After the most deadly week of the pandemic—187 Oregonians were reported dead from COVID-19-related causes in the past seven days—it is small comfort to know Oregon is doing well by the low standards of U.S. coronavirus response.

With all the different metrics around the pandemic, it can be confusing to understand how we compare with other states.

Throughout most of the year, for instance, Oregon appeared to rank near the bottom of the country in terms of how many people it tested for the virus. That changed Nov. 20, when state officials announced a switch in methodology from person-based counting (each person is counted once, no matter how many times he or she gets tested) to counting the number of actual tests given.

That shift made Oregon look like less of an outlier. With the new methodology, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, we rank 35th out of 50 states.

But testing isn't the most useful metric of the pandemic's impact. The number of tests given determines two other closely watched metrics: test positivity rate and cases of COVID per capita. The accuracy of the latter is further undermined by unknown number of people who are positive but don't get tested.

Carlos Crespo, a professor and vice provost at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, says two measurements—current hospitalizations and deaths—are less subject to variation.

"The most stable indicator is mortality," Crespo says. "It's reliable and every state is counting the same way."

Hospitalizations are not quite as standardized, but they are a strong indicator of the level of serious illness in a state.

And by these two standards, as the charts below show, Oregon's results are among the best.

Oregon's response to COVID-19 has sometimes appeared inconsistent and timid, especially to the medical workers risking contagion. But stay-home orders went into place before the coronavirus spread widely this spring, unlike in New York City and other Northeast viral hubs. It's also true we are the envy of places like North Dakota and Iowa, where elected officials refused to require masks in public well into November.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, says Oregonians' willingness to follow orders has played a big role in our outcomes.

Says Sidelinger, "We have had relatively good adherence with guidelines, including wearing masks."


Oregon has a lower rate of death from COVID-19 than all but four states and far lower than the national average. Here's a comparison of Oregon with the two highest and lowest states since the pandemic began.


Even with the large increase in the past month, Oregon has a lower rate of current hospitalization from COVID-19 than all but four states and far lower than the national average. Here's a comparison of Oregon with the two highest states and the two lowest.