“We are in a dire state, but I see signs that it will stabilize next week.”
Schools should cancel or cut back some extracurricular activities to help Oregon maintain what appears to be the start of a decline from the record number of COVID-19 infections, Governor Kate Brown said on Tuesday, September 7.
Several forecasts over the past week have shown a peak in the two-month wave of 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 worst of the crisis will be challenged by the flow of schoolchildren returning to class. “It is with mixed emotions that we welcome our children to school at this time,” Brown told reporters at a morning press conference.
Brown was joined by health and education officials in announcing additional voluntary efforts to accompany compulsory vaccination for school employees and mask mandates for students and staff. The state will regularly publish school health notices. The first asks schools to cancel or reduce extracurricular activities until at least October 1. Back-to-school events should be organized online, if possible. Schools should also organize as many outdoor activities as possible, including school meals and physical education classes.
“The safety protocols put in place by your school not only make it safer for everyone, but they also help ensure that our children actually stay in school,” said Colt Gill, head of the department of Oregon education.
Although children can get sick from COVID-19, they rarely get seriously ill, said Gill. But they can bring infections home and pass them on to people at risk such as the elderly and the immunocompromised.
Brown confirmed his order for mandatory vaccinations, saying staff who are not fully vaccinated cannot have contact with students or other school employees.
State epidemiologist Dr Dean Sidelinger said the Oregon Health Authority is forecasting an 8.8% increase in the number of new COVID-19 infections in Marion County.
The rise comes as the Oregon State Fair in Salem has just ended. Brown had ordered crowded outdoor events to have mandatory masking rules, but TV reports from the fair showed the majority of people inside did not wear masks.
Rules are also in place for the Pendleton Round-Up, which begins September 11 in Umatilla County. Brown said she hoped the fair’s organizers would follow state rules, and venues that broke the rule could face state sanctions. She said she hoped attendees will wear masks and be aware of social distancing and other ways to prevent contracting or spreading the virus.
“Let me down,” Brown said, using the Round-Up signing saying.
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 in Pendleton next week for fear of “public spread” of the virus.
Major public health forecasts first indicated in early September that the top of the peak may have been reached. The growth in infections may have peaked as early as Aug. 25 in Oregon, according to widely followed 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,” Dr Peter Graven, the chief forecaster, said in a statement accompanying the September 2 report.
The OHSU model showed that with current use of masks and other safeguards, cases would drop to pre-flare 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 less than a dozen by mid-December. The next OHSU forecast is due on Thursday.
The World Health Organization said last week that the wave of the delta variant around the world has started to decline, with the United States falling somewhat behind Europe and other regions.
The trends will not be known for sure until additional reports over the next week show the decline continuing.
Deaths on the rise
Sidelinger said an increase in the voluntary wearing of masks and other efforts to slow the transmission of COVID-19 could shorten the time frame to reach a lower level. On the flip side, if people ditch warranties too soon, it could push the recovery back into November and get closer to an impact on the winter break.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, with the possibility of new variants 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 were 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 from COVID-19 by December 1, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The United States passed 40 million reported cases last week and the deaths are 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. The 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, or about 51% of the US population.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the peak had peaked in the United States. The average number of new daily cases of 131,135 is down 12% from two weeks ago. Analysis showed Oregon fell 33% over the same period.
The Oregon Department of Education suggests 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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