CERT team volunteer Laura Hildebrandt holds out one of the donated masks during a mask collection event at Woodmansee Park on Thursday, April 16. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

As Covid transmissions continue to rise in Salem and across Oregon, public health officials said that the state is at a turning point for getting the pandemic under control. 

“Our newest modeling shows that we need to stay the course in order to flatten the COVID-19 curve,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s health officer, said during a press call Friday. “At our current rate of transmission over the next month, daily new infections would rise to 1,600 per day over the next four weeks.”

During the pandemic, public health officials have been concerned with the state’s hospital system being overrun with Covid patients. He said that under the model, hospitalizations would increase from 20 to 27 a day. 

On Friday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 396 new cases of Covid, bringing the state’s total to 16,104. It also reported nine deaths, the highest recorded in a single day, bringing the death toll to 282. 

“Oregon remains on a troubling trajectory,” said Pat Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority.

He said that cases are rising at an “aggressive rate” and newly diagnosed infections have risen by nearly 10 percentage points over the last two weeks. He said they’ve begun to slow more recently and are not rising as quickly as Washington and California, which have seen cases rise to 19% and 18%, respectively.

On Friday, a new order by Gov. Kate Brown went into effect expanding requirements that people wear masks in public while also rolling back part of the state’s reopening. 

Sidelinger said that if Oregonians followed the policies it could decrease the spread of Covid, bringing  the number of new daily infections to 600 and  hospitalizations to 17.

Allen said that it will take a few weeks for the effects of the governor’s orders to be reflected in the data. 

“That means the coming weeks are pivotal,” he said. “They will determine what school looks like for students and educators and how we sustain reopening Oregon.

On Wednesday Brown said school reopening guidance would be released in the coming days.

Covid by the numbers

Along with the rest of the state, Marion and Polk counties saw rises in the number of new Covid cases. 

The most recent numbers posted by Marion County show a total of 2,334 cases of Covid in the county since the outbreak began in March. Of those, 254 required hospitalization, 11% of all cases. There have been 64 deaths caused by the virus, 2.7% of all cases. 

That’s an increase from last week when the tally of cases in Marion County reached 2,063 residents with 239 hospitalizations and 57 deaths.

However, Marion County no longer leads in the number of per capita cases. Umatilla and Malheur counties now have the highest rates. Marion County is seventh. 

According to Oregon Health Authority data posted Friday, Polk County has 231 total cases and 12 deaths. The data did not include hospitalization numbers. Polk County posted on its website last week that it had 198 cases, 12 deaths and three hospitalizations. 

The most recent data posted by the Oregon Health Authority shows mixed results across the state for six indicators that reflect the virus’ burden on local health systems and the ability of counties to respond. 

Marion County is currently meeting half of those measures. Half of 1% of visits to emergency departments were for Covid-like illnesses in Marion County. The Oregon Health Authority target is for less than 1.5% of visits to be for Covid-like illnesses. 

Over the last seven days, 7.9% of tests have come back positive and nearly all new cases are being followed up on in Marion County, meeting two Oregon Health Authority targets.

However, the percent of new overall cases have risen 33% over the last week and more are requiring hospitalization, running contrary to Oregon Health Authority goals.

In the last week, Marion County could trace 32% of cases back to a known source, needed to help slow the spread of further infections. Statewide less than half of all cases could be traced back to known sources. 

Polk County had the same percentage as Marion County for emergency department visits for Covid-like illnesses and hospitalization is trending downward. It also had a 96% percentage for new cases. 

But the number of tests coming back positive in Polk County rose 5.5% over the last week and the overall number of cases increased by 50%. Additionally, 70% of new cases could not be traced back to a source in Polk County. 

Oregon also saw a 25% increase in new cases and 89% of cases were followed up on. Although the hospitalizations are trending down, the percentage of positive tests is staying steady and the percent of emergency room visits for Covid-like illness is also low. 

A July 24 graph from Marion County showing the rise in Covid cases. (Courtesy/Marion County)

Enough hospital beds — for now

Allen said that currently 233 Oregonians are hospitalized for Covid. He said that between July 1 and July 23, hospitalizations have been inching up at a rate of 1.7% per day statewide. That's slightly lower than the rate of increase the state saw in June, he said.  

He said that hospitals have adequate capacity and there are enough beds and ventilators for severely ill patients. 

“That could change,” he said. “We continue to keep a close eye on hospital beds in Oregon.”

SUPPORT ESSENTIAL REPORTING FOR SALEM - A subscription starts at $5 a month for around-the-clock access to stories and email alerts sent directly to you. Your support matters. Go HERE.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the percentage of cases in Marion County that could be traced back to a known source.