A high vaccination rate spared Portland and surrounding areas from the staggering number of cases reported elsewhere in Oregon during the Delta wave, but now the metro region is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases not experienced in over a year.
In the week beginning Nov. 15, 2020, Multnomah County logged 2,276 cases—a record never since broken—according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard. It was a wave that began around Halloween of last year and swamped hospitals last holiday season.
But in the past seven days, 2,350 new cases have been reported, with 641 reported today alone, according to the Oregon Health Authority’s daily updates. That may include cases that did not actually begin this week, but the numbers suggest the county is on track for a record.
Vaccines are still expected to provide significant protection from hospitalization and death during the Omicron variant’s wave—a significant difference from last year’s surge, which began before a vaccine had been approved.
But the numbers are an early indication that COVID-19 is rapidly spreading in Portland and surrounding areas.
Asked about the rising case counts earlier this week, county officials continued to urge Portlanders to get vaccinated, including with boosters.
“Omicron is a game changer,” said Kate Yeiser, a Multnomah County spokeswoman. “We expect this variant to spread quickly, especially among unvaccinated people and increasingly among people who are fully vaccinated and even boosted. The vaccines still offer good protection from severe disease, and very early information suggests the booster dose makes infection and severe disease even less likely.”
Yeiser also said public health officials are more concerned about tracking the hospitalization numbers. “Case counts as a marker of progress will become less relevant as Omicron spreads quickly and a higher proportion of cases are breakthrough and mild,” says Yeiser.
Hospitalizations have been rising across the state in the last week, though more slowly than case counts. As of Dec. 23, there were 339 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. That number is now 440. (OHA has now recorded 24 cases of Omicron in the state.)