▶️ Delta variant to blame for steepest COVID-19 spike of the pandemic

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Summer events continue to draw crowds to Central Oregon, and the large gatherings of unmasked people at concerts and fairs are reminiscent of pre-pandemic times.

But there may be a price for the togetherness in the recent spike of COVID-19 cases, largely attributed to the highly contagious delta variant.

Last week, the Oregon Health Authority reported 244 new cases in Deschutes County.

“The case increase is staggering,” said St. Charles Medical Director of Infection Prevention Services and Antibiotic Stewardship Dr. Cynthia Maree. “The rate that we’re seeing increases in our area, in Oregon and in the United States is higher than we’ve seen at any other time during this pandemic.”

The delta variant now accounts for 80 to 90% of COVID patients at St. Charles.

The hospital was caring for 20 patients Monday, with four in the ICU and three on ventilators.

Maree said most of them have not received a vaccine.

“We’re still running into 80% of the people that are admitted are unvaccinated,” she said.

She also said the change in restrictions at the end of June is a factor in the case increase.

“We took away masking mandates, and we do know that’s been highly effective in preventing transmission,” she said. “So at the same time as we took that away, of course we got hit with a very virulent strain.”

Local businesses like the Brown Owl in Bend have been through brief closures, with a single employee case triggering tests for everyone else.

Maree said the delta variant has proven that there’s still a need for restrictions in the state.

“The reality is we don’t want to go back to where we were at the beginning of 2020 where we had to shut everything down,” she said.

“The only way we can prevent that from happening is everyone needs to put on masks again in Oregon, particularly indoors or in crowded spaces, and vaccinate. It’s really two things.”

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