state, but I see signs that it will stabilize next week.”
Schools should cancel or reduce some after-school activities to help Oregon maintain what appears to be the beginning of a decline from record COVID-19 infections, Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday, September 7.
Multiple forecasts over the past week have shown a spike in the two-month spike in infections caused by the highly contagious delta variant. Hospitals remain nearly full and case reports are still twelve times higher than they were in early July.
The fragile ebb at the height of the crisis will be challenged by the flood of schoolchildren returning to class. “It is with mixed emotions that we welcome our children back to school at this time,” Brown told reporters during an early morning press call.
Brown was joined by health and education officials in announcing additional voluntary efforts to accompany mandatory vaccinations for school employees and mask mandates for students and staff. The state will issue regular school health advisories. The first asks schools to cancel or reduce extracurricular activities until at least October 1. Back-to-school events should be done online, if possible. Schools should also organize as many outdoor activities as possible, including school meals and physical education classes.
“The safety protocols your school has in place not only make it safer for everyone, they also help to ensure that our children actually stay in school,” said Colt Gill, director of the Department of Oregon education.
While children can get sick from COVID-19, they rarely get seriously sick, Gill said. But they can bring infections home and pass them on to people at risk such as the elderly and immunocompromised people.
Round-Up goes up again
Brown confirmed his order for mandatory vaccinations, saying staff who are not fully vaccinated cannot have contact with students or other school employees.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said the Oregon Health Authority is looking at an 8.8% increase in new COVID-19 infections in Marion County.
The rise comes as the Oregon State Fair in Salem just wrapped up. Brown had ordered crowded outdoor events to have mandatory masking rules, but TV reports from the fair showed the majority of people inside were not wearing masks.
The rules are also in place for the Pendleton Round-Up, which begins Sept. 11 in Umatilla County. Brown said she hopes fair organizers will follow state rules and that venues that violate the rule could face state penalties. She said she hoped attendees would wear masks and be aware of social distancing and other ways to prevent contracting or spreading the virus.
“Let you win,” Brown said, using the Round-Up signature.
Brown has attended the Round-Up in previous years and even rode a horse in the parade. She did not go to the state fair and will not be at Pendleton next week over fears of “public spread” of the virus.
The main public health forecasts first indicated in early September that the top of the peak may have been reached. Growth in infections may have peaked as early as Aug. 25 in Oregon, according to widely-watched COVID-19 monitoring and forecasting from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Oregon Health & Science University has forecast hospitalizations for COVID-19 to peak at around 1,208 patients on Monday, September 6. Tuesday’s OHA report showed 1,140 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, up from 1,172 reported on Friday.
“We are in a dire state, but I see signs that it will stabilize next week,” Chief Forecaster Dr Peter Graven said in a statement accompanying the September 2 report.
The OHSU model showed that with the current use of masks and other safeguards, cases would return to pre-surge levels of less than 200 hospitalizations in the last two weeks of October. If the trend line continues, the number of hospitalizations statewide could be below a dozen by mid-December. The next forecast from OHSU is due Thursday.
The World Health Organization said last week that the wave of delta variants around the world has started to decline, with the United States somewhat lagging behind Europe and other regions.
Trends will not be known for certain until additional reports over the next week show the decline continuing.
Deaths on the rise
Sidelinger said an increase in voluntary mask-wearing and other efforts to slow COVID-19 transmission could shorten the timeframe to a lower level. On the other hand, if people drop saves too early, it could push the recovery into November and closer to impacting winter break.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, with new variants possible until large numbers of people around the world are vaccinated. Once it infects someone, the virus can mutate within its host and release a variant of the original infection.
“This is a crisis that is largely caused by people who have not yet been vaccinated,” Sidelinger said.
As of Tuesday, there had been 221.5 million cases and more than 4.58 million deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. More than 5.37 million people worldwide are expected to die of COVID-19 by December 1, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Last week, the United States passed 40 million reported cases and deaths are at 649,271, according to Johns Hopkins. The IHMA predicts 751,417 deaths by December 1.
On Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 3,326 deaths from COVID-19 during the pandemic. IHME predicts 4,619 deaths in Oregon by December 1.
Johns Hopkins said its survey of state and local health agencies showed 44,558 doses of the vaccine were administered nationwide on Monday. More than 176 million people are fully vaccinated, about 51% of the US population.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the spike had peaked in the United States. The average number of new daily cases of 131,135 is down 12% from two weeks ago. The analysis showed Oregon fell 33% over the same period.
The Oregon Department of Education suggests that families check their school’s website or the state’s “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” website at https://www.oregon.gov/ode/readyschools/Pages/default.aspx
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