Suds up, mask up, and stay put because the next 100 days are projected to be “relative misery” according to local public health officials.
“We are really on the steep part of the curve right now,” said Dr. Patrick Luedtke, the county’s senior public health officer. He projected at the Jan. 21 Springfield City Club meeting that up to 120,000 people in the county will be infected before the numbers begin to drop in April.
While the county reports 8,860 all-time cases as of Jan. 26, Luedtke said that “there’s probably five times as many people who have been infected,” that were either asymptomatic or did not get tested. Because of those outliers, the actual infection number is likely upwards of 40,000 cases.
Public health officials project 1,000 cases every 13 days, and up to five deaths each week going forward. “We have 100 days of relative misery in front of us,” Luedtke said.
It took the county over six months, until September, to hit 1,000 cases. “Now we are getting 1,000 cases every 13 days … we hit 2,000 cases on Oct. 16 … 3,000 cases on Nov. 11 … we are really in the worst part of this pandemic,” Luedtke said.
This week, Oregon Health Authority reported 322 currently infectious cases, 27 people hospitalized and 113 dead.
“Our case rate … and our death rate were very low for six months. But over the last 100 days, we’ve gone from a dozen deaths to over 100,” Luedtke said, noting that the death rate would have been markedly higher without compliance of the infection-control measures.
“We’re very lucky as a county to have only 113 deaths,” he said. Immunity to COVID-19 depends on two factors: producing immunity from infection or vaccination.
By mid-April, the best-case scenario is to have up to 120,000 people with immunity, up to 60,000 people vaccinated, and up to 160,000 of the 380,000 county population immune.
“And by that time, we expect that we will see a significant decrease in cases,” Luedtke said. “There will still be risk out there, but we’ll see a significant decrease in cases because of immunity building from natural infections and immunity building from vaccination. And that’s a hopeful, hopeful view of the horizon so to speak.”
With the mass vax clinics underway, 4,697 county residents were vaccinated last weekend in a clinical process that takes about 30 minutes.
There was, however, a mass vax mishap.
“There was a little bit of a complication that arose last week,” said Jason Davis, spokesperson for Lane County Public Health at Tuesday’s news conference.
An online registration link that LCPH uses to register people was shared on social media, allowing anyone to sign up for the vaccine out-of-turn. The clinics, he said, are invite-only.
LCPH has a list of organizations and prioritizes them based on the number of people they serve and the risk level. It reaches out either by phone or email.
“A lot of people have been very proactive in canceling those mistaken registrations, though some people did go ahead and show up to the clinic and try to get vaccinated,” Davis said. Public Health uses a cross-checking system to proactively cancel any registrations that don’t meet the initial base of people eligible, and says that while the problem is largely “taken care of,” they hope to incorporate more safeguards.
As of Tuesday 19,641 vaccine doses have been administered to county residents and, “while that’s great news … we still have roughly half of Group 1A (the first eligible group) left to go,” Davis said. There are roughly 40,000 people in Group 1A, he said.
Educators have been designated as Group 1B, part of an effort to return to in-person learning. This group became eligible Monday, and will be contacted by their school districts on when and where to get vaccinated. The county was expected to receive 1,700 doses for Group 1B on Jan. 27, which are to be directly distributed to the school districts. There are roughly 10,000 people in that group.
Some schools have health-care professionals and facilities on site, and “those schools will be really invaluable in the process of helping to administer the vaccine,” Davis said.
Also, “we still have a 65-plus population who’s desperate to get the vaccine,” he said.
Broadly speaking, people 65 and older become eligible for the vaccine on Feb. 8; however, that eligibility “will come in waves” and will start with the eldest community members.
The waves will come in increments of five, starting with ages 80-plus in the first wave, then 75-plus in the second wave, then 70-plus, etc.
There are roughly 55,000 people in the 65-plus category, Davis said, and the county has not received guidance as to how pre-existing conditions will be affecting those decisions or whether or not people can jump ahead in the waves. “There’s much yet to be communicated by the State to the County. There’s really not a lot we can do unless that vaccine supply comes in at a more rapid rate … we are seeing general shortages of vaccines. The last we heard there were only around 30,000 doses coming into the whole state.”
The State has taken the lead on facilitating those distribution metrics and processes, and “at some level, we have to trust that process. At other levels – when we see injustice like when we received 100 doses – we can’t continue that. We have to advocate for Lane County people, but at the same time understand that there are other counties who are in dire need as well,” he said.
There are two double-dose vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. A third vaccine by Johnson & Johnson should release the results of its Phase 3 trial for a single-dose option by the end of the month. A fourth vaccine is expected to have data released around March 1.
Most people won’t get to choose their vaccine.
“For most of us, we probably will not have a choice, there will be a limited amount of supply for each of these vaccines,” Luedtke said. “There will likely only be one vaccine available at those mass vaccination clinics.”
“And the other good news about those (new) vaccines is that they require only one dose,” Davis said, reducing confusion around the amount of infrastructure needed to administer two doses, and also require lower and more manageable storage temperatures.
“There’s a lot of hope on the horizon, but that doesn’t fix the current frustration of the folks who want to get vaccinated and can’t right now,” Davis said. “Because we are given an unknown number of vaccines weekly, and that dose is usually far less than we want, we have to make that very small supply as strategic as possible.”
The chances of coming out on the other side of the virus with fewer deaths depends on if people are vaccinated, wear masks and avoid large gatherings. “We need to be ever-vigilant with our infection-control measures until we get past April,” Luedtke said.
Staff writer Emma Routley contributed to this report.