Oregon health officials warn of highly transmissible omicron subvariants

State health officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations had doubled in recent weeks.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon health officials shared sobering news during a virtual press conference Wednesday, the week after Multnomah County resumed advising indoor masking due to the increased number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“There’s more COVID in the community, and the chances of you being exposed are even higher,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger said.

Dr. Sidelinger, epidemiologist and chief health officer for the Oregon Health Authority, said the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.

“What we are facing right now is the predominance of the BA.2 subvariant,” he said. “We know we detected our initial BA.4 in Oregon and expect additional subvariants of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants to appear in Oregon.”

Dr. Sidelinger said this revelation will have the greatest impact on those most at risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID, even if they are vaccinated and fortified.

“Those with underlying health conditions or who are immunocompromised should consider contacting their health care provider now to establish a plan for getting tested and receiving treatment if they become ill,” Dr. Sidelinger said. .

RELATED: Oregon’s latest COVID numbers: Cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations

Despite a spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations, Dr. Sidelinger said he doesn’t anticipate the state implementing drastic measures like a statewide mask mandate.

“I think individuals can assess their own risk, their health status, who they live with, and whether they are older adults, immunocompromised, or high-risk people.”

Taking charge of the situation now, Dr. Sidelinger said, will pay off later.

“If we each take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones, COVID-19 need not dominate our lives,” he said. “Getting vaccinated and boosted is the best way to protect yourself from serious illness.”

RELATED: Multnomah County urges public to wear masks indoors amid wave BA.2

The BA.2 subvariant earned the nickname “stealth” omicron when it started circulating, because its mutations made it harder to detect by testing. It is thought to be at least as contagious as the original omicron variant, if not more.

Existing COVID-19 vaccines are still considered as effective in preventing severe illness or hospitalizations due to the BA.2 subvariant as earlier variants.

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