For the week ending July 6, the average daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Multnomah County was only 18. This was a low suggesting that with an increase in vaccinations, Portland could be heading towards the end of the pandemic.
Less than three weeks later, for the week ending July 26, the county recorded an average of 55 new cases per day, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority. That’s more than double the number of cases each week, as the number of positive tests has also increased.
Although the number of cases is still relatively low, county health officials have seen enough.
The Delta variant has become dominant in Oregon, according to recent testing, and the trajectory is clear. Even though the county has vaccinated hundreds of thousands of residents – 65% of all age groups have received at least one first dose – the most contagious variant still sends unvaccinated Portlanders to hospital.
This explains why, on July 26, county health officials reinstated a recommendation for everyone (vaccinated or not) to resume wearing a mask indoors, with the worrying implication that the county could see closures if cases continue to increase.
“Masking is a step we can all take right now to keep businesses open and move forward with our plans for the school year,” Multnomah County Director of Public Health Jessica Guernsey said, in a press release. “It’s the thing that will make the difference.”
On July 27, the number of cases rose again, both in the county and in the state. And following guidelines from the United States Centers for Disease Control which recommends that everyone wear masks indoors, the Oregon Health Authority has also recommended that masks be worn indoors.
“The sharp increase reported today in cases and hospitalizations in Oregon is a sobering reminder that the pandemic is not over, especially for Oregonians who are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist and state health official, in a statement.
The highly contagious Delta variant has increased tenfold over the past two weeks in Oregon, and is now estimated to be associated with 80% of new cases in Oregon. vaccinated as well as an added level of protection against a low but known risk of infection with the virus for people who have been previously vaccinated. ”(And Gov. Kate Brown endorsed the recommendation on Twitter.)