The State of Oregon continues to set new records in COVID-19 infections with over 2,100 new cases and 30 deaths today, Dec. 4.
However, in the midst of the recent surge, Governor Kate Brown said "hope is one the way," as Oregon is expecting its first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine this month.
This week, Oregon’s statewide two-week freeze ended and the new ‘Risk and Safety’ framework was launched. The framework showed the majority of the state has moved into the extreme risk level, which means the virus is still widespread across 25 counties who remain under tight restrictions.
“We are not out of this crisis yet. I know it’s hard to imagine, but in fact, our hardest days still lie ahead,” Gov. Brown said during a press conference Friday. “Oregon hospitals are filling up and many are reducing elective surgeries.”
Oregon’s death toll surpassed 1,000 this week since the onset of the pandemic and for four straight days, the state recorded double-digit deaths.
“Every death represents and empty seat at a holiday dinner, a warm hug that’s missed, a winter morning walk that cannot happen… and we mourn every one of them,” Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Pat Allen said.
Although the OHA modeling for the coming weeks looks grim, Gov. Brown announced that two vaccines are currently awaiting final United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The two vaccines from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, are expected to be shipped to Oregon Dec. 15. Gov. Brown said they expect to receive 35,000 doses from Pfizer Dec. 15, followed by over 70,000 doses from Moderna on Dec. 22. A second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is expected Dec. 22, with 40,950 doses. Oregon anticipates having 147,000 first doses of both vaccines in December and expects an additional 87,000 of Pfizer’s and 31,000 Moderna’s vaccine Dec. 29 to provide a second dose to patients who received the first dose. These numbers are subject to change.
The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will be reviewing and confirming each FDA approval starting next week.
“It’s remarkable that scientific strides have enabled us to get a vaccine in just mere months into this historic pandemic,” Gov. Brown said. “Rigorous clinical trials have not only worked to ensure the vaccines are safe, but that they are safe for our vulnerable and diverse communities.”
Health official said the Pfizer vaccine was found to be 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 and the Moderna vaccine was found to be 94.5 percent effective. By comparison, Rachael Banks, OHA Public Health Division Director, said the flu vaccine is 40-60 percent effective among the overall population.
“I must admit, when we first, as a nation, started talking about vaccine development, I did not think we’d be looking at a 95 percent effective rate,” Banks said. “While we know that all vaccines may cause some side effects for people, in this case, about one in ten people who take the COVID-19 vaccines may experience some mild side effects. These common side effects include pain, swelling or redness where the shot was given, mild fever, chills, feeling tired, headache and muscle aches.”
Health officials have also learned that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective against severe cases. Among the small population who received that vaccine, none of the cases progressed to a severe case that needed to be hospitalized.
In line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, priority will be given to frontline healthcare workers and long-term care residents and employees as the first group to receive the vaccine. All Oregonians in these settings will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of January 2021, Gov. Brown said.
According to Allen, the second wave of people who will likely get the vaccine are essential workers, individuals with health issues and adults 65 and older. However, that is unlikely to occur until several months from now, he says.
“The introduction of a vaccine, however, doesn’t end this pandemic,” Gov. Brown said. “Right now, and into the foreseeable future, the only ways to reduce transmission and slow the spread is to take safety precautions until the vaccine is both widely available and widely administered. And this is going to take time.
“I know these are the vaccines we have all been waiting for and as we work across Oregon and the entire country to get them widely distributed, I am asking you all to buckle down for just a little bit longer. We can finally see a light at the end of this tunnel, but we are certainly not there yet.”
Since mid-November, OHA has reported over 1,000 new cases per day all but twice. With case tallies from Thanksgiving weekend just now starting to trickle in, case totals are expected to increase significantly in December.
The day Oregon’s two-week ‘freeze’ began, Banks said the virus transmission rate was at 1.25, meaning each person who became infected with the virus was spreading it to more than one other person on average. With that transmission rate, OHA’s modeling for Dec. 11-24 predicts infections in 660 individuals per 100,000, which translates to an average of over 2,000 cases and 75 severe cases per day.
The modeling does not include a potential spike in transmission rates that could be caused by Thanksgiving weekend. If the transmission rate increases, Oregon could have 920 cases per 100,000 people, meaning Oregon would have 2,700 new cases per day and severe cases would increase to 110 per day.
“It’s too soon to say how the Thanksgiving holiday affected our transmission rates and you may be wondering did the protections Gov. Brown put into place through the freeze offset the increase in cases due to holiday gatherings? Or did the holiday add more fuel to the surge that’s happening across the country as people spend more time indoors together? It’s too soon to definitively say,” Banks said.
Despite the surge, Gov. Brown said surveys and data regarding face covering use, transportation statistics and more show that many Oregonians are following the safety guidelines set by the state. Data showed that more than 84 percent of Oregonians are wearing a face covering on a regular basis.
“To every one of you that continues to make smart choices and follow our public health recommendations that help stop the disease from spreading further, thank you,” Gov. Brown said. “You are helping protect our doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, postal workers, agricultural workers and the many others who we count on to keep society going during the pandemic.”