Oregon’s 11-week streak of declining COVID-19 cases has come to an end; with the highly transmissible delta variant, the numbers are on the rise again.
The delta variant, first detected in India, has made its way to the west coast where cities such as Los Angeles have already reinstated mask mandates. Due to this new variant, state and federal health officials are continuing to urge people to get vaccinated.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you are well protected from COVID, including the delta variant,” said Tim Heider, a spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority. “If you are not vaccinated, make a plan to do so, and take precautions like wearing a mask indoors and in outdoor crowded places until you are vaccinated.”
This new outbreak is becoming “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The majority of hospital admissions and deaths are those of patients who had not been immunized, warned CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
1,318 new COVID-19 cases were reported the week of July 4 by the OHA, an 11% increase from the previous week. Hospitalizations also rose from 66 to 104.
Currently, Oregon’s data shows the delta variant is only responsible for 5% of the state’s cases. However, officials believe this is an undercount due to the fact sequencing data can take weeks to be reported and not all COVID-19 cases are being tested for the variant.
“The CDC estimates that the delta variant will continue to spread in the weeks to come and this increase will also be seen in Oregon,” read a statement from the OHA.
More than 70% of adults in Oregon have been fully or partially vaccinated. However, the disparities in vaccination rates between rural communities and communities of color compared to more populous metropolitan areas is alarming. In Multnomah County, 74% of the population is fully or partially vaccinated while only 36% of people are vaccinated in Southern Oregon’s Lake County. In 12 out of Oregon’s 36 counties, less than 50% of adults have been vaccinated.
“It’s not a question for unvaccinated people if they’re going to get the virus. It’s when they’re going to get it and how sick they’re going to get,” Dr. Jon Hitzman, a public health officer of Umatilla County, told The Oregonian earlier this week.
Along with rural counties, communities of color are also suffering from low vaccination rates. The OHA announced a new goal of 80% of adults of color becoming vaccinated by the end of summer. Currently, officials report the vaccination rates for Hispanic, American Indian, and Black communities are in the mid-40% range.
Many Oregonians were thrilled when the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on June 30by Governor Kate Brown. But with COVID-19 cases back on the rise, many are now wondering if Oregon will follow Los Angeles County’s lead and require masks indoors again, regardless of vaccination status.
“We’ve allowed the word reopening to take on an odd meaning. A continued awareness, a continued caution, a continued push to get more people vaccinated is important to continue to protect people,” said Michael Wood, Administrator of Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, on the OHA’s Facebook live Q&A
On the same Q&A, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, informed viewers that if COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to increase, then “nothing is off the table” when it comes to reinstating restrictions.
“The pandemic is not over for those who are not vaccinated,” said Sidelinger. “Our best tool is to continue to get vaccinated.”