Oregon Might Avoid a Second Winter COVID Surge This Year

Forecasts are full of caveats, but researchers say it's possible that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

By Julia Silverman September 23, 2021

Oregon Air National Guard Senior Airman Angelica Soriano-Cervantes assigned to the 142nd Wing administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a walk-in patient at the Oregon Convention Center in January of 2021.

We’ve been burned by optimism before—but after this summer’s heart-breaking. Delta-variant propelled COVID surge through the unvaccinated population in Oregon, expert forecasts for the next six months suggest that the state is poised to avoid a second severe winter surge. 

That’s not to say that new cases and hospitalizations, which were higher in Oregon for the past six weeks than at any other point during the pandemic and remain agonizingly, stressfully high, are going to fall off the proverbial cliff. In fact, forecasts show a ploddingly slow decline through this fall, and there’s always the chance of complications that could reverse the trend lines. 

But take a look at these new scenarios released this week by the Centers for Disease Control which pull together nine different models from research groups across the country. Each one forecasts that under the most likely scenario, by January 1, 2022 new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Oregon will be way down from their current level. And by March 2022, they could fall to levels not seen since the earliest days of the pandemic. 

That’s a big change from last December and January, when the vaccination campaign was just getting underway and the state was in the throes of a bleak winter surge that led to the highest death totals to date. And it suggests, as National Public Radio reported this week, that the very worst days of the pandemic might be behind us. 

The scenarios are loaded with caveats—a new variant emerging could slow progress, vaccinations for children under the age of 11 could be delayed, or they could be available but the majority of parents could opt their kids out of getting the shot. 

Still, there are reasons for tempered hopefulness. New cases in Oregon appear to have peaked in the third week of August, and have been leveling off ever since. For the week of September 13-19, the Oregon Health Authority recorded 11,655 new cases of COVID-19 in Oregon—a 10 percent decrease from the previous week and the lowest such figure in six weeks. Childhood vaccinations are on the horizon, with Dr. Anthony Fauci saying this week that they may be available for ages 5-11 by Halloween.  

And the Delta variant’s continuing rampage, in particular through Oregon’s most unvaccinated pockets, has sadly pushed up the number of Oregonians with natural immunity. In its most recent forecast, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimates that 24 percent of the state has now had COVID. (Research shows that those who’ve had COVID should still get vaccinated to be as fully protected as possible against a second infection.) Concerns about the variant have also helped fuel a small but significant uptick in vaccination levels statewide. 

Somewhat optimistic forecasts notwithstanding, it’s unlikely that Oregon will pull back on any of its masking mandates, including the country’s only outdoor masking requirement at public gatherings regardless of size, until, at the least, the strain on hospitals and health care workers eases considerably. 

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