Oregon Wanted to Reopen, Delta Variant Had Other Plans

Correction: This article listed the number of total COVID-19 cases in Benton county as 227,000, this is the number of COVID-19 for the state of Oregon.

Just as Benton County began its long-awaited reopening process, residents are once again at risk due to the raging delta variant.  

In June, citizens rejoiced as the county reached its lowest number of new COVID cases since last summer. The week of June 21, 1,792 new cases were reported, as well as 24 new fatalities.  Then, on June 30, Oregon Governor Kate Brown welcomed the reopening of the state. For many, this was the moment they had been waiting for – the light at the end of the tunnel, or so it seemed.  

Unfortunately, the Delta variant has proven its resilience despite over half of Oregon’s adult population being fully vaccinated. As of Friday, there were 133 filled Intensive Care Unit beds in Oregon – just under the number we saw in November, and towards the beginning of the pandemic.  

In June, Benton County reached just over 3,500 total reported cases. As of August 8, that number has skyrocketed to roughly 3,710. Unfortunately, the growing number of sick Oregonians is not the only concerning factor. According to local healthcare workers, this new variant is making people sicker faster, and affecting a broader age range as well. During previous months of the pandemic, patients would not typically reach a critical level for several days to weeks after noticing symptoms. Portland Providence ICU nurse Dr. Sabra Bederka told KLCC that such is no longer the case.  

“Now it’s this, ‘I started feeling sick two days ago’, and now they’re in the hospital, said Bederka. “It’s clobbering them, quickly and mercilessly.”  

Bederka added that more people under 40 are dying than previously, and that once they are infected, it is a very long and hard journey towards recovery. Additionally, Bederka said the hospital is seeing ICU patients become traumatized during their stays as they try relentlessly to catch their breath. 

“This is all preventable,” said Bederka, “I keep saying that. This is all preventable.” 

 Although the vaccines have been proven to prevent the virus’ life-threatening symptoms, the progress we were seeing of slowing its spread has been brutally interrupted.  

Chief Medical Officer at OHSU Health, Dr. Renee Edwards, told KLCC that the majority of critically ill patients had contracted the delta variant and are unvaccinated.  

“Patients who are presenting with the delta variant who are being hospitalized do tend to be sicker and more likely to require ICU level care,” said Edwards. She added that this wave is attacking us at a vulnerable time, with COVID restrictions loosened and hospitals already full from conducting care for other illnesses.  

Farther south, delta is sweeping through Josephine and Jackson Counties, revealing the highest numbers they have seen since the onset of the pandemic. Hospitals and long-term care facilities are overflowing, and they began eliminating minor surgeries to make room.   

“We are in a bad place for our public health and healthcare infrastructure, and for the health of our community. Our public health and healthcare systems are nearing capacity, at capacity or have surpassed it,” Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County Health Officer, said to KLCC.  

Although the mRNA vaccines seem like they are a new concept, clinical trials have been ongoing for the past 10-plus years through cancer research, and have been shown to successfully attack cancer cells. These vaccines have been deemed safe, and are the best weapon we have within reach against this pandemic.   

However, since many are still unvaccinated, including children under 12, reverting to mask wearing will be a necessary aid in slowing the spread – and it is up to the state to get the ball rolling.   

“It’s their job to make decisions about masks and vaccines and mandates,” Bederka said, “and sometimes I feel they’re more worried about their jobs than the lives of the people they are trying to serve. Shame on them for being afraid or hesitant or blind to what is happening.”  

Bederka concluded by asking the public to be mindful of others around you when venturing out.   

“Look outside your own bubble,” she said. “Realize the next person you inadvertently breathe on could get sick and die.”  

By: Rebekah Harcrow