Oregonians received promising news about the upcoming arrival of COVID-19 vaccines Friday—as well as some sobering new coronavirus case numbers.
Gov. Kate Brown announced at a press conference Friday that the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) will report over 2,100 new cases in its daily COVID-19 update—a new record for the state. OHA will also report 30 deaths Friday, another unprecedented number.
Brown added that OHA modeling shows that Oregon’s coronavirus numbers could get even worse between now and Christmas Eve.
“We are not out of this crisis yet,” Brown said. “In fact, our hardest days still lie ahead.”
OHA officials at the press conference said that it’s still too early to tell how much of an impact Thanksgiving gatherings have had on Oregon’s overall case count. But Rachel Banks, OHA’s director of public health, said that the bulk of new cases are likely coming from “indoor social gatherings where people weren’t wearing masks.”
OHA Director Patrick Allen said Oregon has consistently had new daily case counts over 1,000 for weeks now, and that average could grow to over 2,000 later this month. The last time Oregon has had a new daily case count under 1,000 was on November 27, and the last time before that was on November 17.
Oregon hospitals have begun delaying patients’ elective surgeries, so as to make more beds available for COVID-19 patients.
“If we as Oregonians don’t step up our game… those cases will overtop our capacity,” said Dean Sidelinger, OHA’s state health officer. “We need everyone to protect ourselves, and protect our families… We’ve broken records that we never thought were possible to break here in Oregon.”
But amid the grim news about new case counts, Brown did point to a “light at the end of the tunnel”: Two vaccines that are said to be over 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. A vaccine advisory group for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to approve both vaccines in coming weeks, and Oregon expects to receive 147,000 first doses of the vaccine in December—with the first batch of 35,100 Pfizer vaccines coming on December 15.
“While these numbers are preliminary and subject to change… this is, no doubt, terrific news,” Allen said. He later added that the vaccine estimates could “potentially be aspirational,” meaning Oregon could end up with fewer doses this month because of supply chain problems.
Oregon will prioritize its frontline healthcare workers (including anyone who works at a hospital) and long-term care facility residents and workers to receive the vaccine first. Once those populations—some 370,000 people—have been vaccinated, essential workers, people with medical conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID-19, and people 65 and older will be next in line.
OHA officials hope to have all frontline healthcare workers and long-term care populations vaccinated by the end of January. It’s not known when the general population will start receiving the vaccine, though officials are hopeful that process will begin before next summer.
Banks said that the two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are “highly safe and effective,” adding that at 95 percent effectiveness, they were significantly more beneficial than flu shots, which are between 40 and 60 percent effective. Banks also noted that even of the five percent of vaccine trial participants who still contracted COVID-19, none of them experienced the worst of its symptoms, and none of them died from the virus.
But Brown and OHA officials urged Oregonians not to take the good news about vaccines as an indication that they could ease up on health precautions.
“Let’s get through this dark winter and spring together,” Sidelinger said, “and come out into a very different world in the summer.”