Oregon reported a record-breaking 21 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, as officials warned that a high number of infections and a jump in holiday travel could prove a toxic mix.
“We feel pain and sorrow for our neighbors who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19 and the families they leave behind," said Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen on Tuesday as the agency announced the new daily numbers.
The expressions of sympathy have increased as COVID-19 numbers have climbed swiftly in recent weeks. The reasons include colder weather drawing people indoors, a string of holidays and "COVID fatigue" that has people taking more chances with exposure by venturing out or seeing more people as admonitions to isolate and socially distance wear thin after nine months of crisis.
But the numbers show the virus doesn't care if people are bored, lonely or miss travel. Whatever the reason, the virus that had been pushed down twice before, with major drops in infections in late May and early September, has come roaring back worse than ever. Daily deaths nationwide have been topping 1,000.
Oregon has experienced the resurgence. The 130 deaths in November make it the most deadly month so far, with a week still to go.
The 1,517 new cases on Sunday set a one-day record. There were 1,011 cases reported Tuesday.
A total of 847 people have died in Oregon from COVID-19, out of 67,333 people who tested positive for the virus. The state surpassed 800 deaths on Nov. 19 and 700 deaths on Nov. 3.
A 25% week-over-week increase in cases had been followed by record hospitalizations. The Oregon Health Authority reported 474 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized Tuesday, up 18 from the previous day. Hospitals reported 113 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds, up four from the day before.
There are 649 total ICU beds in Oregon, of which 540 were occupied Tuesday by patients including the COVID-19 patients, leaving 154 available.
The rise in cases, followed by hospitalizations and deaths, comes as at least three vaccines have shown promise stopping COVID-19. But the first doses would be shipped by the end of December at the earliest, with front line medical workers getting the first two-shot vaccination. The logistics of production and distribution of the vaccines have officials forecasting that the majority of Americans won't have the shot available until April or May at the earliest.
During the crisis, Oregon has fared better than much of the world. Worldwide, there have been 59.6 million cases of COVID-19 resulting in 1.4 million deaths. The United States has had more than 12.5 million cases with over 259,000 deaths.
But holidays have been a challenge. The number of infections has increased after Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day. Thanksgiving is expected to be the biggest test yet. A harbinger of things to come can be seen in Canada, which holds the traditional family feast day in mid-October. The nation of 37 million saw a spike in cases during the six weeks afterward with cases jumping from about 2,000 per day in early October to over 4,750 cases per day now, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control not to travel on the holidays out of fear of spreading the virus, more than 1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints on Saturday for the first time since the pandemic hit in late winter.
On Sunday, the daily total topped one million again.
Gov. Kate Brown had ordered a two-week "freeze" as of Nov. 18 with new restrictions on gatherings, restaurants, bars, churches, entertainment venues and visits to nursing homes. The restrictions are scheduled to end on Dec. 2 for most of the 36 counties in the state. The effect of the freeze won't be known until next week when daily infection counts would include those who became sick during the attempt at a statewide slow-down.
Brown has said she would consider additional restrictions if the trends don't result in a falling percentage of cases that are positive. The end of the Thanksgiving holiday is the beginning of the Christmas and winter holiday season, starting with "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving that is usually a frenzy of shopping with stores competing for customers with discounts. Officials have asked people to stay at home on Black Friday and shop by computer or phone instead.
"COVID-19 is a life-threatening virus that’s easy to catch, a warning that more Oregonians will die if we don’t contain it and a call to action to stop its spread," said Allen, the state health director.