New vaccine verification system in the works as Oregon hopes to “turn back tsunami of infection”
More masks outside, new COVID-19 quarantine protocols and testing in schools and an immunization verification system were announced Tuesday by state health and education officials.
In a broad appeal to the press, Oregon Health Authority director Pat Allen said there was reason for optimism with the seven-day average of new cases at 822 on Tuesday, November 23, against over 2,000 around Labor Day.
“We were successful in reversing the tsunami of infections,” Allen said.
But the state would not give a firm timetable for the lifting of other restrictions or when the state could return to something close to “normal.”
“The delta-dominated COVID-19 world is truly unpredictable,” Allen said.
Allen said the state is moving more cautiously after being blinded by the delta variant last summer. Governor Kate Brown and health officials announced last June that the COVID-19 crisis was abating due to higher vaccination rates. But the delta variant swept through Oregon and sent infections, hospitalizations and deaths to new records.
The Peak Delta has taught officials to refrain from setting metrics that would indicate defeat from COVID-19 and to repeat false expectations of last summer’s pre-delta decline.
“We don’t have an exact number at the OHA that we are keeping a secret,” Allen said.
The requirements for wearing masks indoors will remain in place until the end of the year.
Allen said a steady decline in new infections over the past month has allowed Oregon’s order to require masks to be lifted at large public gatherings outside. The rule is immediately lifted. School districts and other educational programs can still require exterior masking if they choose, Allen said.
Test-to-stay school program
Department of Education director Colt Gill announced a new quarantine protocol that the state hopes to reduce time away from school for students who may be exposed to the virus. The test plan to stay will use rapid antigen tests already available in about 70% of schools in the state for a new quarantine protocol.
Currently, unvaccinated students are required to stay home for up to two weeks after close contact with someone infected with COVID-19. Under the new plan, students would be tested soon after exposure, and then again about five to seven days later. As long as they are negative, students can attend school, including extracurricular activities. They are expected to be strictly quarantined before and after the school day.
Gill said school districts should work with local health authorities to put the protocol in place. “We really think this will be a turnaround for our students, our families and our educators,” said Gill.
Allen confirmed that the state was working to create a system that would make it easier for sites requiring proof of vaccination to verify records. Some Conservatives have denounced the proposal.
Representative E. Werner Reschke, of R-Klamath Falls, said Monday, Nov.22, that he believed the state would use any system for broader purposes.
“The digital vaccine records (aka passport) developed by OHA Oregon will not be just for vaccines,” Reschke wrote on Twitter. “The Communists in the state government will find other ways to use it to make you obey their whims.”
Allen said the program would not involve any state mandate, but would streamline the ability of companies, such as the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, that have vaccination requirements for sites to verify vaccination status.
Due to concerns about fairness, the state is creating a paper version that can be obtained by farm workers, the homeless, and others who may not be able to access digital systems.
Increase in the number of cases nationwide
Dr Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, noted that 30 states have reported an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. The recovery may be due to people congregating indoors more often due to colder weather in the northern states and the Rocky Mountains.
It is too early to know if Oregon will follow the same path. Sidelinger urged Oregonians to get vaccinated and to avoid severe and prolonged cases of infection and death which are largely linked to those who are not vaccinated. He also urged people to get vaccinated, especially those over the age of 50, live in gathering places or have health issues that make them more vulnerable to infections.
“The more vaccines we can put in the guns, the better,” Sidelinger said.
The world is preparing to mark the second anniversary of the discovery of the COVID-19 virus in China at the very end of 2019. More than 4.2 billion people worldwide have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, approximately 55% of the world’s population.
On November 22, Oregon exceeded 5,000 deaths from COVID-19 since February 2020. The United States is expected to exceed 775,000 known deaths from COVID-19, making it the biggest pandemic killer in history from the country.
The Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation predicts more than 880,000 deaths in the United States by March 1. Oregon is expected to exceed 6,400 deaths by that date.
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