So. Oregon health officials discuss Omicron as state sets new daily record for COVID-19 cases

MEDFORD, Ore. – The record for single-day COVID-19 cases reached a new high Tuesday, as the Omicron variant takes hold in Oregon. While state and local health officials said the more contagious Omicron variant is definitely here at a local level, they don’t know how prevalent it is.

Tuesday, Oregon hit 4,540 new COVID-19 cases, a new record. The contagious omicron variant is here, but in Southern Oregon, county health officials don’t know how widespread the new variant is.

“Given how quickly our numbers doubled up last week, I think we can be pretty certain that what we’re seeing is omicron takeover at this point in our community,” said Dr. Leona O’Keefe, Jackson Co. Public Health.

Both Jackson and Josephine County are, as much of the state, seeing a spike in cases. While public health suspects it’s the new variant, they don’t know for sure.

“It’s somewhere between relatively new and having overtaken Delta. We know it’s heading in that direction. We know it’s in the community. We just don’t know if it’s actually reached that point of being more prominent than Delta,” said Michael Weber, Josephine Co. Public Health.

Our region’s public health officials simply don’t have the capability to test for omicron locally. Instead, they’ve been sending samples to the Oregon Health Authority. Something public health says takes time.

“We aren’t sure what the actual rates are at this time. We haven’t gotten an update in about two weeks, the holidays are kind of interfering with that,” said Weber.

The CDC said the Omicron variant spreads much more easily than previous strains of COVID-19, but while symptoms are often milder it does still present risks to some. They said it still has the potential for this new variant to overwhelm our hospitals, especially because Oregon has one of the worst hospital beds per capita ratios in the country.

“The overwhelming of the private health care system is probably the biggest risk that we are facing right now. And we’re hoping that the lighter symptom load and the increased rate of vaccinations will minimize that impact for us,” said Weber.

So while some people are fatigued by COVID-19, 22 months into this pandemic, public health officials are urging everyone to continue following masking and social distancing guidelines. This variant can still put your loved one, or even your parent, in the hospital.

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