Oregon Health Officials Aren’t Telling the Public How Severe the COVID-19 Outbreak Is. They Should.

The Oregon Health Authority isn’t releasing several key numbers.

It's already clear COVID-19 has shut down the state of Oregon and is poised to overwhelm the state's health care system.

But the public still has only a hazy picture of how many people in Oregon are sick, or how dramatically the virus is affecting hospitals.

That's in no small part due to failures by the federal government to prepare—specifically, to have an adequate number of test kits available for patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

But right now, Oregonians could have a more complete picture of the disease than is being offered by the Oregon Health Authority, which isn't releasing several key numbers of how many people are seriously ill, and what strain that's placing on the state's health care resources.

Each day, OHA releases the number of COVID-19 cases by county and the number of people who have died. (At press deadline, Oregon had 209 cases and eight deaths.)

But the agency has been less than transparent about figures that could show whether the virus is overwhelming hospitals. Media pressure caused OHA to reveal some numbers about hospitalizations, and reporting by The Oregonian shows 1 in 20 patients arriving at emergency rooms have COVID-like symptoms.

UPDATE, 4:15 pm: Facing pressure, the Oregon Health Authority has released additional numbers.

But we still don't know how many are really sick, and whether hospitals can keep pace. That's information citizens deserve. Here are the key data points the Oregon Health Authority could be posting daily:

The increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19
Last Tuesday, OHA stopped posting the number of hospitalizations due to the illness. OHA says it didn't have access to data on patients who tested positive at commercial labs. After pressure from the news media, the agency began posting that data again. But it has not filled in the gaps, showing how fast hospitalizations started to climb. (OHA argues it can can effectively track the course of the virus with emergency room visits due to COVID-19 symptoms.)

The number of ICU hospitalizations due to COVID-19
These are the serious cases—the ones that put people in intensive care unit beds. Oregon has very few such beds, so tracking that number is important. OHA says it isn't tracking this. But this data is being provided in other states: New York has begun releasing this number daily.

The number of ventilators in use due to COVID-19
How many people are so sick they need help breathing? OHA says it isn't tracking this.

Portion of the state's 6,600 hospital beds in use
State officials declined to release any data on this question. They acknowledge it's key data and are working with the hospitals to make sure they have an accurate count going forward.

Portion of the state's 1,059 ICU beds in use
Same answer.

Portion of the state's 688 ventilators in use
"Not available," says OHA spokesman Philip Schmidt, because agency does not necessarily know how many ventilators hospitals have at any given moment. But that's something hospitals could report to the state.