News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Did we blow it on COVID-19?

“You know, Billy. We blew it….We blew it.”

— from the 1969 landmark, counterculture film “Easy Rider.”

Uttered by the character, Wyatt/Captain America, the quote in the epigraph comes close to the film’s closing scene, capturing his repugnance at what he and his sidekick, Billy, initiated on their cross-country trip atop their famous Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Actor Peter Fonda’s simple, reflective lines parallel our current COVID-19 crisis.

This article updates “predictions” published in my February 24 column. Then, the number of recorded COVID-19 cases were: Oregon, 32,820; Deschutes County, 810; and Sisters, 25. As of May 1, 2021, the number of cases were: Oregon, 185,000; Deschutes County, 7,949; and Sisters, 182.

Using these three data points, average COVID-19 case increase per week ranges from 15 to 28 percent. The significant average: 20 percent per week.

While Deschutes County’s cases are only 4.4 percent of Oregon’s 36 counties’ cases, Governor Brown’s decisions impact our community and our daily choices. Recently, the St. Charles Health System reported being at 92 percent of capacity and delaying elective surgeries. The elevation to the Extreme Risk category occurred and impacts — once again and very significantly — businesses, schools, organizations, and our communities. (The elevation was subsequently rescinded, and Deschutes County is currently designated High Risk).

Sizeable, recent, predictable increases in COVID-19 cases are concerning. Particularly, due to the increased level of first and second COVID-19 vaccinations in recent months. Moreover, we are entering spring/summer – last year, the numbers grew explosively. Finally, the vaccination reluctance/refusal from about 20 percent of United States residents.

Let’s backtrack to the February 24 column that described the marked, predictable decreases occurring both in Oregon and Deschutes County’s COVID-19 case number, after the uptick in December’s 2020 numbers.

Excluding the holiday period, November 29 through February 2, showed a consistent decline. Using statistical tools, it was predicted (and plotted using dashed lines) that at the week of April 4, the COVID-19 case numbers would be: Oregon, 439; Deschutes: 14. Chart A.

The following three weeks, February 14, 21, and 28, COVID-19 cases for both were on — or below — the computer-generated trend line. Data for those weeks are in the blue box.

The great news? Our consistent, COVID-19 process behavior was improving even better than predicted! Therefore, the 439 Oregon and 14 Deschutes levels would be accomplished even sooner than predicted.

Chart B shows these projected points at the week of April 4 — marked A in a yellow circle.

After the week of February 28, COVID-19 case numbers spiked again. Virtually each data point increased after the week of March 7 (Chart B: B in Yellow Dot).

Currently, Deschutes County’s huge, consistent weekly COVID-19 numbers are alarming, as are Oregon’s numbers. Oregon’s recent case-rate increase was the second-highest of any American state.

What happened? Influences of vaccines? Spring break/out-of-staters vacationing? COVID-19 variants? Relaxed preventative behavior?

Statistically, as of May 1, 30.5 percent of Oregon’s population has been fully vaccinated; that is, 1,284,955. This ranks Oregon at 28th of U.S. states.

Let’s look at our neighboring states: No. 22 Washington, 2,454,705 (32.2 percent); No. 24 huge California, 11,945,441 (30.2 percent): and Idaho, 482,267 (26.9 percent). California has virtually the same as Oregon’s vaccination percent. By sheer numbers, they most likely had the largest amount of visits into Oregon during spring break/spring.

As for COVID-19 variants, the media has not greatly emphasized this as a major “smoking gun.” Younger people have been identified as getting variants more. It could be rationalized that Deschutes County and Oregon have the same exposure as other states to variants. Recent national medical reports are trying to determine better data collection for variants.

Logically — with the huge, ramped-up number of vaccinations — it would seem that this factor would have a major, quantifiable impact now on the overall case numbers. It will come, most assuredly, but not now.

It seems like human behavior — letting our guard down with associated behavior — could be the reason for increases here in Deschutes County and Oregon. In particular, rates of COVID-19 infections have grown dramatically in the 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-year old brackets. In my earlier November 2020 column, Canada’s Nova Scotia noticed this pattern.

If these observations are correct, consistent compliance – by everyone — to simple COVID-19 prevention practices still seem logical and necessary. Since March 7, arguably, we “have blown it” by being complacent and letting our guards down.

However, we are not in the long-term position to say, “You know, Deschutes County and Oregon... we blew it.”

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