Oregon hospitals are near a breaking point during COVID surge

A hospital patient in bed
A patient in the intensive care unit at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass, Ore.
(Mike Zacchino / Associated Press)

Health officials say Oregon hospitals are near their breaking point as the state is expected to reach peak COVID-19 hospitalizations in coming weeks.

Fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, hospitalizations could soon surpass the pandemic high, officials said Friday. As of Thursday, there were 1,130 coronavirus-related hospitalizations. The record of 1,178 was set Sept. 1, 2021. There were 59 adult intensive care unit beds available in the state, and 94% of non-ICU beds were filled.

The pandemic “is not behind us yet,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer and epidemiologist. “Our hospitals are struggling to maintain the fragile balance between providing care for people who are ill with the virus and others needing medical care.”

Earlier this week, health officials reported that Oregon had surpassed 6,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

“What makes these losses more painful is that nearly all our most recent deaths could have been prevented by COVID-19 vaccines, which remain the best protection against serious illness and death,” Sidelinger said.

Nearly 75% of adults in Oregon are fully vaccinated; however, less than half have received a booster shot.

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A report released Wednesday by the Oregon Health Authority shows that more than 70% of COVID-19 cases last week were among unvaccinated people. Breakthrough cases — those in fully vaccinated people — accounted for about 29% of last week’s cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, Oregon has seen at least 104,088 breakthrough cases, which is about 17% of the state’s total reported cases throughout the pandemic. About 2.9% of the state’s breakthrough cases have led to hospitalization, and less then 1% led to death. The median age of those deaths is 81, officials said.

But officials say there is some good news — cases are plateauing.

“We may be seeing a light — a slight slowing of Omicron’s momentum,” Sidelinger said. “Due to the recent modeling, statewide daily cases appear to have crested the pandemic highs, offering a glimpse of hope in an otherwise bleak pandemic landscape.”

Last week there were 47,361 new COVID-19 cases reported, down 9.5% from the week before.

Although cases are decreasing, Sidelinger said, it will still take several weeks for hospitalizations to peak and then come down to a manageable level.

Health officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated and receive a booster, wear masks in public and limit indoor gatherings.