80% of Oregon’s new COVID cases are among unvaccinated

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Oregon and clog the medical system, state health officials say the rate of coronavirus in unvaccinated people is currently five times higher than in those who are vaccinated.

A report released by the Oregon Health Authority on Wednesday shows that more than 80% of COVID-19 cases last week were among unvaccinated people. Breakthrough cases — fully vaccinated people who test positive for the coronavirus — accounted for about 20% of last weeks cases.

Since the start of the pandemic there have been 16,417 reported breakthrough cases identified in Oregon, which is about 6% of the state’s total amount of cases throughout the pandemic. About 5% of the state’s breakthrough cases have been hospitalized and less than 1% have died. The median age of those deaths is 80, officials said.

Oregon is in the midst of its worst COVID-19 surge since the start of the pandemic — which health officials say is fueled by unvaccinated people and the highly transmissible delta variant.

Although the number of cases slightly decreased last week from the previous week, the health authority also reported the state’s ninth straight week of increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of Thursday, there were just 56 available adult intensive care unit beds available and hospital beds were at 93% capacity.

The latest projections from the Oregon Health & Science University shows that while hospitalizations have peaked, the current COVID-19 surge is far from over. The new forecast predicts that hospitals across the state will remain under severe strain for the next two to three months.

In addition, the health officials have reported “sharp increases” in daily deaths associated with COVID-19. Last week there were 176 reported coronavirus-related deaths.

“This grim trend follows several weeks of record, or near record, daily cases and hospitalizations,” Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said on Wednesday. “Oregonians should be prepared to see this tragic toll escalate dramatically in coming days and weeks.”

But, Allen and other health officials maintain that many of the deaths could have been “largely preventable” if people were vaccinated.

Currently 67% of the states adult population are fully vaccinated. But in some parts of the state — seven of Oregon’s 36 counties — more than 50% of the adult population remain unvaccinated.

In an attempt to ramp up vaccination efforts staff and volunteers in K-12 schools, health care workers and state employees in Oregon are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

This week some counties have been met with vaccine challenges — specifically when it comes to vaccinating law enforcement.

Officials from Oregon’s most populous county — Multnomah — and Portland announced this week that they are exempting law enforcement from a COVID-19 vaccine order after county officials say a vaccination requirement for local officers is now legally dubious due to new guidance from the state health authority.

Under Oregon law, local municipalities can only issue vaccine mandates for police officers if a federal or state rule requires it. Officials in Multnomah County and Portland believed Gov. Kate Brown’s vaccination mandate issued last month for state healthcare workers covered officers because they receive some medical training.

But new guidance from the Oregon Health Authority said law enforcement was “probably not” subject to the governor’s orders as providing medical care was “likely not a fundamental part of their job.”

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said on Thursday she had no choice but to exempt deputy sheriffs, parole and probation officers as “the state has tied our hands.” She called on the state to require vaccinations of local law enforcement, which would allow the county to move forward with their own vaccine mandate that encompasses law enforcement.

Rudy Owens, a spokesman for the health authority, said on Friday that health officials and Brown are continuing to “explore every way we can to increase vaccination rates in Oregon.”

In addition, on Thursday President Joe Biden announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.