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A deeper look at the COVID-19 death toll in Oregon

Nearly 1,000 Oregonians have died due to COVID-19 so far, and more than half of them were at least 80 years old.

PORTLAND, Ore. — COVID-19 cases are climbing, along with the number of deaths. More than 950 Oregonians have died because of the virus.

“It’s taken its toll,” said Dr. Rhett Cummings, a pulmonary and critical care doctor at the Oregon Clinic and Providence.

“We have at least 10 times more patients, COVID patients, at Providence Portland," he said. "That number is much, much higher than what it was even last spring and summer, whenever we had more surges at that point in time. This is a different type of surge.” 

On Tuesday the Oregon Health authority reported 24 deaths, the highest single day death toll so far.

As of Wednesday, a total of 953 people had died due to COVID-19.

RELATED: Oregon records highest number of weekly COVID-19 cases for a sixth straight week

More than half of those deaths are people 80 years old and over. Those between 70 and 79 years old made up about 22% of the death total. People 60-69 years of age made up roughly 15%.

“If you are over the age of 65, you have about a 90-fold increase in your mortality compared to someone who is in the 30-year-old age group," said Cummings as he read from a CDC chart. "75-year-olds, that jumps up to like 200 times. If you’re 85 years old, that jumps up to 600 times."

And if people in those groups have underlying conditions like heart disease, obesity, or if they smoke, the implications are even more severe.

“It doesn’t discriminate about who it infects. But it does have more severe effects on certain populations,” said Cummings.

Over at Oregon Health & Science University and the Portland VA Hospital, in a recent review of several dozen studies, Dr. Devan Kansagara  and his colleagues found people who are Black or Hispanic are inordinately affected by the virus.

"The rate of COVID infection in these groups is several times higher than in white populations and they constitute a disproportionate share of COVID-related deaths in our population,” Kansagara said.

RELATED: Here are the 108 active COVID-19 workplace outbreaks in Oregon

He said the reasons aren’t absolute, but there’s evidence pointing to risk of exposure, the susceptibility to other health conditions, and access to health care all being possible factors.

For doctors like Cummings, who are constantly dealing with COVID-19 patients and seeing death rates climb, the demands can be taxing.

“I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I didn’t say that I suffer from a certain degree of burnout,” said Cummings. “I personally have to remain really diligent about what I do when I’m not at work and trying to take care of myself, so I can come back to work and be the best doc I can be for these folks."

Even if you’re not exhibiting symptoms or are in an age group that is not part of the high-risk category, Cummings said it’s important to continue to wash your hands, stay socially distant, and wear a mask. He said unfortunately, for some people, the importance of that message won’t sink in until a close friend or family member gets sick.

“You’re a reservoir for the infection to jump from person-to-person," Cummings said. "It’s extraordinarily infectious.”

Watch: COVID-19 stories and updates

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