Oregon health officials are once again pleading with the public to get vaccinated, stay home when possible, and mask up in public.
This time it’s because the state’s hospitals are getting slammed by a triple whammy of respiratory illnesses.
Emergency rooms are full of people with COVID-19, influenza and RSV, Oregon state health officer Dean Sidelinger said during a media briefing Thursday.
The situation now is worse than during previous COVID-19 waves, he said.
Statewide, fewer than 5% of hospital beds are currently vacant.
As a result, people needing emergency care should expect to wait as long as 12 hours to be seen, may be treated in a hallway, and may have to share a room, health officials said. Scheduled surgeries also may be canceled.
“The situation facing our hospitals is extremely serious,” Sidelinger said. “Things will get worse before they get better.”
Oregon saw an almost five-fold increase in RSV cases between Oct. 23 and Nov. 13, Sidelinger said. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, can cause severe infection in infants and older adults.
Influenza activity has doubled for five consecutive weeks, with test positivity increasing from 1% to 30%. Hospitalizations of elderly people with flu increased 10-fold during that time, Sidelinger said.
COVID-19, meanwhile, is holding steady.
On Wednesday, in response to the continuing surge of respiratory illnesses, Gov. Kate Brown extended a state of emergency.
Her order calls for the Oregon Health Authority and other state agencies to deploy emergency volunteer health care workers and designate emergency health centers.
OHA also is pursuing up to $25 million in supplemental nurse staffing contracts.
Brown originally issued the order in mid-November to give hospitals flexibility to address the rise in pediatric hospitalizations related to respiratory viruses. The updated order extends that to hospitals treating adult patients.
Pleas to mask, stay home
At the briefing, health officials said they hope people will seriously consider whether to hold gatherings or be in crowded public places.
New parents should feel empowered to say “no” to visitors for the next few weeks, said Wendy Hasson, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland.
The Oregon Nurses Association has asked the state to call on the National Guard for help, as it did during the height of COVID-19 infections.
Sidelinger said the state does not plan to do so. That’s because many guard members would have to leave their regular jobs, which also are important, and because gearing up for guard staffing requires training that would take medical staff away from their duties.
Sidelinger also said that unlike during previous waves of COVID-19, the state won’t mandate mask-wearing.
“We know that Oregonians have stepped up in the past,” Sidelinger said. “I anticipate that as we share these stories of what’s happening in our health care system, that Oregonians will choose to wear a mask and we won’t have to resort to a mask mandate.”
“I really am pleading with people,” he added.
Tracy Loew covers the environment at the Statesman Journal. Send comments, questions and tips firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-399-6779. Follow her on Twitter at@Tracy_Loew