New modeling suggests Oregon’s strict social distancing averted 70,000 coronavirus infections

Restrictions due to COVID-19 have halted face-to-face gatherings and closed businesses in an effort to stop the spread of the pandemic. (CDC file art)

Oregon’s aggressive steps to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus may have averted more than 70,000 infections, including almost 1,500 hospitalizations, according to a new analysis released Friday by state health officials.

The projections, provided by the Institute for Disease Modeling in Washington, are only estimates used for planning by Oregon health officials.

While imperfect, the officials say they offer the latest evidence that Oregon flattened the the curve of its COVID-19 outbreak through the strict social distancing measures imposed more than a month ago.

 “Our collective efforts are working,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s epidemiologist.

The latest projections estimate that up to 8,400 Oregonians actually have contracted the coronavirus, nearly four times the 2,177 known cases reported in the state as of Friday.

Limited testing capacity in Oregon and other states have created a dramatic undercount of coronavirus cases nationwide. Medical experts also now believe that many infected people don’t show symptoms of the illness.

At least 86 of Oregon’s known COVID-19 patients have died and 520 have been hospitalized, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Here are the latest model findings had the state decided not to impose a statewide stay-at-home order, according to the Institute:

• Oregon’s cumulative COVID-19 infections would have reached about 80,000 on April 16. That’s 71,600 more than the 8,400 infections estimated by the model.

• Oregon’s hospitalizations would have reached about 2,000 on April. 16. That’s 1,480 more hospitalizations than the 520 identified by state health officials.

The study’s authors say that despite avoiding a public health catastrophe, Oregon isn’t yet ready to return to normal.

 “We emphasize the urgent need for enormously increased testing capacity,” they wrote. “It will not be possible to relax social distancing measures and avoid an epidemic rebound without significantly increased testing.”

State officials this week released new guidelines widening the pool of Oregonians eligible for coronavirus testing, including those with mild and, in limited circumstances, no symptoms of the illness.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced that a Walgreens in Hillsboro will begin offering rapid, drive-thru testing for those who meet federal and state eligibility standards. Hospitals and private labs also continue to expand testing capacity in the state.

 “One step at a time, we are making progress towards the day when we can begin to reopen our communities and safely return to public life,” Brown said.

This story is published as part of a collaborative of news organizations across Oregon sharing stories in the public interest. The Malheur Enterprise is part of the collaborative.