Omicron will disrupt hospitals and public services, say Portland-area health officials

Health officials in three counties in the Portland metro area issued a warning Thursday, saying the omicron variant of the coronavirus is poised to disrupt hospitals, daycares, businesses and public services in the coming weeks .

They said that while vaccines remain excellent protection against serious diseases, the omicron variant behaves very differently from previous strains.

Many vaccinated and even vaccinated people will get mild infections and may need to stay home and self-quarantine to avoid infecting others.

Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said the number of cases in the metro area has doubled week over week, and there are worrying signs that, although most omicron infections are mild, hospitalizations also increase.

“EMS calls were up 40%. At least one major Portland emergency department was physically short of space,” Vines said.

A patient in the intensive care unit at Oregon Health and Science University during last August’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

That emergency room is located at Portland Providence Medical Center in northeast Portland, according to Multnomah County spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.

A Providence spokesperson said the hospital’s capacity issues were not unique and said no one in need of care had been turned away.

“Over the past week, all emergency services in the Portland area have been operating at or near capacity,” Providence spokesman Gary Walker said. “Emergency services continue to see everyone who comes through our doors seeking treatment, even when ambulances are diverted or rerouted.”

On Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority reported more than 7,615 newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases, a new pandemic record and the fourth straight record day. The number is undercounted, given the lack of access to PCR testing and the widespread use of home antigen tests, which trigger no reports to public health.

Hospitals reported 588 people in care who tested positive.

Related: Will Omicron overwhelm Oregon hospitals? Here’s what we know so far

Public health departments in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties also announced that they will no longer be doing contact tracing and investigating individual cases.

People infected with omicron become contagious and symptomatic more quickly than people with earlier variants, PCR tests are hard to come by, and home test results are not reported to public health departments. As a result, contact tracing isn’t really working, health workers said.

“It’s a bit like bringing a snow shovel to a tornado. It’s a great tool, but it’s the wrong tool,” said Clackamas County Health Officer Dr. Sara Present.

Instead of waiting for a call or individual follow-up if your test is positive, public health departments are asking people to seek information from the health system that performed the test or follow online recommendations from health authorities. county, state and federal government.

Some public health staff from case investigation teams are being reassigned to work on the effort to get more vaccines and boosters, and others will focus on outbreak investigations in high-risk settings. risk.

Public health officials have said most people should expect to encounter the virus this month.

People aged 50 and over — as well as people with underlying health conditions — are at higher risk of serious illness, officials said. They should take extra precautions and ask the people they spend time with to do the same.

Most important: Ask about booster shots, wear a properly fitting mask around other people, and limit unnecessary gatherings.

People should have a plan in place in case they get sick.

People who are at higher risk of infection due to age or medical condition should call their health care provider if they become ill.

People 50 and under are most likely to have mild cold-like symptoms and recover at home.

With testing supplies limited, people with symptoms of COVID-19 should assume they have the virus whether or not they can get confirmation.

This means isolating yourself from others for at least five days, according to guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom, if possible. Stay hydrated and rest. Wear a good mask, including around household members, for 10 full days and avoid contact with people at risk of serious illness for 10 days.

Health workers said they are not planning any further mandatory restrictions on business or gatherings, but are asking people to consider postponing large gatherings or moving them online.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Providence Portland did not discharge anyone seeking emergency care on Tuesday.