As the nation careens toward its highest single-day count of new COVID-19 infections, Oregon is already there.
State officials on Friday announced 550 new COVID-19 cases, a single-day record since the pandemic began. Multnomah County reported 135 cases, also a new high.
The grim news follows a week in which new infections subsided slightly after reaching new peaks in early October.
"COVID-19 is spreading across Oregon," Oregon Health Authority senior health adviser Dr. Shimi Sharief said this afternoon. "It is gaining steam."
In the late afternoon Friday, Gov. Kate Brown returned Multnomah County to the state's County Watch List, a signal that the virus was spreading quickly in Portland and health officials had little concept of why.
Multnomah County had been removed from that list on Aug. 28. Counties are added to the list when 50 in every 100,000 people have contracted COVID-19 from an unknown source in the past two weeks.
"With cold and flu season upon us—as well as the holidays—I am urging all Oregonians to continue following the advice and guidance of our medical experts," Brown said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this also means limiting travel and family and social get-togethers."
Sharief said health officials continue to trace most new cases to informal gatherings held in homes. Some cases, she said, appeared to emerge from "learning pods" where parents brought schoolchildren together for distance learning.
"We cannot emphasize enough that Oregonians cannot let their guard down when interacting with people outside their household," Sharief said. "We're all tired, and we miss seeing people we care about. However, we need to be smart."
Oregon joins at least six other states—Alaska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah—in reporting new record caseloads today, according to The New York Times. Hospitalizations have increased 40% in the past month, the Times reported, pushing hospitals to the brink of capacity. The Oregonian reported earlier this week that Idaho, experiencing one of the nation's worst surges of the virus, is preparing to send patients to Oregon hospitals.
But OHA officials say that hasn't yet happened—and might not.
"OHA has spoken with its colleagues in Idaho, and at this time those colleagues are not aware of any plans for any Idaho hospitals to move patients to Oregon," says OHA spokesman Tim Heider. "Earlier this week, Idaho public health officials informed OHA that reports were that hospitals there were still 'holding their own.'"
Heider added that hospitals in Eastern Oregon, near a surge of cases in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, have not been asked to take any patients from the neighboring state.
Oregon's own hospitalization numbers are down slightly from last week—dropping from 147 patients to 143—but are on an upward trajectory. Sharief said that long-term trends show Oregon hospitals would run out of intensive care beds in two months.
"We are nearing hospital capacity," Sharief said. "We could be reaching capacity toward the end of December."