Even with a newer subvariant on the rise, health officials don’t foresee reverting back to strict COVID safety protocols.
MULTNOMAH COUNTY, Ore. — COVID-19 numbers are low, mask mandates are lifted and many Oregonians feel a sense of relief after two full years of a global pandemic. The current state of things begs the question — is this the end of COVID?
One local health official said she’s cautiously optimistic.
The Multnomah County Health Department is keeping a close eye on how lifting the mask mandate could impact case numbers and how a new so-called “stealth” variant could play a role.
“For some people [the word] stealth feels like sneak, and for some people it feels like quiet. And I’m kind of leaning towards the second,” said Teresa Everson, a deputy health officer with Multnomah County.
The newer COVID strain, called omicron subvariant BA.2, is currently driving a rise in cases across Europe. Experts say it’s more transmissible than the original omicron strain.
Everson said she believes BA.2 isn’t as concerning as previous variants, based on what they’ve seen so far.
“As of this morning, the numbers that we got from the state were about 12% of our total cases were BA.2. Some of the lessons that we have learned from watching other parts of the world who have gone through omicron surges and now have some circulating BA.2 is that in areas where we have a lot of immunity, both from vaccination and from the omicron surge, they are not really seeing much of an impact from BA.2.”
That’s good news, given that Oregon and Washington dropped mask mandates, letting local governments lead the way with COVID rules.
“There is room for folks to judge their own level of risk right now, and it is not to say that the pandemic is over or that we have 100% safety, because we do have some circulating COVID out there.”
Daily cases continue to drop. That being said, Everson pointed out, it’s a bit too soon to say what relaxing restrictions could mean.
“We are not done with the pandemic but I don’t know what that is going to look like,” she said. “We don’t have a specific point past which we might recommend stepping back to previous measures, but what I will say is that we would like to focus more on recommendations than any kind of requirement.”