The popular statue of former Governor Tom McCall in Salem’s Riverfront Park, got a pandemic update(Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

The number of Oregonians hospitalized with Covid is climbing, and health officials said current models forecast an alarming rise in new cases of the disease if Oregonians don’t slow the spread by avoiding social gatherings.

The state last week recorded a record-breaking 2,418 Oregonians newly diagnosed with Covid, up from 2,055 the week prior.

That increase can be attributed in part to more widespread testing thanks to an influx of rapid tests from the federal government. But hospitalizations are also up statewide after falling from mid-August to mid-September.

Those numbers aren't straining the hospital system yet, but health officials said the trend is worrying as Oregon heads into colder months, where gathering outdoors is more difficult and influenza will strain the health system.

“We're very concerned about the potential for COVID and influenza to pile on top of each other and particularly stress hospital capacity,” said Pat Allen, Oregon Health Authority director, during a press call Friday.

If the virus continues to spread at current rates, the state’s latest models predict by Nov. 5, 40 Oregonians will be hospitalized daily with Covid, and the state will report 570 new cases daily.

As of Oct. 15, there are 144 Covid-positive Oregonians in the hospital, including 39 in the ICU. Sixteen of those patients are hospitalized in the Mid-Willamette Valley.

Hospitalizations are a more stable indicator of the severity of Covid in the community than the number of new cases. That's because cases reported fluctuate with testing levels, while increasing hospitalizations with Covid reflect more people becoming seriously ill with the virus.

Health officials on Friday again pleaded with Oregonians to avoid risky social gatherings and take precautions when socializing, including meeting outdoors where possible, keeping masks on and restricting outside-the-home gatherings to small groups of the same people, rather than visiting many different friends and family members.

They said public health investigations into the virus continue to show those gatherings are driving new cases of the virus in Oregon, rather than people dining indoors in restaurants and bars.

And they fear Thanksgiving and winter holiday plans could further derail efforts to contain the virus if people still plan celebrations where they travel and get together with many people who live in different households.

“We'd like you to strongly reconsider whether that's a good idea and potentially make different plans ... because if you're going to do that indoors with a lot of people without masks, that's really risky behavior,” Allen said.

They said getting Oregonians to heed that message has been difficult, in part because of “misinformation” that has caused some to doubt the severity of the disease.

A recent OHA-commissioned statewide poll found that while most Oregonians are taking protective measures like wearing masks indoors and avoiding large gatherings, a small group of people reported attending many large social gatherings over a two-week period. That group was less likely to wear masks or take other measures to slow the spread of Covid, and more likely to report being unconcerned about the virus.

But Allen said that’s not the full picture. Some Oregonians, he said, are making decisions about their behavior assuming they or their children won’t get seriously ill from Covid, without considering they can spread the virus to more vulnerable people.

“What people seem really focused on is the risk of a given person getting really sick and potentially dying and there’s very little thinking about beyond that, the risk of them spreading to someone else who spreads to somebody else who does get sick and die,” Allen said.

In Marion County, health authorities this week reported a patient at Oregon State Hospital tested positive for Covid on Oct. 14 after being moved to a quarantine unit on Oct. 11. It’s the first detected case of Covid in a state hospital patient, though 26 employees have tested positive for Covid since April 1, the hospital said in a news release.

Marion County has also seen a rise in new cases of Covid in recent weeks, with a total of 5,387 residents who have tested positive for the virus since March, and 104 deaths.

Nursing home cases and a large outbreak at the Oregon State Correctional Institution were among the factors contributing to local case counts over the past week.

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.