Oregon health officials reported a 16% drop in newly identified coronavirus cases this week and an 9% drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations, pointing to an apparent lull before the highly transmissible XBB.1.5 subvariant spreads into Oregon.
Just under 240 hospital beds were occupied with people who had tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday, down more than 100 beds since the most recent peak, in late December, and nearly four times less than the hospitalizations on this date last year. An anticipated bump in occupied beds driven by the XBB omicron subvariant could drive hospitalizations up to 367 occupied beds, state officials said last week, citing Oregon Health & Science University forecasts.
“While this variant does appear to be the most transmissible COVID-19 variants so far, at this time, there is no evidence that it is associated with more severe COVID-19 infection,” state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said at a monthly coronavirus briefing Jan. 12. “In general, we are not seeing a significant cause for concern about XBB.1.5 right now.”
State sequencing data has not identified any XBB.1.5 infections since a handful were found in mid-December, though that data is delayed several weeks and, as of the most recent batch, included only nine samples. But federal modeling indicates the subvariant accounted for only about 8% of all cases across Oregon, Washington and Idaho during the week ending Jan. 14, compared to more than 80% in parts of the East Coast.
While reported case counts could be unreliable indicators because they don’t capture at-home tests, other Oregon Health Authority data point to an easing of the pressure from the current surge. Test positivity among known cases is averaging below 10%, and the percentage of emergency room visits for COVID-like symptoms has fallen from about 5% a month ago to 1.8% Tuesday.
While several wastewater testing sites in Oregon point to a “sustained increase” of the virus in their communities, those data are in all cases at least two weeks old. Once touted as a potential early warning system that can serve as a more reliable measure of the pandemic than reported case counts, wastewater monitoring data takes so long to process that it can be weeks before it is available to the public, Sidelinger said.
“There’s not that data that we sit on and wait to post,” he said, explaining why data on OHA’s wastewater monitoring dashboard is weeks old. “It is quite a lengthy process, and some sites can be more delayed than others.”
Since it began: Oregon has reported 946,727 confirmed or presumed infections and 9,141 deaths.
Hospitalizations: 239 people with confirmed coronavirus infections are hospitalized, down 22 since Jan. 11. That includes 33 people in intensive care, down three since Jan. 11.
New deaths: Since Jan. 11, the Oregon Health Authority has reported 63 additional deaths connected to COVID-19.
— Fedor Zarkhin
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