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Hospitals, health workers stressed by Oregon's recent surge in COVID-19 cases

In some regions of the state, ICU bed occupancy rates are at 83%.

PORTLAND, Ore. — After a week of photo ops and jubilation over the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine, health workers in Oregon caution the state is still facing a significant challenge.

A surge in seriously ill coronavirus patients over the past few weeks has strained the health care system.

“We’re really in the thick of it right now,” said Dr. Katie Sharff, Infectious Disease Specialist for Kaiser Permanente.

Sharff explained hospitalizations lag about two weeks behind case increases.

“As we see a surge in cases, we anticipate more and more hospitalized patients, sicker patients and then unfortunately more deaths from COVID-19,” warned Sharff.

In some regions of the state including the Portland metro area, intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy rates are at 83%, according to data provided by the Oregon Health Authority.

The ICU at OHSU Hillsboro Medical Center is at 100% capacity, an OHSU spokesperson said. 

RELATED: Over 100,000 COVID-19 cases reported in Oregon during pandemic

“It’s been a lot of work and a lot of stress,” said Eric Cathey, an ICU nurse with Kaiser Permanente.

On Friday, Cathey received a COVID-19 vaccine, then spoke with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown via Zoom.

Cathey told the governor he wishes the public could see the devastating impact of this virus first-hand, but patient privacy laws or HIPPA prevents that.

“I wish HIPPA wasn’t a thing so we could just walk and show people exactly what is going on in these units and how wild and crazy and scary it is to see just how sick people are,” explained Cathey.

Oregon has little margin for error, with the fewest hospital beds per capita in the country.

Health officials emphasize, it’s not just hospital bed capacity they’re concerned about but also a shortage of personnel and healthcare workers.

RELATED: VERIFY: Several states report cuts in Pfizer vaccine allocations

Sharff added that this situation should not deter sick people from seeking care.

“What we don’t want is for those individuals who have other medical conditions to be afraid to get care,” said Sharff. “It is safe to get care in the hospital.”

On Friday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 1,390 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 100,308.

To help ease pressure on the health care system and slow the spread of COVID-19, health officials remind everyone to wear a mask and socially distance.

Additionally, it is critically important to avoid large gatherings during the holidays.

“Keep it small,” said Sharff. “Those family gatherings should just be your immediate family.”

RELATED: Oregon releases first steps in vaccine rollout plan

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