A Friday, Dec. 17 press conference with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown carried with it a sense of urgency, as public health experts described the imminent threat of another COVID-19 surge following the arrival of the Omicron variant in Oregon.
Brown was joined by public health experts Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Renee Edwards, State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger, and OHSU Lead Data Scientist Peter Graven in discussing the latest COVID-19 projections and next steps for the state.
“While we are all still learning about this new variant, it is clear from the experiences of the United Kingdom and other countries that we have only weeks to prepare before Omicron hits our communities and health care systems in full force,” Brown said.
The data of concern comes from a Dec. 17 forecast published by OHSU, which indicates immunity, whether natural or acquired through the vaccine, is less effective against Omicron than the Delta variant.
“Today’s forecast is a warning we can’t ignore,” Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said.
The Omicron variant was first detected in Africa in November, and has since traveled to various U.S. states. As of Monday, Dec. 13, three cases of Omicron were identified in Oregon. Omicron appears to have a higher rate of transmission coupled with a decreased hospitalization rate, studies show.
In addressing the media, the governor shared what she believes to be the next logical course of action.
"Today I am calling on one million Oregonians to step up and get their booster dose by the end of January,” she said. “Boosters are our best protection against Omicron. The state will be taking important steps to make sure our most vulnerable Oregonians have access to booster shots and to make sure we are ready to support our hospital systems for another surge.”
“If you aren’t yet vaccinated, now is the time,” she said. “This is a matter of life and death.”
Brown also emphasized the importance of Oregonians uniting to slow the spread of the virus.
“A big part of that plan will depend on each and every one of you,” she said.
The news appears to conflict with OHSU findings published a little over two weeks earlier, projecting that COVID-19 hospitalizations would fall below 200 around Feb. 1.
82% of Oregonians either have immunity to the COVID-19 virus, and 85% is the threshold where Delta is less likely to spread readily among the population, according to Graven.
At the Dec. 17 press conference, Graven had a different message to deliver.
“I’d hoped to be able to share better news today, but today’s forecast is going to anticipate another surge of severe illness in Oregon,” Graven said. “While the severity is less, it is not low enough to prevent us from seeing hospitalizations.”
A reporter asked Brown about how we might deal with a variant with risks that surpass both Delta and Omicron.
“All options are on the table,” she said.
Brown concluded her speech with a key message for her constituents.
“If you take one thing away from this press conference, let it be this: Get your booster shot,” she said.