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As COVID-19 surges, 93% of Oregon’s hospital beds are full

August 18, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As Oregon’s health system continues to be clobbered by the state’s worst COVID-19 surge, officials reported on Tuesday that 93% of the state’s hospital beds for adults and 90% of the intensive care unit beds are full.

There are 838 people people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon — surpassing the state’s record, which was set the previous day, by 86 patients. Before this month, the hospitalization record was 622 in November, during a winter surge and when vaccines were not available.

“If you are healthy today, you may not think this impacts you. But when our hospitals are full, all Oregonians are at risk,” Gov. Kate Brown tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “When our hospitals, emergency departments, and ICUs are full, that means a staffed hospital bed may not be available when you and your family need urgent or intensive care, whether for COVID-19, or a car crash, or a heart attack or stroke.”

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As of Tuesday a mere 66 ICU beds and 275 available adult non-ICU beds are available, the Oregon Health Authority reported.

Oregon also set a new daily case record with 2,941 identified coronavirus cases — fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, which has rapidly spread, especially in southern Oregon where vaccination rates lag.

“If you are unvaccinated, you are at incredible risk from the Delta variant,” Brown tweeted. “Almost everyone hospitalized for COVID-19 could have avoided severe illness if they had been vaccinated.”

Over the past month Brown has announced measures to decrease the infection rate and hospitalizations and boost vaccinations. Recent measures include requiring that health care workers and state employees be vaccinated.

In addition, on Friday a statewide mask mandate was reimplemented — everyone in Oregon who is 5 years or older, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask in indoor public spaces.

Last month, Brown announced that masks would be required regardless of vaccination status in K-12 schools. However, some education leaders have pushed back, including school board members in public meetings and administrators in written communications to parents.

On Tuesday, Brown urged leaders to follow her mask mandates and not “jeopardize” the return to full-time in-person instruction.

“I have heard much about personal freedom when it comes to masks in school board meetings and on social media. I have not heard as much said about personal responsibility,” Brown wrote in a letter. “As leaders, we have a great responsibility to our students and their futures. One of the sacred, fundamental responsibilities of a school district and its leaders is to keep the children in their care safe. It is up to us to make clear-eyed decisions based on science and fact.”

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Brown said in one case, a district leader sent a letter to parents urging them to request an accommodation for their child under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to avoid mask requirements.

“I find it deeply appalling that any education leader –- who is supposed to be setting an example for our students –– would send a communication so callous and offensive to Oregon parents and children with disabilities,” Brown wrote.

Oregon health officials have warned that without health and safety interventions, coronavirus hospitalizations would far exceed the state’s health system capacity in the next several weeks. Officials at Oregon Health & Science University estimate that the state will be short by as many as 500 hospital beds by early September.

Last week, Brown announced that she is sending up to 1,500 National Guard troops to hospitals to assist health care workers who are being pushed to the brink. The first 500 Guard members will be deployed Friday to serve as equipment runners in the most stricken hospitals and help with testing, among other things. Troops will be sent to 20 hospitals.

The state’s entire congressional delegation on Monday urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help the Pacific Northwest state cope with the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations by providing medical personnel, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

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Sara Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.