Oregon’s fourth omicron case emerges in Lane County

A person in their 20s had been traveling outside Oregon in another state and is not hospitalized

By: - December 20, 2021 4:33 pm
Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine

Pfizer and Moderna have created updated booster doses against the original strain and two highly transmissible omicron variants. (Fritz Liedtke/Oregon Health & Science University)

Lane County has detected its first case of omicron.

The person is in their 20s and had been traveling in the United States before testing for the virus, health officials said.

“The confirmation of omicron in Lane County reminds (us of) several important truths,” according to a statement from Dr. Patrick Luedtke, senior public health officer. “We don’t live in a bubble, travel increases our odds of variants circulating, and that we have the tools to prevent the impact of omicron.”

The person’s symptoms emerged just as they returned to Oregon, according to Jason Davis, a communications official with Lane County. Davis did not know the person’s gender or whether they were a student at the University of Oregon, which did the genomic sequencing. 

The person was initially tested on Tuesday, Dec. 14 and the sequencing started the next day. The University of Oregon finished the sequencing on Friday but then confirmed the results on Monday, Davis said.

A statement from the University of Oregon said it receives Covid test samples from local providers, from the state and from its own monitoring program. Those samples do not have any identifying information.

The person is in quarantine but doesn’t know they have omicron. An investigator with Lane County Public Health informed the person last week that they have Covid but has not followed up to tell them they have the highly infectious strain.

This is the fourth case of omicron in Oregon. Three other cases were announced a week ago among people in their 20s and 30s in Multnomah and Washington counties. State health officials didn’t release information about their symptoms. 

Davis said the Lane County resident is not hospitalized.

“The symptoms are classified as mild,” he said.

Two other cases were detected in Clark County in Washington state on Monday. Omicron was first detected in Washington state earlier this month. Since then more than a dozen cases have been identified there, including at least three cases associated with wrestling matches, Clark County health officials said.

Omicron is more infectious than the delta variant and it may cause milder symptoms though that has not been confirmed. Cases of omicron double every two to three days. A forecast by Oregon Health & Science University predicted on Friday that omicron could become the dominant strain in Oregon in two weeks.

That means that by February, 3,000 infected people in Oregon may need a hospital bed, the forecast indicated. That compares with 1,200 in early September when cases of the delta variant peaked. 

Oregon doesn’t have enough staffed beds to treat that many people at once.

The state announced a plan on Friday to bring in health care workers from out of state to step up vaccinations and to add staff to health care facilities. It’s not clear where the extra health care workers will come from. There is high demand for temporary health care workers across the country, and in Oregon, there are currently 15,000 unfulfilled health care jobs.

The state plan calls for administering 1 million more booster shots to Oregonians by the end of January. Two doses of the vaccines only protect about 30% of people from being infected with Omicron, studies indicate. A booster dose increases that to more than 80%, according to a British study.

Just under 30% of adults in Oregon have had a booster shot, and 80% have had two doses, state data show.

With the Omicron variant spreading quickly across the country, and now identified in Oregon, the governor is urging all Oregonians to continue wearing their masks, and to get vaccinated or boosted as soon as possible,” a statement from the office of Gov. Kate Brown said on Monday.

Public health officials in rural areas, which have the lowest vaccination rates, may have trouble stepping up booster doses. Several told the Capital Chronicle on Monday that they don’t have much demand. Getting extra personnel will not make much difference.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle's editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.