Omicron driving COVID-19 spread in community, detention and other congregate settings

January 20, 2022

Omicron is a variant that spreads faster than the COVID-19 strains than Multnomah County Public Health saw in 2020 and 2021, and officials are seeing that rapid spread in the community and wherever people live together in congregate settings.

During the week of Dec. 5, 2021, 724 cases of COVID-19 were reported to Multnomah County Public Health. The week of Jan. 9, 2022, Public Health received 10,071 positive lab results, a nearly 1,300% increase. And, given the prevalence of home testing, and difficulty accessing laboratory testing, that is almost certainly an undercount. 

People in congregate settings where several individuals share living space and are often at increased risk because of underlying health issues, are seeing additional cases, as well. Public Health is currently responding to 248 outbreaks in congregate settings such as long-term care facilities (in 54 of those congregate settings, there is a single case, in the remainder, there are multiple cases). The 248 tally compares to typically 30 or fewer outbreaks in previous months. 

The County’s detention centers are also experiencing this surge. In December, there were four cases among adults in custody in the Multnomah County Detention Center and none in the Inverness Jail.

In contrast, in January, there have been 10 cases of adults in custody at the Multnomah County Detention Center and 56 cases at Inverness Jail.

The cases, however, appear to be mostly mild. There have been no hospitalizations in December or January. There have been no deaths.

Indeed, there have been no deaths in County detention centers since the beginning of the pandemic.

Public Health working with Corrections Health to respond

Public Health is working closely with Corrections Health and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to lower the risk of COVID transmission in a setting with multiple constraints. These include screening for symptoms of COVID at booking and daily during the first 10 days of incarceration; offering rapid tests for anyone in quarantined housing areas who asks or exhibits symptoms, offering the highest quality masks that can comfortably be worn by adults in custody, and ongoing work on staff availability and physical space.


Because the highest protection from getting seriously ill from Omicron is to be vaccinated and boosted, Corrections Health is continuing to regularly offer all adults and youth in custody vaccinations. And, because well-fitting masks in indoor settings continue to be effective at reducing spread, County officials continue to promote the consistent use of well-fitting masks in all County facilities, especially in detention and other congregate settings.