PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Respiratory virus prevention measures like wearing masks and avoiding gatherings have helped limit transmission of RSV, COVID-19 and influenza during the holidays, but the state health officer and epidemiologist says Oregon is not out of the woods yet.
“While overall respiratory virus activity in our communities remains high and our hospital systems are still under extraordinary strain, with some operating near, 100% or even above capacity, we are seeing some improvements in hospitalizations for respiratory viruses,” said Dean Sidelinger, MD. , MSEd., from the Oregon Health Authority. “Unfortunately, our hospitals are not yet able to resume normal work flows.”
Sidelinger, speaking during OHA’s monthly COVID-19 press conference Thursday morning, thanked people in Oregon for following the advice of health experts who implored them to wear masks, keep their distance from others , avoid indoor gatherings, and get flu and COVID vaccines to reduce transmission during the holidays.
“I know many of you have made the difficult decision to postpone or limit that family gathering or forego that Christmas concert or play,” he said. “Know that our public health and healthcare partners appreciate your sacrifice.”
A recording of the briefing is available via YouTube at this link or below. Sidelinger’s comments are available at this link.
The situation with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has improved the most. Sidelinger said the state is well past the peak of RSV in children, which occurred on November 19, and hospitalizations are declining rapidly.
“This is very important for the capacity of children’s hospitals because RSV causes severe illness primarily in young children, although it can affect the elderly as well,” he said.
Influenza activity remains high in both adults and children, Sidelinger said. The state passed the peak of the adult flu season on December 3, but hospitalizations for children have plateaued and are only beginning to decline. But the situation will continue to improve, she predicted.
“We believe that influenza in adults will continue to decline and that cases among children will also begin to decline more rapidly,” he said.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations remain high after a rapid increase in November, but have fallen in the past week. However, the most recent forecast from the Oregon Health and Science University Office of Advanced Analysis predicts a small increase in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in February due to the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 known as XBB.1.5.
“OHA and its local healthcare and public health partners are keeping an eye on the new XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant that is spreading rapidly in the northeastern United States as it outpaces other variants,” Sidelinger said, adding that “It’s not yet widespread in Oregon.”
The best ways for people to protect themselves from the three circulating viruses remain a flu shot and a COVID-19 booster (the booster protects against XBB.1.5), as well as “proven measures” including wearing masks . , limit indoor gatherings, cover coughs and sneezes, wash your hands, and stay home when sick.
“Each of us has a role to play in slowing the spread of these viruses as we move into the winter, and that will help our health care system ensure hospital beds are available for those who need them most,” he said. .
Mpox (monkey pox)
Sidelinger also provided an update on Oregon’s response to the mpox outbreak that began last summer. He said OHA will change the frequency with which it reports the data on its mpox website from weekly to monthly after the number of cases drops to less than five per month. She attributed the low case count to the efficacy of the Jynneos mpox vaccine and the emphasis on encouraging healthcare providers to integrate the vaccine into routine health maintenance for people at high risk.
“We are not quite ready to declare victory against mpox, as we expect to continue to see a handful of cases in the coming months,” Sidelinger said. “But we are in a much better place than we were in August and October, and we will continue to work with our partners to promote testing and vaccination among people at risk of infection.”