On Christmas, a Ray of Hope in Oregon’s COVID-19 Wards

Hospitalizations have dropped nearly 19% in the past two weeks.

Christmas Day brought some modest good news to Oregon hospitals: The COVID-19 burden on hospital beds is receding.

Statewide, 472 COVID patients were in hospital beds on Christmas morning.

That's a nearly 19% decrease in the two weeks since Dec. 9, when the hospitalization numbers neared a record high of 580 patients. In the Portland region, hospital capacity sits at 78%, its lowest figure in recent weeks.

Related: Hospitalizations and deaths are the most stable indicators of the virus' spread.

The numbers were released this morning by the Oregon Health Authority. They follow a weekly report in which OHA said hospitalizations the week of Dec. 14-20 fell 11% from the week prior.

Those positive trends must be viewed in a bleak context, however: As recently as October, as few as 121 people were hospitalized in Oregon with the virus. Since then, COVID-19 has spread rapidly in a "second wave" that has exploited holiday gatherings and threatened to overwhelm the state's health care capacity.

In neighboring California, many hospital systems ran out of intensive care beds this week—a reminder of how precarious any of Oregon's gains could be.

"We don't have space for anybody. We've been holding patients for days because we can't get them transferred, can't get beds for them," Alexis Lenz, an emergency room doctor in Imperial County, Calif., told The Associated Press on Dec. 24.

Oregon's weekly report does not suggest the state is anywhere near containing the virus's spread. More than half of Oregon's new cases since October have been "sporadic"—meaning health officials can't trace them back to a specific source. That says the virus is moving through Oregon in ways and places the state can't explain.

The state reported 187 deaths the week of Dec. 14. That crushes previous weekly records, although many of those deaths occurred earlier in the second wave and were reported slowly by overwhelmed counties.