PORTLAND, Ore. — As vaccine administration continues to ramp up in Oregon, health officials said Friday they are concerned about the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the state and variants of the virus.
During the past two weeks, Oregon's COVID-19 case count rates have been rising. The week of March 22 coronavirus cases increased by 28% from the previous week, based on the Oregon Health Authority's COVID-19 report that was released Wednesday.
“It is clear that in Oregon and across the country the fourth surge of the virus is at our doorstep,” Gov. Kate Brown said Friday.
Health officials say that if more contagious variants take hold in Oregon, the COVID-19 transmission rate in the state could increase by 20% during April.
“As this latest model shows, we still have work to do. We must remain vigilant,” said Dean Sidelinger, the health officer for the Oregon Health Authority.
A rise in cases is not just a concern in Oregon. Earlier this week, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pleaded with Americans not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19, warning of a potential fourth wave of the virus and saying she has a recurring feeling “of impending doom.”
Speaking during a virtual White House briefing on Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky grew emotional as she reflected on her experience treating COVID-19 patients who are alone at the end of their lives.
Brown said that while Oregon's increase is not as large as spikes in other states, the issue has put officials and Oregonians “back on alert.”
Officials say that if cases continue to rise, some counties may move back a risk level, in which stricter restrictions are implemented.
In addition, officials warned this week that as Oregonians celebrate upcoming holidays, to continue to follow restrictions and safety measures, including gathering outdoors instead of inside and wearing a mask.
“We have come so far,” Brown said. “Don’t let the vaccines and sunny spring weather give us a false sense that we are in the clear, because we are not. This virus has proven that it can mutate.”
Multiple variants have been reported across the state and circulating since late 2020.
“This is a race between the vaccines and the variants, it is a critical moment for all to double down so we can outrun this next wave,” Brown said.
So far, 17% of Oregonians have been fully vaccinated.
Beginning Monday, statewide, frontline workers, people living in multi-generational households and adults 16 and older with underlying health conditions are eligible for the vaccine. As of Wednesday, twenty counties received approval from the Oregon Health Authority to accelerate their vaccination timelines and have already begun vaccinating this group.
In addition, Gov. Brown announced Friday that household family members of frontline workers will also become eligible for vaccine doses on Monday.
Officials say that all residents 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine by May 1.
“Just because we’re vaccinated doesn’t mean we can return to pre-pandemic life just yet,” said Sidelinger. "Until we see enough Oregonians vaccinated to stop the spread, we must continue with those preventive measures. We cannot cede our momentum to the virus.”