The news this week about COVID-19 in Oregon is really a tale of two outcomes.
First the good news. State health officials say the measures taken by Gov. Kate Brown — the stay-at-home order, social distancing, closing nonessential businesses and others — appear to be working.
Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer and an epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority, said the most recent modeling shows that while we should expect an increase in cases, the state won’t see a dramatic spike as long as these orders are heeded.
The modeling done by the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Washington, using information from Oregon cases, shows the difficult but necessary social distancing orders in Oregon have cut transmission of infections by 50% to 70%.
“We know coronavirus has brought painful disruption and distress for Oregonians. However, these numbers tell us that what we’re doing can work,” Sidelinger said at a video conference this week. “We know social distancing is tough and comes with incredible sacrifices. But steps we’re all taking to maintain social distancing could save the lives of people we know and people who are important to us. As Oregonians, we all must continue to put Stay Home, Save Lives into practice.”
If we don’t, Sidelinger and others warn, we could see a much more draconian outcome. Consider the following:
- Under current social distancing conditions, it is estimated that in early May, Oregon would have over 4,000 cumulative infections and 200-1,200 active infections at any given time, researchers say. However, if the state were to reopen nonessential businesses (while keeping schools closed), the number of new infections would spike to as many as 3,500 active infections by early May.
- An institute creating projections used by the White House coronavirus task force is estimating Oregon could see more than 500 COVID-19 deaths before the end of the outbreak. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is part of the University of Washington, said the estimates for Oregon show the state hitting the peak of its curve for deaths per day on May 2. At that time, IHME estimates 11 people from Oregon will die from COVID-19 each day.
- Researchers say the projections remain uncertain, in large part because so few Oregonians have been tested. In the next few weeks, health officials and researchers will have better data on actual infections and how they affect the projections, as well as more data on the public’s continued adherence to social distancing measures.
Consider, also, the recent news that a Portland nursing home had 29 residents and staff test positive for COVID-19, and that 29 senior living facilities in the state had at least one confirmed case of the virus.
The lesson of all this? We cannot relax for a minute when it comes to limiting the spread of COVID-19 through individual isolation and social distancing. If anything, we need to redouble our efforts in those areas now more than ever.
Or as Sidelinger put it: “What I’m hearing is that now is not the time to take the foot off the brake. We can’t go back to business-as-usual like we had in February.”
So please, as a reminder:
- Stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
- Cloud not crowd — stay connected with family, friends and work colleagues through phone, email and social media.
- Stop shaking hands, hugging or kissing as a greeting.
- Encourage flexible work/learning arrangements and encourage staff to stay home if possible.
- Maintain a high standard of regular cleaning.
- Wash your hands frequently.
Stay vigilant, and stay well.