Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the Oregon state health officer, announces new state restrictions in a news conference in Portland on Thursday, March 12. (Jonathan House/Pamplin Media)

Oregon health officials and Gov. Kate Brown on Friday said the state is on the verge of conquering the Covid pandemic, but could be waylaid if more contagious variants of the virus become widespread or if Oregonians become less diligent about wearing masks and following other health guidelines.

“While we know vaccine supplies are ramping up, enabling us to reach more of you more quickly, we are most definitely not out of the woods just yet,” Brown said.

Brown and Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said a push by the Biden administration to speed the pace of Covid vaccination was encouraging. But they stopped short of committing to making all adults eligible for a shot by May 1 as President Joe Biden ordered states to do on Thursday.

Allen said Oregon’s ability to do that would depend on supplies from the federal government

“While this administration has met its commitments so far, we don't have any specific information about when any additional doses will arrive. Until we get more clarity, we need to keep our current timelines in place,” Allen said.

Allen announced one change to Oregon’s vaccination schedule. Pregnant people 16 and older will now be eligible to receive a vaccine starting March 29, the same day agricultural workers, wildland firefighters and adults 45 and older with underlying health conditions become eligible.

Other frontline workers, including grocery store employees, and adults under 45 with underlying health conditions will become eligible for a shot May 1 under Oregon’s current timeline, but that could be moved up if supplies increase.

Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University identified a new variant of the coronavirus in Oregon last month, announcing the news last weekend. The variant shares traits of a more contagious strain circulating in the United Kingdom, as well as a mutation circulating in Brazil and South Africa, state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said Friday.

An OHA spokesman declined to say where the variant was found, but OPB reported the virus was sequenced from a sample collected in Marion County during a February outbreak in a health care facility.

“These appear to be isolated cases, but they can spread very quickly as we've seen in other countries,” Sidelinger said. He said all three vaccines currently available in the U.S. offer protection against the new variants and prevent serious outcomes like hospitalization and death.

He said transmission of the coronavirus fell in Oregon in February. If the decrease continues at the same pace, Sidelinger said Oregon will see a further decrease to about 170 people diagnosed with Covid daily statewide, and six new hospitalizations by March 30. The health authority has reported between 234 and 517 new cases of Covid each day this week.

However, he cautioned more contagious variants and the reopening of more indoor venues statewide could reverse the trend.

“With the presence of new variants, and the relaxing of restrictions, we can expect to see an increase in new cases, or put more bluntly, we can expect to see wider distribution of this virus

in Oregon. But we can slow that momentum by continuing to take steps that have been proven to slow the virus,” Sidelinger said.

Salem-area clinics and hospitals will receive more than 9,000 first doses of Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines next week. That includes 5,850 doses for Salem Health’s fairgrounds clinic and 900 for West Valley Hospital, as well as 1,800 for the Marion County Health Department.

Oregon did not receive any Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but expects to receive 4,800 next week, Allen said.

State allocations are separate from doses shipped directly to retail pharmacies through the federal government.

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

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