Editor's Note: Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek sends out a frequent newsletter to residents in her District 44 and others in Oregon. The following is her latest newsletter dispatched on Wednesday, Aug. 18.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek

My reactions to the latest COVID-19 Delta variant news have ranged from sadness to anger to exasperation. We are fighting back again, facing a worst-case scenario of the pandemic.

Today, there are 850 Oregonians hospitalized with COVID-19 and 224 Oregonians in intensive care unit beds. Both of these are state records and are expected to be broken again in the days ahead. More than 93% of Oregon’s ICU beds across the state are filled. The graph below shows just how dramatically hospitalizations have been rising statewide due to the Delta variant and the number of unvaccinated Oregonians.

Hospital Chart

Today, no ICU beds are available in Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk or Yamhill counties. Beds are also filling up in the Portland metro area with severe cases from around the state. Some hospitals have been forced to cancel surgeries to preserve limited capacity. In some cases, Oregonians are having to be transferred to out-of-state facilities to receive care. Emergency rooms are seeing significant delays. Hospital workers are overwhelmed and exhausted.

ICU Capacity 8-18-21

The National Guard is being deployed to help hospital systems handle the dramatic surge in patients. Officials in Jackson and Josephine County have requested a field hospital because of the dire situation in Southern Oregon, where patients are being treated in hallways due to the lack of space. The Oregon congressional delegation has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide additional medical support.

Over the many months of reading my newsletter, I hope you know I don’t exaggerate my concerns. I try to give you just the facts. The simple truth is that communities with low vaccination rates have higher infection rates. Curry, Josephine, Douglas and Jackson counties have some of the highest case rates in the country. The Delta variant has been a game-changer in how we have to respond, once again, to the pandemic. We have to act. Lives and livelihoods are at stake, once again.

If you are unvaccinated, PLEASE get vaccinated as quickly as possible. I urge anyone with influence to do the responsible thing and communicate to others the health benefits of wearing a mask and getting the vaccine. For information on where to get a vaccine, click here.

I know there are concerns and hesitations about getting vaccinated because you could still get COVID-19. Sure, breakthrough cases are discouraging. But vaccinated people are still much less likely to get severely ill or die. Remember, 99.999% of fully vaccinated Americans have NOT died from COVID-19.

Please keep these 3 things in mind:

  • All three COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective in preventing severe COVID-19 symptoms that lead to hospitalization.
  • The Delta variant is much more contagious than past variants.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Oregon Health Authority recommend that everyone — regardless of vaccination status — wear a mask in public indoor settings to slow the spread of the Delta variant and protect others.

The vaccine conversation can be hard with friends and family. If you have a close friend or family member who has not yet gotten vaccinated, encourage them to speak with a trusted health care provider who may help convince them.

The next best thing you can do is wear a mask, which will maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others.

You can also reduce risk by choosing safer activities:

  • Outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones.
  • If you are indoors, choose a location that is well ventilated, for example a room with open windows, and wear a mask.
  • Avoid activities that make it hard to stay 6 feet away from others.
  • Limit visits with people who are not vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.
  • Keep distance between your unvaccinated child and other people in public.
  • Regardless of which safer activities your family chooses, remember to protect yourself and others.

It’s scary to be in this position less than two months after we thought the worst of the pandemic was behind us. These next weeks are going to be very challenging. Please don’t lose hope. We’ve got to be strong and persevere.

We’re going to get through this together.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is a Democrat representing District 44. She may be reached at 503-986-1444.

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