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Oregon hospitals at capacity, urge omicron prevention ahead of holidays

Major health networks in Oregon say they're already at the breaking point, caring for COVID patients and those with other needs, and another surge would be too much.

OREGON, USA — Hospitals spanning the state say they are already at capacity, urging Oregonians to take action in preventing the spread of the omicron variant during the holidays.

On Tuesday, many of the major health networks in Oregon co-signed a news release asking people to take omicron seriously, continue masking, get vaccinated against COVID, get boosted if eligible and keep holiday gatherings small.

"The difficulty of this current situation is that hospitals are full today," said Dave Northfield of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS). 

OAHHS represents 62 community hospitals across the state, and Northfield told KGW most report being overwhelmed with COVID hospitalizations and a backlog of other medical procedures.

"I would say to the folks that don't think that COVID may affect them, they may need to go to the hospital, and there may not be space for those people," Northfield said.

Capacity and ongoing staffing shortages exacerbate the concerns.

"Our teams really are burned out," said Wendy Watson, chief operating officer of Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

"[The pandemic] is unrelenting," said Dr. Renee Edwards, chief medical officer with Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). "It's with them every day and it's exhausting."

OHSU released predictions last week that an omicron surge could lead to a peak of about 3,000 COVID hospitalizations statewide, compared to about 1,200 at the peak of the delta surge in September.

RELATED: Omicron-fueled COVID wave is on the way for Oregon, Gov. Brown says

NBC News reports COVID hospitalizations are already going up nationally, particularly in the Midwest and East Coast. Its data show Oregon and Washington with a slight decrease in cases over the last few weeks, but OHSU says exponential omicron growth poses a big risk to the remaining population that is unvaccinated and even those who have not received a booster. 

"The sheer number of folks who could be infected will have a real impact on the number of people we would be able to care for," Edwards said.

RELATED: Washington health officials discuss COVID-19 pandemic as omicron variant surges

OHSU, OAHHS and Kaiser all told KGW that hospital systems are still having to delay surgeries and treatment for other medical conditions because of COVID, capacity limits and low staffing.

"Just this feeling that we can't deliver the care that we want to give to everyone," Watson described. "But we know if every single person got vaccinated, we could get out of this."

"This really is an all hands on deck moment," Northfield said.

"We know how to be safe, we know how to control the spread of this disease," Edwards added.

Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health, OHSU, PeaceHealth and Providence said each prevented illness helps free up the medical system. They expressed hope Oregonians would again step up to defy projections of a new surge from omicron.

"We have this window of opportunity to change it, but to do that will take everyone in the community working together to make that happen," Watson said.

RELATED: Biden plans free at-home COVID-19 test measure, will increase hospital support