Portland-area counties say they don’t expect a call from contact tracers as COVID-19 saturates community

Portland area public health officials on Thursday issued stern warnings that as the omicron variant of COVID-19 invades the metropolitan area most people will be exposed to the virus, shouldn’t expect a call from contact tracers and should mentally prepare for tough times coming weeks.

“People can spread omicron anywhere before public health knows it,” said Dr Sarah Present, Clackamas County health official. She likened the practice of contact tracing to “bringing a snow shovel to a tornado.” This is a great tool, but just not the right tool for omicron.

“People who are positive for COVID right now,” she added, “should expect them to have omicron and they shouldn’t expect to hear directly from public health. “

Health workers in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties have announced that they are diverting their efforts from contact tracing, even more than they already have. Instead, they said they would focus on rolling out more vaccinations and public reminders and helping people find COVID-19 tests. They will also devote their time to answering the hundreds of phone calls that flood their offices daily.

New known cases are at record highs, averaging around 4,000 a day statewide, nearly double the peak during the delta surge last summer, and more than 2.5 times more than a week ago.

Washington County health official Dr Christina Baumann said many Oregonians will soon be infected with omicron, if they haven’t already. Some will not have symptoms, while others will. They should be prepared for the very real possibility of wondering if they have omicron or some other illness like the common cold or the flu.

“You may not be able to confirm what you have with a timely test,” Baumann said. “If you get sick with or without a positive test, assume you have COVID-19 because that’s what’s circulating in large quantities. Take action to protect those around you.

Baumann said this includes seclusion in a room away from other members of the household, using a separate bathroom if possible, medication with over-the-counter remedies and calling a caregiver. health care in case of high risk of serious illness.

Public health officials are urging the public not to go to the emergency room if all they are looking for is a COVID-19 test. Emergency departments in Oregon are particularly busy now, in part because of the growing influx of COVID-19 patients.

Multnomah County health official Dr Jennifer Vines said calls for emergency medical services rose 40% last week. A large Portland-area emergency department “was physically strapped for space yesterday afternoon,” Vines said. County spokesperson identified later the department as at Providence Portland Medical Center.

While omicron will likely cause mild illness in most people, it should make a small percentage seriously ill. But given the large number of people infected, that small percentage will flood hospitals, she said.

“Because it’s going to spread quickly… they’re all going to need care at the same time,” Vines said.

Hospitals from Wednesday to Thursday saw the biggest increase in COVID-19 patients in weeks – with 588 hospitalized on Thursday, a 12% increase from the previous day. A new forecast released Thursday by Oregon Health & Science University predicts a peak in hospitalizations to about 1,650 people on Jan. 27, days earlier but otherwise unchanged from last week’s pattern. The model also shows a rapid decline in hospitalizations as the virus runs out of new people to infect, returning to pre-omicron hospitalization levels in mid-February – a much faster drop than seen during the Delta Wave.

The Oregon Nurses Association, the union representing 15,000 nurses and health workers, on Thursday called on heads of state and hospital administrators to institute a series of measures to mitigate the blow, including requiring N95 masks for everything. frontline healthcare workers working in facilities with outbreaks, significantly expanding COVID-19 testing, and filtering and limiting visitors.

Meanwhile, Vines and other health workers are urging the public to make safer choices for their own benefit, as well as that of society. This includes wearing a high quality mask and limiting gatherings with other people outside their homes. Getting a boost will dramatically improve the odds of only enduring a mild infection.

“I suspect that we are all going to feel the pressure from the omicron spreading rapidly in our communities and the people who call in sick,” Vines said. “This will disrupt services. It’s going to affect hospitals, daycares, businesses, utilities because people stay home when they are sick which is the right thing to do. “

Vines continued, “It means I think we’re all going to feel some tension because of the wave of illness going through the community.”

– Aimée Verte; [email protected]; @o_aimee

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