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COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise in Oregon, younger adults hospitalized more

In just a month, the number of COVID patients in Oregon hospitals has doubled.

PORTLAND, Ore. — COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Oregon, raising concern for hospitals.

In just a month, the number of COVID patients in Oregon hospitals has doubled.

The worry isn't just about space, it also involves staffing.  

Oregon Health Authority hospital data shows we're not at the level we were back in December and January. But more seriously sick COVID patients are going to hospitals and intensive care units (ICU) in Oregon again.

As of Monday, almost 320 people with COVID-19 were in Oregon's hospitals. Around 80 of them were in ICUs. For context, around 110 COVID patients were hospitalized a month ago, with about 20 in an ICU.

That was right before numbers started going up again.

So who is getting really sick and ending up in the hospital right now? KGW took that question to two major health care systems, Oregon Health & Science University and Kaiser Permanente.

"We're seeing increased admission of younger patients," OHSU Senior Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthias Merkel said. "Some of them are actually not very sick to start with."

"We're seeing 40 to 50 year olds, so definitely skewed toward that younger population. We have some 30-year-olds in the hospital," Kaiser Permanente Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Katie Sharff said. "We have young people in the ICU, and young people without other medical conditions getting really sick with COVID."

One reason why: the effectiveness of vaccines in older people.

"Since we started with the most vulnerable and older population first they have the highest vaccination rate so that contributes to that," Dr. Merkel said.

COVID fatigue in younger, more active groups is another reason.

"Many younger individuals are more mobile, they're out in society, they have more contacts. And we know with the increase in the B.1.1.7 variant, it's that much more contagious," Dr. Sharff said.

While only 5.5% of Oregonians with coronavirus have been hospitalized, it's enough to stress the health care system.

"I worry with this trajectory," Dr. Sharff told KGW. "We're here in this fourth surge and it's really quite frightening."

Hospitals have surge plans if things get worse.

"These are, by definition, not as good as if we can just care for our patients in our regular environment," Merkel added.

Although OHA data shows hundreds of open beds, health officials point out it's also about staffing.

"There's only so many health care providers to manage patients," Sharff said.

It's on all of us to ease their burden by getting vaccinated and keeping our guards up.

"Together we can do it again," Dr. Merkel said.

The latest hospitalization numbers appear to be high enough to push nearly a dozen Oregon counties back into the Extreme Risk category. That includes the Portland metro area. That move would shut down indoor dining and limit the number of people who can gather indoors at other businesses. 

KGW asked the governor's office if they'll make that change and have yet to hear back as of Monday evening.