Oregon is bracing to fully experience the impacts of the Omicron variant over the next several weeks, as the state is likely to experience a significant COVID-19 surge, driven by the Omicron variant, now through February. 

According to experts at the Oregon Health and Science University, this surge is likely to be much steeper than the Delta variant surge experienced locally. OHSU expects impacts on workforce stability in hospitals, which may be impacted even more severely than they were in the fall. Further, student access to in-person instruction is under serious threat, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

While early data indicates that the Omicron variant may result in less severe disease than previous variants, the Oregon Health Authority has found that the Omicron variant spreads much more quickly and easily than all previous variants. 

By presstime Tuesday, Lane County has: 

* 2,129 total Covid cases, with an average of 222 reported daily

* 1,361 currently infectious

* 33 people hospitalized, 70% of which are not vaccinated

* 256 dead from the virus

* 33,432 total cases

In our local cities, the case numbers include:

* 14 people infected in Pleasant Hill

* 43 infected in Cottage Grove

* 66  infected in Creswell

* 474 infected in Springfield

According to the OHA, based on the emerging experience of other countries, states and school districts are expecting rapid transmission of the Omicron variant in indoor settings in which people do not adhere to masking requirements and other layered mitigation safety protocols, including vaccinations, boosters, face coverings, physical distancing, ventilation and frequent handwashing. Springfield, South Lane and Creswell school districts on Tuesday had less than 10 cases each of Covid, and Pleasant Hill had zero. 

A School Health Advisory went into effect on Monday, and will remain in effect until at least Jan. 31, which states: 

* If students or staff show COVID-19 symptoms or the school is aware they are a close contact, they must exclude the individual. 

* “Test to stay” protocol allows unvaccinated individuals who were exposed to a COVID-19 positive case in a K-12 school setting to remain learning in-person when certain criteria are met.

* When a close contact remains symptom-free and tests negative at five to seven days after exposure, they may return to school and other activities on day eight.

* Educators are expected to reteach appropriate use-of-face coverings, re-establish consistent physical distancing practices, incorporate frequent handwashing, recheck ventilation systems, and attend to other layered health and safety measures.

* To remain eligible for American Rescue Plan Act federal funds, school districts are required to update its Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan by Feb. 25. 

* Schools should hold events online rather than in-person. 

According to Patrick Allen, OHA director, the OHA has established a five-point plan to confront the Omicron surge, including: 

* Urge 1 million Oregonians to get boosters by Jan. 31 and increase access to boosters by expanding high-capacity vaccination sites, resuming mobile vaccination clinics, and increasing vaccination clinic staffing.

* Focus boosters on people who are most vulnerable to becoming hospitalized if they catch the Omicron variant.

* Rapidly deliver new COVID-19 treatments, such as monoclonal antibody therapies and antiviral drugs, and expand needed testing.

* Support health care workers and hospitals in the face of the coming Omicron surge with increased staffing, and support local and regional coordination of hospital resources.

* Connect more people to boosters, treatments and testing.