Oregon marked yet another grim milestone on Friday, when state health officials announced 457 new cases of COVID-19 in one day, the largest single-day caseload since the start of the pandemic, according to authorities.
Several factors are driving the recent rise, including a workplace outbreak in Clatsop County on the Northern Oregon Coast at Pacific Seafood, which is linked to at least 73 cases. But Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen said Friday that the precarious rise in cases after six weeks of declining numbers over the summer points to just how fragile the progress that Oregon has made in beating back the virus really is.
In just about every measure right now, data is pointing in the wrong direction, Allen says. Hospitalizations are up, and so is the increase in the percentage of tests that are coming back as positive, which is now over 6 percent of those being tested.
Other factors contributing to the rise, said Allen and state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger, include Labor Day gatherings among family and friends and college students returning to campus, with reports of cases linked to recent parties at both Oregon State and the University of Oregon. (Keep an eye on both schools in coming weeks, especially as PAC-12 football resumes, and people gather for watch parties in homes or at bars, too.)
The wildfires that ravaged the state this month have also taken a toll, health officials said Friday. Evacuees who are now staying with family and friends or who spent a few nights in a shelter risked exposure to the virus, as did fire crews working to battle the blazes. Doctors across the state are also tracking higher numbers of respiratory illness, linked both to the lingering effects of wildfire smoke and COVID-19.
It’s not yet clear whether the state’s increasing numbers might mean a return to the lockdowns of the spring, including closures of restaurants, bars, and restaurants. Sidelinger says if patterns emerge that indicate new cases are coming from particular sources, health officials could make new recommendations to Governor Brown. But at minimum, the new numbers are "discouraging" for K-12 schools around the state hoping to reopen for in-person instruction for at least the youngest students, Allen said Friday.
Still, Oregon remains one of the states that has had a low number of deaths and cases relative to its population. Whether that will remain true in the coming weeks, particularly as the rain sends more people indoors to socialize, is up to us.