As the U.S. is in the midst of an uphill battle against the fourth wave of COVID-19, the Advocate is bringing back its weekly COVID articles to keep you informed on local, regional, and nationwide pandemic news. Check back each Tuesday to get your weekly update.
The Fourth Wave — Where We Are
Currently, the U.S. is experiencing its second-largest wave of the COVID-19 virus, with daily case counts rivaling rates seen back in mid-November of 2020. The virus’s Delta variant is the culprit for the newest surge in case rates, with the CDC stating that Delta is twice as contagious due to high viral loading in an infected person’s body — and may even cause more serious illness.
Comparatively, Oregon is being hit harder by Delta. While the country is experiencing its second-largest wave, this new variant has resulted in the largest virus surge Oregon has seen thus far in the pandemic. The number of daily positive COVID cases are up over 300% now compared to case rates from one month ago, with over 3,000 cases reported on August 26 compared to only 1,000 reported daily by the end of July. 98% of COVID samples tested by the Oregon Health Authority in early August were found to be from infection by the Delta variant.
Benton County reported 56 new cases on Monday, August 30. Case reports so far are equaling, but not yet exceeding, case rates the county experienced this past winter. County-collected demographic information on COVID-positive individuals show that people ages 18 to 49 currently make up more than half of the positive cases in Benton County.
Concerns for Local Hospitals
According to an article published by OPB a little over a week agp, Oregon is facing more COVID-19 hospitalizations than ever before, or almost one-third more than last winter, when the state experienced its first large wave of the pandemic.
As of last week, more than 90% of all hospital beds in Oregon were full. A patient who was COVID-positive died in a Mercy Medical Center waiting room in Roseburg while trying to secure a spot in an ICU room. At the time, all ICU beds in the hospital were occupied by other COVID-19 patients. As of two weeks ago, the southwest region of Oregon around Medford was experiencing the largest surge in cases of anywhere in the U.S. The community around Medford is pushing local officials to declare a state of emergency for Josephine County, as hospitals in Josephine and Jackson Counties are at maximum capacities.
To compound issues, health officials around the world are concerned for the upcoming flu season. While flu levels were considerably low last winter, officials worry that relaxing health guidelines, such as social distancing and limited social gatherings, will increase community vulnerability to the influenza viruses. The low levels of flu last year may also be a detriment, as low-level exposure to illnesses can often help bolster the immune system against major illness. However, with such limited circulation of the flu last year, communities may be more vulnerable this coming winter.
Health officials are promoting not only getting vaccinated against COVID-19, but also making sure your family is vaccinated against the flu this fall. This will protect both your community and aid hospitals currently overwhelmed by the pandemic.
Vaccines and Return to In-Person Education
As fall is fast-approaching, so is the return of school for many grade-school and college-aged students. Planned months ago when the third wave of the pandemic was in decline, in-person schooling is now being questioned by parents and educators across the country. A report by KATU News indicates that while the newest spike in COVID cases is raising concerns about spread during in-person learning, Governor Kate Brown is not currently considering imposing a vaccine requirement for students.
According to the report, both state- and school-district-level officials do have the ability to impose such requirements. Oregon State University and the University of Oregon have both declared a vaccination mandate for college students who can be vaccinated. In addition, anyone over the age of 12 who plans to attend an OSU or UO event this year, including concerts and athletic games, will need to show proof of vaccination.
The Corvallis School District is currently not requiring vaccinations of students; it is, however, planning to adhere to masking guidelines whenever social distancing cannot be maintained by students. CSD has looked over all of the school buildings and made site-specific plans for each to maintain air flow as well as comfortable temperatures.
The CSD is also implementing a mandatory screening to be completed by parents and/or guardians each day before a child goes to school, which will ask questions about the students’ health and any symptoms of illness they may be experiencing. These mandatory screenings can be accessed via an app called Safety iPass, and more information on the program can be found on the CSD Health and Safety webpage.
This is a weekly column updating the residents of Benton County on local, national, and international news on the pandemic. If you would like to make suggestions of topics to cover related to the virus, please email any resources or thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.