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COVID-19 surges in Oregon, sickening younger adults and forcing a return to restrictions

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  • COVID-19 surges in Oregon, sickening younger adults and forcing a return to restrictions


    COVID-19 surges in Oregon, sickening younger adults and forcing a return to restrictions
    By Richard ReadSeattle Bureau Chief
    April 30, 2021 3:52 PM PT
    LEBANON, Ore. ?

    For months, Susannah Sbragia waited her turn for a COVID-19 vaccination while Oregon?s teachers, older adults and others with higher priority got theirs.

    The 55-year-old city finance director was meticulous about wearing a mask and washing her hands during the pandemic. She worked at home and stayed fit with daily walks and YouTube dance lessons with her husband.

    But a week before her appointment for an April 22 shot, she felt exhausted and began aching all over. A test confirmed COVID-19. She gasped for breath during an ambulance ride to Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, a 25-bed medical center in a onetime logging and lumber mill town 80 miles south of Portland.

    Sbragia became one of hundreds of patients hospitalized in a COVID-19 surge that has struck Oregon, alarming officials, who have slammed the state?s opening measures into reverse. Doctors say that patients they?re seeing are younger, sicker and often without underlying medical conditions, suggesting that potent variants could be partly to blame.

    On Friday, Gov. Kate Brown placed 15 counties in an ?extreme risk? category, banning indoor dining at restaurants and limiting the number of patrons at gyms. She said the return to restrictions could save hundreds of lives and prevent as many as 450 hospitalizations over the next three weeks.

    ?What I can?t do is bring back someone?s life lost to this virus,? Brown said at a news conference Friday. ?That?s why, as hard as this is, we must act immediately. This is truly a race between the variants and the vaccines.?

    She imposed the restrictions after cases rose by 51% in two weeks, the fastest increase in the nation, and hospitalizations jumped by more than a third. As cases declined in much of the rest of the country, Oregon lurched in the opposite direction.

    The situation is far from dire. The state?s average number of daily cases over the past week stood at 19 per 100,000 people ? half of what they were during the state?s peak late last year and midrange nationally. In Michigan, where a record number of children have been hospitalized, the average daily case count is now 45 per 100,000.

    But the worry is that the situation in Oregon could quickly spiral.

    Officials were especially concerned that more than 300 people remained hospitalized with COVID-19 in a state with relatively few beds to spare.

    Causes of the surge in Oregon ? a state that had the third lowest cumulative case rate in the country, and the fourth lowest death rate ? are something of mystery. Experts are trying to determine what factors are unique to the state.

    The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, accounts for more than half of Oregon?s recent cases. Hearing the circumstances of Sbragia?s infection, Chunhuei Chi, director of Oregon State University?s Center for Global Health, said in an interview that she may well have that variant, given its highly contagious nature...