SALEM — If state officials lifted the range of measures they have taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, an estimated 15,000 Oregonians could be sickened by the virus by May 8, according to forecasting models released by the state on Thursday.
Health officials say Oregon is at a “critical moment” in fighting the virus, and that strict measures taken by the state to shut down nearly all public activities could dramatically limit the number of people sickened and requiring care in a hospital. By Thursday at 8 a.m., there were 316 known cases of the coronavirus in Oregon.
State health officials released projections, prepared by the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Washington, of how many people could get sick under three scenarios:
• Current measures cease: an estimated 15,000 people could be infected by May 8;
• Stay-home order ceases, but school closures and bans on large public gatherings continue: an estimated 6,100 people could be infected by May 8;
• Aggressive measures continue: 1,000 people could be infected by May 8.
Each of those estimates fall within a wide range of potential infections, and represent the projected number of cumulative, or overall, infections, of COVID-19 in the state.
Simply put, the figures above do not represent the number of people who would be sick on May 8, but the total number of people who could be sickened in the time leading up to May 8.
The new virus, if left unchecked, could seriously overwhelm the state’s hospital system. Oregon had the lowest per-capita rate of hospital beds in the country in 2018, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data first reported by the Portland Tribune.
Officials also released information about how many Oregonians severely sickened by the new coronavirus could require hospital care by May 8 under the three scenarios:
• Current measures cease: An estimated 1,100 hospitalizations;
• Stay-home order ceases, but school closures and bans on large public gatherings continue: an estimated 340 hospitalizations;
• Aggressive measures continue: “only a small number of inpatient beds” could be required.
“These projections tell us the sacrifices Oregonians are making right now can help to save lives,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, during a virtual press conference. “At the same time, they paint a dark picture of what could happen if we don’t all work together. We can’t afford to drop our guard.”
Members of a task force appointed by Gov. Kate Brown said the state is taking a number of measures to prepare the health system for the virus. The state is collecting protective gear for medical workers and is working with providers to set up alternative locations for care, such as the 250-bed medical station in Salem.
Regional hospitals have signed agreements to share equipment, workers and patients from “overburdened” hospitals to facilities that have enough room for more, and hospitals are sharing information about how many hospital beds are being used so there is enough supply for patients who will need them.
“Hospital leaders and health officials are doing their part to find beds, secure supplies and protect health care workers,” Brown said in a statement. “Oregonians can make a difference too: stay home and save lives. We all have a role to play in an unprecedented, unified effort across Oregon to stop the coronavirus from taking the tragic toll we’ve seen it claim elsewhere.”
As of Thursday, 684 ventilators were available within the health system, and if aggressive measures stay in place, the state will likely not require near that number to care for COVID-19 patients, Sidelinger said.
But the state could need more ventilators if Oregonians don’t abide by social distancing orders, which could result in more people getting sick and requiring hospital care.