December 9, 2021

Multnomah County is holding steady against COVID-19 even as the state and nation begin to see a post-Thanksgiving bump in cases. Test positivity in the County remains at about 5 percent — a marker of controllable disease spread — and hospitalizations continue to decline. 

Breakthrough cases in people who have been fully vaccinated continue to comprise nearly a third of new cases, but serious illness and death among vaccinated people remain extremely low, Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Dec. 7, during a routine briefing on the pandemic.

Top of mind for most people in recent days is the new omicron variant of COVID-19. This latest mutation of the coronavirus was first identified in southern Africa in early November, Vines explained to commissioners. By December, the World Health Organization had labeled it a variant of concern, with countries around the world reimposing travel restrictions to try and stem the spread of the variant. But within a week of those restrictions, cases had been found on every continent and in 20 U.S. states.

Vaccination rates by age group, Multnomah County, 2021-12-09

The variant is worrisome, “not just because of the number of mutations, but where they are, on the spike protein,” she said. “That’s what the virus uses to get into our cells and reproduce.” And that raises questions about whether the new strain is more contagious or makes existing vaccines less effective. 

“Of course COVID travels fast and, despite travel restrictions, we’ve seen the variant in several countries and states including Washington and California,” Vines said. “We have to assume it’s here in Oregon.”

She said it’s too soon to know how the omicron variant might act, despite what any early headlines might indicate. Much of what experts knew in the first weeks was based on a population that was younger on average and less likely to be vaccinated. 

“It’s going to take weeks before patterns emerge and we know anything,” she said. “Many people expect vaccines to continue to provide good protection against severe disease.… In the meantime, masks indoors will protect against any version of the virus. Similarly, to lower your risk, limit the size of gatherings and your number of social contacts.” 

In Multnomah County, nearly 85 percent of people 18 and older already have at least one dose of a vaccine that protects against COVID-19, among the highest vaccination rates in the state.

“I’m so proud of the folks in Multnomah County. Our vaccination rate is climbing to 85 percent, which is amazing,” said Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey. “A vaccine could save your life.”

Guernsey said the County continues to focus its clinics on reaching Black and Indigenous residents and other communities of color, and the disparities in vaccination are narrowing, but remain. Consider: 80 percent of White residents have at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 72 percent for American Indian and Alaska Native residents, 69 percent for Black and African American residents, and 61 percent for Latinx residents.

Vaccine clinics for adults are busy, she said. “Last Wednesday with REACH, we stayed open two additional hours because we had so many people lining up for vaccines, which is really good news,” she said.

Check out Upcoming COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics to find the right clinic for you.