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OHA: increase in hospitalizations is more concerning than spike in cases

Oregon Health Authority sees a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations (Photo courtesy: CBS Newspath).{p}{/p}
Oregon Health Authority sees a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations (Photo courtesy: CBS Newspath).

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COVID-19 cases in Oregon and locally are on the rise but OHA says the number of overall cases is not quite as concerning as is the increase of hospitalization due to COVID-19 throughout the state.

Dr. Paul Cieslak, Medical Director for Communicable Diseases for the Oregon Health Authority said the recent spike in cases state-wide is in part due to contact tracing surrounding a couple of specific outbreaks.

"We're doing more testing and a lot of that testing is being conducted around some clusters so, they're people that we think are at very high risk of infection based on their proximity to other people that we know have been infected," Cieslak said.

Cieslak explained in New Port, a lot of testing was done after outbreaks in the workplace and at a church in La Grande.

"The La Grande outbreak has 218 cases identified in just a couple of days so that's an enormous part of the increase. That said we also have detected an increase in hospitalizations," he said. "The fact that hospitalizations are going up is really what concerns me."

Cieslak explained that with more testing availability, the numbers can be skewed.

"We are testing a lot of people who we have no reason to suspect should have the illness, all of those things can artificially mess with the case counts, and they have been. If we hadn't gone and done the big testing effort in La Grande for example then we would have 218 fewer cases, " he said.

What Cieslak said is most concerning for now is the increase in hospitalizations. He said fortunately hospitals still have sufficient personal protective equipment but explained it's a situation that needs to be monitored.

"I don't think we're in the situation yet where we have so many hospitalizations that they're running out of personal protective equipment in the hospitals, I think that is still at this point manageable, but if we see a lot more transmission in the community, it can overwhelm the system rapidly," he said.

While other states and counties have mandated wearing face masks or coverings out in public, up until now, it has always only been a recommendation in the state of Oregon.

According to Cieslak, the Oregon Health Authority looks at data and makes recommendations to the governor's office based on what they would advise.

"In general, we try to appeal to people's better angels and try to get them to undertake public health precautions voluntarily," Cieslak said. "I think if we're trying to reopen the state, which I think we need to do, and we're seeing people not heaving the advice, and case counts rising, you may see something from the governor that is going to mandate things," he said.

As of today Oregon Governor Kate Brown's office is now making face coverings a requirement for Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Hood River, Marion, Polk, and Lincoln county. The new requirement will be effective June 24.

Cieslak was unable to disclose if the state would need to be shut down again to help reduce the spike but, did explain, looking at data such as where the disease is, what places are getting the hit the hardest, and hospital capacity, the Oregon Health Authority makes recommendations.

"We've been following all of these parameters and we forward that information to the governor's office, the governor, in addition, has a medical advisory panel that she consults with and that's where the decisions get made," Cieslak said.

Cieslak noted a recommendation would be made if "we saw cases and hospitalizations increasing to the point where sometime in the next couple of weeks we're going to exceed our hospitals capacity, I think that would be the biggest factor weighing in on it," he said.

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