Pandemic Still Surging in Parts of the U.S.

Bloomberg News' 'Evening Briefing' on April 29 looked at the global pandemic, noting the horrific scenes in India, Brazil's rising death toll, and added, "Coronavirus mutations are also wreaking havoc in America." Oregon is their focus.

May 2, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

COVID-19 Pandemic

Tada Images / Shutterstock

"As horrific as India’s pandemic suffering is right now, with bodies piling up at crematoriums and burial grounds, its ferocious new Covid wave may actually be worse than the government has acknowledged," writes Bloomberg editor David Rovella on April 29.

And the implications are global: Brazil surpassed 400,000 dead while its access to vaccines is hindered by the crisis in India and the U.S. told its citizens to leave as soon as possible. Coronavirus mutations are also wreaking havoc in America, still the world leader in total confirmed infections and deaths. 

Infection rate, not case incidence, sets Oregon apart

America, in this case, is Oregon, which is experiencing a fourth surge of infections and hospitalizations. It is not a red-zone (very high risk) state: daily new coronavirus cases have not reached 25 per 100,000 people. In fact, with a 7-day average of 17.8 cases per 100k, it ranks #20, with Michigan still #1 at 47 daily new cases per 100k, according to Covid Act Now on April 29. The U.S. is averaging 16 daily new cases per 100k, according to The Washington Post's U.S. coronavirus database on April 30

However, when it comes to the infection rate metric, Oregon is #1 at 1.09, according to Covid Act Now, meaning each infected person can be expected to transmit the virus to 1.09 people. Neighboring Washington is second at 1.07, followed by Wyoming and Alabama at 1.06.

The Post's database shows that Oregon had the second-highest percentage increase in daily new cases in the last week at 17% after the Virgin Islands with 33%. During that time, the U.S. saw a 17% drop in daily new cases.

Governor takes action

Gov. Kate Brown has not followed the playbook of her Democratic counterpart in Michigan who refrained from tightening restrictions, although Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has seen her emergency powers stripped by the courts and the legislature.

Referring to case incidence and test positivity rates shown on the Oregon Health Authority's dashboard, Nic Querolo and Olga Kharif of Bloomberg news report (in source article):

Those levels are still below peaks reached this winter, but Governor Kate Brown has elevated more than a dozen counties to the most extreme risk category, effective Friday, shuttering indoor dining and warning of strain to the state’s hospitals.

The spike is the latest indication that the pandemic is far from over. A surge in Michigan and an all-out crisis in India is reminding health officials how delicate the path to recovery can be. Variants, virus fatigue, vaccine hesitancy and pressure to reopen risk eroding progress in the U.S.

With older people more likely to be vaccinated, the demographic has changed dramatically from earlier in the pandemic.

Oregon’s latest spike is infecting younger residents, while cases among those age 70 and older are relatively stable. People age 29 and younger made up 37.2% of all cases in Oregon, according to its health authority.

“The surge in cases and hospitalizations is the result of the emergence of new and more transmissible variants,” the authority said in a statement. “It is hoped that moving these counties into extreme risk will help tamp down spread of the virus, especially as more Oregonians get vaccinated.”

Vaccine hesitancy a major factor

The vaccination campaign in the state is plateauing: Some pockets are grappling with surpluses of doses, particularly in more politically conservative rural areas. Even before Covid-19, vaccine hesitancy in the state was among the highestin the nation.

[Contributor's note: See related post: "The Pandemic's Next Phase in the U.S.: When Vaccine Supply Exceeds Demand," April 22. Scroll down to the header, Grant County, Oregon.]

Statewide, 43% of Oregonians have received at least one dose, and more than a quarter of the population is fully inoculated, putting the state roughly in line with the national average, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

No restrictions on outdoor dining

Querolo and Kharif end their piece by reporting on the pushback by the restaurant industry, who believe they are being unfairly targeted. However, outdoor dining is not prohibited in the 15 counties, including two of the three most populous, Multnomah and Clackamas, that were moved to the "extreme risk" category.

When California was experiencing its fall/winter surge at much, much higher incidence levels, Gov. Newsom's regional order had shut down outdoor dining in four of the state's five regions. Even after the regional stay home order was lifted, indoor dining was not permitted until a county's health metrics permitted it to move from the purple or widespread risk tier to the red or substantial risk tier. None of the 58 counties remain in the purple tier, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The Golden State continues to have the nation's second-lowest case incidence, 4.7 per 100,000 people, after the Northern Mariana Islands (0.5 per 100k). Furthermore, the infection rate is 0.84, the eighth lowest in the nation, according to Covid Act Now on April 29.

Related in Planetizen:

Contributor's note: The source article is also accessible on BloombergQuint.

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