Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

Gov. Kate Brown

Fewer infections and more vaccine are giving Oregon a boost in its fight against COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown said Friday.

"Holy smokes, it's been quite a week," Brown said during a press conference.

Brown was remarking on winter storms that cut off energy to large swaths of Oregon, while also delaying COVID-19 vaccine shipments and cancelling inoculation events.

Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said severe winter storms across the country delayed a shipment of 72,000 doses to the state. The late-arriving doses will be added on to the total expected to arrive next week.

Brown's press conference came as the United States is on pace to pass 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 next week. Worldwide, there have been just under 2.45 million deaths.

Feb. 28 will mark the one-year anniversary of the first reported case of COVID-19 in Oregon. 

Besides the storms and anniversary, Brown and health officials had mostly upbeat news about the current COVID-19 situation in the state.

A sharp rise in cases over the winter holidays that threatened to overwhelm the state's hospital system has dramatically abated, with recent daily case totals at lows not seen since October.

Oregon's number of daily new cases has fallen 66% since Jan. 1. On Friday, OHA reported 419 new cases, bringing the pandemic total to 152,190 cases. There have been 2,419 deaths in the state.

Looking ahead, Oregon has a positive test rate of 3.4%, a number that if maintained will lead to a steady decline in infections.

The New York Times reported Friday that Oregon's daily infection rate of 9 cases per 100,000 people ranked it 49th out of 50 states for spread of the virus. Only Hawaii is lower.

Brown said the infection rates in much of Oregon would mean a growing number of schools will be able to reopen to in-person or hybrid learning. 

Currently 19 counties meet the advisory metrics for teaching in classrooms. About 130,000 students — 20% of the state total — are spending at least part of the day at school. 

"That's double last week," Brown said. "Our kids will benefit greatly from these efforts."

Brown made the controversial decision to give priority for vaccinations to 150,000 teachers, school staff and daycare workers ahead of the 675,000 residents who are over 65 and do not live in nursing homes.

The education group was eligible for inoculations Jan. 25, two weeks before a vaccination of older Oregonians began Feb. 8. The first group included only those over age 80. Eligibility then drops five years of age each week until everyone over 65 can sign-up on March 1.

Local officials around the state have been inundated with complaints from seniors and their families trying to navigate systems to schedule the first shot. When they can get through, appointment times are already booked solid for weeks.

The senior groups must share the limited overall supply of vaccine doses with health care workers and educators who haven't finished their shots.

"There is going to be a little bit of a traffic jam," Allen said.

Oregon is currently giving about 14,000 shots per day, and hopes to steadily increase the number.

Since December, about 12% of Oregonians have received shots — more than 755,000 doses when counting both the first and second shot in the vaccine regime.

More than 233,000 people have received both shots — about 5% of the population.

Oregon's inoculation numbers put it at, or just ahead of, the national average in both counts.

President Joe Biden has promised to ramp up distribution of vaccine to states, including the purchase of an additional 100 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna, manufacturers of the two currently approved vaccines. The administration wants to remove logistical bottlenecks by telling states exactly how many doses they will receive three weeks in advance, hopefully ending the practice of holding on to vaccine for second shots out of fear new doses will not arrive. 

Allen said the only thing keeping Oregon from vaccinating more people is vaccine. Demand from around the country is outstripping supply.

The limit on the speed of inoculations came down to the availability of vaccine. The staff needed to give the shots is waiting. Demand is outstripping supply.

"Please be patient, the vaccines are limited," Allen said.

Brown said a final decision on who would be in the next priority group had not been finalized. There was also no date as yet for when eligibility will reopen following the last age-based group on March 1.

At the end of the press conference, Brown was asked if she had been vaccinated.

She had not. Neither had Allen.

Both said they would "wait" their turn in the priority queue. Sidelinger said he had just received his second shot in Portland.

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