Omicron in Oregon


State detects new variant; PeaceHealth urges continued protection from COVID-19

Dec. 18, 2021 — As of Monday, the State of Oregon confirmed its first three cases of the Omicron-variant of COVID-19.

Oregon Health & Science University Laboratory conducted the sequencing that detected the variant in samples from Washington and Multnomah counties on Dec. 13. 

“On Dec. 1, when the first case was reported in the United States, we shared that it was a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ the Omicron variant of COVID-19 would be detected in Oregon,” said Dean E. Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., health officer and state epidemiologist at Oregon Health Authority. “We recognize this news is concerning to many people. However, if history is our guide, we do know that even if a vaccine doesn’t target a specific variant, the strong immune response you get from being fully vaccinated can still be highly protective against severe disease from all COVID-19 variants.” 

According to Sidelinger, OHA and its laboratory partners will continue to monitor the spread of Omicron in Oregon with robust individual-level and community-level variant surveillance.

“It was only a matter of time before we identified the first case of the Omicron variant in Oregon," said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. "As we continue to learn more about this new variant, we know the measures that are most effective in helping to keep ourselves and our families safe from Omicron, Delta and other COVID-19 variants: get vaccinated, get your booster and wear a mask. That's the key to saving lives and keeping our businesses, schools and communities open. If you aren't yet vaccinated or need a booster dose, get an appointment or find a walk-in vaccine clinic in your area today."

Sidelinger added, “It can’t be emphasized enough that vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19 infection and transmission, including most circulating variants,” along with other protective measures, including wearing masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings, physically distancing from others, washing hands regularly, sanitizing surfaces and staying home when sick.

Locally, Dr. William Foster, M.D., PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Emergency Department Medical Director, gave some insight into the COVID-19 situation in the Siuslaw Region.

“It’s all the news is about, the new variety. We know there's going to be new varieties. We don't know enough about it yet, though. There's been a few cases, but there's still thousands of people dying daily from Delta,” he said. 

Oregon Health Authority tracks data through public.tableau.com/app/profile/oregon.health.authority.covid.19, where people can monitor variants, vaccinations, testing and other metrics.

As of Dec. 14, there have been 820 recorded cases of COVID-19 in the 97439 zip code, which includes the City of Florence. To the north, 97498 has had 54 cases. In all of Lane County, there have been a total of 30,482 cases and 336 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. Across the state, there have been 402,436 cases — with 21,601 hospitalizations — and 5,469 deaths.

PeaceHealth Peace Harbor in Florence still sees patients with COVID-19. Some people can get treatment for their symptoms and go home, but others are admitted. PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield is the region’s central hub for patients with COVID-19.

PeaceHealth also offers monoclonal antibody IV therapy, a form of immunotherapy traditionally used for patients with cancer and other diseases. It has proven to be effective for patients who have mild to moderate symptoms from COVID-19 and are at high risk of complications. The goal of the treatment is to prevent hospitalizations, reduce viral loads and lessen symptom severity.

“While numbers are down here in Lane County, we're seeing surges in other places, and the numbers are increasing in a lot of states,” Foster said. “Delta is probably 95 to 99% of the cases out there, but at some point, it will switch over to the new one. Time will tell if the new one is a little bit more infectious and easier to catch, or less severe.”

He said the medical field has learned a lot from the surge in the Delta variant, which occurred over the summer. This includes additional vaccination efforts, the onset of pediatric vaccine availability and increased eligibility for booster shots.

“We basically know: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask if you're inside, and possibly outside if you're around a lot of other people,” Foster said. “I think the new thing that's getting much more emphasis now is rapid testing.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, rapid tests for COVID-19 can be performed in minutes, often by the individual, to see if they have the virus.

“Self-tests are rapid tests that can be taken at home or anywhere, are easy to use and produce rapid results,” the CDC reports. 

While the more readily available tests can help people gain insight, some test results may need confirmatory testing. 

“The only thing with rapid with any kind of testing is, it’s only good for that point in time,” Foster said.

Anytime people are “mixing and mingling” this season, they should keep the pandemic in mind.

“It's always a balance of trying to return to some amount of normalcy versus being protective,” Foster said. “I think everybody would like to believe that COVID is going to go away. But by every indication, it's going to become much more like the flu. … Certainly, the experience so far is, it changes — all viruses do, and the flu virus does. That's why you get a vaccination every year. And some years the flu is worse than others. I think for the foreseeable future, COVID is probably going to follow that.”

For those wanting to get their COVID-19 booster shots, first and second doses and pediatric doses, those will be much more available in Lane County thanks to a partnership between Lane County Public Health, the Oregon Health Authority and PeaceHealth.

“We know many in our community have been eager to receive a booster dose and have been unable to schedule an appointment,” said Lane County COVID-19 Response Incident Commander Steve Adams. “With the help of the Oregon Health Authority and PeaceHealth, most of those individuals will now have multiple options to receive a dose in an expedited fashion.”

Besides currently scheduled Lane County Public Health clinics, where people can log in to www.lanecounty.org/vaxclinics to schedule an appointment, the county is providing walk-in vaccinations in Springfield.

The Annex Clinic will be held at PeaceHealth RiverBend Annex at 123 International Way in Springfield. It will serve any and all community members needing any one of the above vaccinations from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, beginning Dec. 17. The clinic is walk-in only with no appointment necessary and will offer Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson primary and booster doses.

Dr. Patrick Luedtke, Lane County Senior Public Health Officer, said, “We are now in both the holiday season and the rainy season here in the Willamette Valley, which spells perfect conditions for the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. This expanded availability for booster shots and prime doses is exactly what we need to add an additional layer of protection and start 2022 as healthy as we possibly can.”

Rural parts of Lane County offer vaccine clinics periodically. People can visit www.lanecounty.org/vaxclinics for information.

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