The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the Northwest has spurred a relentless march of developments in recent days.
Across Oregon, more and more schools are canceling in-person learning as students and teachers call in sick (see the list of schools below). While people swarm in-person testing sites and scour pharmacy shelves for test kits, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is warning Oregonians of COVID-19 test scams. The state’s preparing to distribute an order of 6 million testing kits to organizations serving people who are most vulnerable to infection. A similar equity lens is guiding which hospitals receive the latest COVID-fighting drugs.
Meanwhile, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered a pause to non-urgent hospital procedures to keep his state’s health care system from being overwhelmed, as he deploys members of the National Guard to assist with the response.
It’s an effort with life-or-death consequences for both states. Nearly 6,000 Oregonians have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and 25 of those deaths were reported Thursday. The Oregon Health Authority confirmed 9,796 diagnoses of the virus that day, a new record in a string of bleak records.
Here are the top headlines and latest updates on the continued spread of the coronavirus.
Unvaccinated Oregonians are much more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19.
COVID-19 is sickening more children
Coronavirus cases are rising sharply among children under age four and between the ages of 12 and 17. That’s according to Oregon health officials on Friday. The Oregon Health Authority says it’s closely monitoring the trends in pediatric cases, which made up more than 20% of the state’s overall known caseload last week. The agency says hospitalizations are also increasing in children.
Data: Unvaccinated Oregonians are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID than fully vaccinated people:
Last week more than 45,000 COVID-19 diagnoses were recorded in Oregon, including a number breakthrough cases, the term the Oregon Health Authority uses to refer to fully vaccinated people who contract the virus. But the state’s most recent report on these breakthroughs shows drastically different experiences for people who have and have not been inoculated.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people made up 73.6% of the people diagnosed with COVID-19 last week, even though they are less than 34% of the state’s population. Meanwhile, 26.4% of diagnoses were vaccine breakthrough cases that week, while more than 66% of Oregonians are fully vaccinated.
The latest breakthrough report, which covers the week of Jan. 2-8, can be found here. It found that it’s rare for fully vaccinated people to require hospital care or to die of the virus, with 3.5% of breakthrough cases in Oregon having been hospitalized and 1% having died. The average age of vaccinated people who have died is 81. The report does not provide comparable figures for unvaccinated Oregonians.
Oregon officials work to draw up ‘common-sense’ guidelines for masks, quarantines at Oregon schools
Oregon health officials are finalizing what they’re calling “common-sense” guidelines for schools across the state. The idea is to cut down on unnecessary restrictions, such as quarantines, and focusing rules and investigations on “high-risk” situations.
The Oregon Health Authority said the guidelines are “expected to take effect today [Friday]” — even though they have not been released yet. The agency said they will come out “in the coming days”
In a Friday update, the health authority said the guidelines limit what schools should consider a COVID-19 exposure in need of quarantine. Students or staff people who were in close proximity at school to a person diagnosed with the virus positive won’t be deemed “exposed” if the people involved were wearing masks. The Oregon Health Authority message says that’s because the “vast majority of transmission” has resulted from “unmasked contact.”
State officials are also calling on school leaders to clamp down on unmasked activity at school — particularly during lunch periods, when students need to remove their face coverings to eat.
According to the Oregon Health Authority’s statement, state education leaders are recommending “all schools immediately develop stable lunch cohorts — table groups, lunch bunches and other group situations – where this is not already the practice.” The agency said that adopting cohorts at lunch would mean all students in a cohort with a positive case would be considered exposed. Students and staff who are fully vaccinated don’t need to enter quarantine.
Dozens of Oregon schools were closed Friday ahead of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. Some, such as Franklin High School and Harriet Tubman Middle School in Portland, were preparing to transition to distance learning next week. Many others — including some whole school districts — were closed just for the day without immediate transition plans. Many schools that have closed have done so because of large numbers of COVID-19-related staff and student absences, including those in quarantine. (More details on school closures and remote learning plans are below.)
Oregon won’t adopt vaccine-or-test rule for big businesses
Oregon’s effort to adopt a rule mandating vaccines-or-testing at larger businesses is over for the foreseeable future.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked implementation of the Biden administration’s vaccine rule for big businesses. By that evening, officials with Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division had called off state rulemaking as well.
Oregon’s seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 testing
According to Oregon Health Authority Director Dr. Patrick Allen, the number of COVID-19 tests administered during the first week of January was nearly doubled the number of tests administered the week before.
Over the past seven days, Oregon has recorded more than 300,000 COVID-19 tests. The Kaiser Family Foundation ranks Oregon 16th in the nation in daily testing volume, with 4,620 tests administered per million people, as of Jan. 10th.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 8,672 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing number of people diagnosed with the virus since the start of the pandemic 513,391. The state also reported an additional 13 COVID-19-related deaths, raising the state’s death toll associated with the virus to 5,883
Related: Federal testing website launches next week, will provide 4 free COVID tests per home
Oregon and Southwest Washington schools regroup as students, staff and teachers call in sick
All Oregon and Washington public schools will be closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Here’s the latest on closures and distance learning efforts districts have announced in response to COVID-19 challenges:
Portland Public Schools:
- Franklin High School and Tubman Middle School campuses are closed Friday and will switch to distance learning next week through at least Jan. 21.
- Faubion School is in distance learning at least through this week.
- Jefferson High School is in distance learning through at least Jan. 19.
- Cleveland, McDaniel and Roosevelt high schools and Ockley Green Middle School have also moved to distance learning. Cleveland and McDaniel will return to in-person learning on Tuesday.
Reynolds School District: Closed through Tuesday due to staffing shortages. Classes are expected to resume Wednesday.
Beaverton School District: Eight schools have canceled in-person learning, and some have canceled both remote and in-person learning on Tuesday to allow teachers to adjust and prepare. Full details are online here.
Forest Grove School District: Forest Grove High School and Neil Armstrong Middle School have transitioned to remote instruction through at least Jan. 21.
Vancouver Public Schools: Middle and high schools are staggering in-person and remote learning days between now and Jan. 27. Full details are online here.
Tigard-Tualatin School District:
- Tualatin and Tigard high schools, and Fowler, Hazelbrook and Twality middle schools are in distance learning through Jan. 21.
- Durham Elementary is in distance learning through at least Tuesday.
Jefferson County School District: The Warm Springs K-8 Academy campus will remain closed through at least Friday.
Ashland School District: Ashland High School is in distance learning through Jan. 31.
Other districts that have closed or moved to distance learning include:
Read the full story here: Omicron and schools: Answers to questions about district closures, safe behavior during in-person learning, and how testing, quarantines and vaccines are altering the equation.
Oregon’s plan for COVID tests, treatment puts equity first
Oregon officials say they are on track to receive 6 million at-home COVID-19 test kits, containing 12 million individual tests, by the end of January. That includes nearly a million test kits expected in the next seven days.
But unlike some states that are making their supplies COVID-19 tests available to the general public, Oregon is focused on people most vulnerable to infection.
Read the full story here: Oregon starts to receive COVID-19 tests, as case numbers mount and more schools move online
That focus on equity also underpins the state’s plan for Paxlovid, a promising new antiviral drug from Pfizer used to treat COVID-19. As of Tuesday, the state had received 680 doses of the drug, which is in extremely limited supply and allocated by the federal government based on population.
Oregon has given most of its initial supply to community health clinics that provide primary care to low-income, uninsured, rural, and historically disadvantaged populations.
Read the full story here: Oregon has its first doses of the Paxlovid treatment for COVID-19. Here’s where it’s going.
As demand for tests grows, so do testing scams
State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is urging Oregonians to watch for testing sites that seem suspicious, or for vendors that are selling at-home tests for sky-high prices.
The Oregon Department of Justice opened an investigation this week into a company called The Center for Covid Control, which has been accused of operating suspicious COVID-19 test sites.
Read the full story here: Oregon AG warns against COVID-19 test scams
Here’s how to report a positive at-home COVID test
People who manage to dodge scams and access any at-home COVID-19 tests are being asked to report their results any time they come up positive — although it’s optional, not required.
The Oregon Health Authority is taking these reports at its COVID-19 Case Support Hotline, 1-866-917-8881, or its online survey.
Health departments in eight Oregon counties have asked their residents to report COVID-19 diagnoses directly to them, rather than through the hotline: Multnomah and Washington counties in the Portland area; Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties in Southern Oregon; and Clatsop, Jefferson and Umatilla counties. The Burns Paiute, Siletz and Warm Springs tribes are also asking to be contacted directly.
Related: Biden announces plans to buy 500 million more COVID tests and to offer free masks
Oregon reports 68% increase in hospitalizations linked to COVID
The latest weekly numbers from Oregon health officials are further evidence the state is dealing with the rapid spread of COVID-19. The Oregon Health Authority reports that the week ending Sunday counted a record 47,272 cases — a sixfold increase from two weeks before, and nearly three times more than the previous record from last August. Hospitalizations are also up by 68% from the previous week, according to the state health agency. Deaths were also up over the week before, from 89 to 113.
Hospitals pause non-urgent surgeries
Hospitals are struggling to respond to a spike in COVID-19 admissions at a time when medical staff are increasingly calling in sick with their own infections, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee responded Thursday by ordering hospitals to pause non-urgent surgeries and procedures for at least a month. He’s also calling in a hundred members of the National Guard to assist with staffing challenges.
Read the full story here: Inslee deploying 100 National Guard to help hospitals, orders pause on non-emergency procedures
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is calling up even more assistance. She’s sending 700 additional National Guard members to Oregon hospitals this week, to join 500 people she deployed on Jan. 7. More than 50 hospitals will receive this help.
In Portland, a shortage of blood donations is also affecting medical procedures. According to the Red Cross, the decline in donations coincided with the outbreak of the delta variant of COVID-19. With omicron on its tail, blood drives are being canceled and there have been staffing shortages. Hospitals now have to prioritize their limited supply of blood and platelets to those who are actively bleeding, or undergoing emergency surgeries.
Read the full story: Blood shortage hitting Oregon hospitals as Red Cross declares crisis
This is a developing story. Watch for updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.