As COVID numbers decline from the latest peak in Central Oregon, the lack of precautions is paving the way for another illness to make a comeback.
“Here in Central Oregon we reached a (BA.2 variant) peak of 30 patients coming through the hospital on June 1,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, the Senior Data Scientist for St. Charles Hospital.
The variant is seemingly tapping the brakes in the region after the COVID-19 variant was discovered last November.
“We’ve had on average 16 patients over the past seven days, and that’s down 30% what it was from the previous seven days,” Johnson said.
There’s been a slight decline in general COVID cases over the past couple of weeks as well, with new 623 cases reported between June 1-7, and 595 between June 8-14.
But it’s not COVID that’s top of mind right now for doctors.
It’s the flu.
“In a typical non-pandemic year, flu seasons generally run on the west coast starting in December or January, and run for several months, but really has typically finished up by May,” said Dr. Rebecca Hicks, a Pediatrician at Mosaic Medical. “We do have the odd year here and there where we’re still seeing a good bit of the flu in May, but almost never in June.
“This year, influenza really started to tick up in the middle of March and had quite a big spike there, and then has continued on at a consistent level.”
After an almost nonexistent flu season last spring due to COVID precautions, the disease made a comeback after a notable change in those precautions.
“I know in schools here in Central Oregon, the mask mandate ended on March 12, and then about 10 days after that we saw a really dramatic increase in flu cases,” Hicks said.
Both COVID cases and flu cases are targeting one demographic the most.
“Kids and adolescents are seeing more cases than adults right now,” Hicks said. “If you look at hospitalization data in Central Oregon, about 60% to 75% of the cases presenting to the emergency room or urgent cares are less than 18 years old.”
Johnson has seen a similar trend in COVID cases.
“We’re seeing a lot of pediatric cases coming through the emergency department. Actually the average age for a COVID case in the ED for a child is less than 8 years old,” he said. “And it’s been less than 10 since the first of the year, so it’s the younger kids that are showing up in the ED.”
Hicks said that though the flu season is running later than normal, the end seems to be in sight.
“Tomorrow’s the last day of school for a lot of kids here in Central Oregon,” she said. “It’s already been declining over the past two weeks so that trend already started, but I think that flu cases will come to a close here soon.”
Still, she encouraged safety precautions to prevent any further spread.
“Some people are choosing to still wear masks and there is come efficacy, you can prevent the spread of the flu through mask-wearing, and that’s really a personal choice because there are upsides and downsides to mask wearing especially for children,” Hicks said. “Covering coughs and sneezes, staying home if you really feel sick.”
She said the flu vaccine is less effective this year than in the past, but it can provide some protection.
“The way that it works is they pick strains based on what strains were circulating in the Southern Hemisphere in the previous flu season. They use that to predict what strains will come here in the Northern Hemisphere for that flu season,” she said. “Because we didn’t have a flu season last year it was really tough for those health officials to pick the strains…so the flu vaccine this year likely gives some protections against hospitalization and severe illness, but not very good protection, not what we usually see from a flu vaccine.”
Johnson said the COVID hospitalizations would likely get even lower, but he expects them to persist throughout the summer.
“We are improving, but it’s just not going to go away,” he said. “It’s happily dipping below that 20 patients per day on average, and it may get down and hover around 10 patients per day, but it’s going to continue to taunt us for awhile.”
You can view the full Central Oregon Weekly Flu Report from the previous week below.
To see national flu numbers for the week, visit the CDC’s tracking page here.