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Oregon’s COVID hospitalizations peaked Sept. 1, but are dropping very slowly

The number of Oregonians hospitalized with COVID-19 peaked on Sept. 1. But experts say the situation is still dire, and hospitalization rates are likely to remain high for months.

“The good news is that we did peak,” said Peter Graven with Oregon Health and Science University. “The bad news is, the model is showing that it could take until the end of October or even November until we really get down to the levels that we had prior to the surge.”

Oregon’s hospitals remain under extreme strain. There are about 10 times as many people hospitalized now as there were in July. Approximately half of all intensive care units in the state are filled with COVID-19 patients, the vast majority of whom have not been vaccinated.

“It looks like we are seeing the flattening of cases that we had hoped for,” Graven said. “However, we are still projecting it will be a very long time before hospitalization levels return to more manageable levels.”

OHSU’s new forecast shows room for the virus to spread with roughly 27% of Oregon’s population susceptible to infection, meaning those people who don’t yet have immunity through vaccination or natural infection.

Graven said he is keeping a close eye on pediatric cases, especially as schools reopen across Oregon.

“It’s certainly still possible to generate a new surge in severe illness,” he said.

The hospitalization rate is also subject to change if another variant takes hold, or people become less hesitant to get vaccinated.

Graven said the vaccination rate does tend to increase in areas that get harder hit by the pandemic. But then there’s also a ‘fear then fatigue’ pattern, where people get scared of catching the virus so they take the necessary steps, then they get tired of following the steps so they stop and the virus starts spreading again.

Graven’s data shows Oregonians are improving their response to the surge by increasing their use of masks to 84% as of Sept. 7. His data also shows moderate declines in behaviors such as going to large indoor events. His hope is, that over time, Oregon might be able to reach some form of herd immunity where there are so many people who’ve been vaccinated or previously sickened by the virus, that COVID-19 can no longer spread efficiently.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting