There is reason to celebrate, in other words, “light at the end of a very long” tunnel, while Oregonians continue to push their way through the pandemic.
COVID-19 hospital admissions are declining according to the latest forecasts from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).
The number of people admitted with COVID-19 has peaked and will steadily decline until they reach pre-micron levels by the end of March, the latest forecast from 10 February shows.
OHSU reported a few weeks ago that on May 1, the number of hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19 could drop from 1,100 in February to just 100.
The previous Omicron height for hospital admissions took place on January 27, a time when 1,130 people were lying on hospital beds.
Another chart in the February 3 forecast distinguishes between random admissions and admissions for COVID-19. Public health officials predict by March 1 that over half of inpatients who test positive for COVID-19 will be admitted with rather than for the disease.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 death forecast takes the form of a parabola on its head, moving closer and closer to zero as Oregon approaches spring and summer.
OHSU’s projections appear to be in line with policy changes announced Monday, Feb. 7 by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). In a press release, the OHA announced that the agency will remove general mesh requirements for indoor public places and schools by March 31st.
On the same day, the OHA went through filing a permanent rule requiring Oregonians to adopt facewear indoors, despite unanimous opposition from those who testified at the January 20 hearing.
State health officials argued that the application was the only way OHA could extend the current temporary mask rule after its expiration date, or until mask rules would no longer be needed to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics Dr. Peter Graven, Ph.D., stressed the importance of being vaccinated and boosted, as well as adhering to the mask mandate as the number of admissions decreases.
“It’s important for people to stick to masking through the next few weeks,” Graven said. “Even though our forecast projects are lit at the end of a very long tunnel, we can not forget the fact that hospitals in Oregon are still struggling to provide timely care to anyone who needs it.”
“This is a welcome trend,” said OHA senior communications officer Jonathan Modie. “But we are far from out of danger. Our hospitals are still dependent on about 1,300 members of the National Guard and nearly 1,200 physicians that Oregon has had to pick up from other states. As infections continue to decline, we expect daily admissions to remain high for several more weeks. “
Modie offered an optimistic view, provided Oregon is adamant in taking protective measures until March 31st.
“We fully expect COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations to continue to move downward by March 31,” he said. “Our emergence from the Omicron attack depends on our continued diligence over the next two months. We can not risk wasting our hard-earned progress.”
Local public health response
Columbia County Public Health Director Michael Paul said he believes the OHA’s move to end the mandate for the indoor mask is the right call given the drop in hospital admissions despite the Omicron variant.
“I think the announcement and timeline are appropriate as hospital admissions will not fall as fast as cases and also because COVID has brutally taxed our healthcare systems over the last two years,” Paul said. “OHA will be confident that requirements for lifting masks will not lead to a resurgence of cases.”
According to Paul, the data looks promising, but an abundance of caution is still needed.
“There’s a lot of pressure to finish it faster, and also to give a date,” Paul said, confirming the OHA’s decision. “But the OHA uses hospital admissions to run (it).”
While Oregon prepares to mandate the indoor mask, local business owners only have weeks to decide whether to maintain, change, or remove their indoor mask policies altogether.
Small business owners should be on the lookout for the latest restrictions, requirements and security measures for businesses that may deviate from the guidance offered to the public, according to Columbia Economic Team CEO Paul Vogel.
Vogel also stressed that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to business owners’ responses.
“For companies that contact us regarding the consequences of this action, our advice is quite simple and straightforward,” Vogel said. “Be confident and do what you feel is necessary to keep your customers and employees safe.”