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Troops in Oregon to man covid units

State once lauded for virus response

GILLIAN FLACCUS Information for this article was contributed by Andrew Selsky and Sara Cline in Portland of The Associated Press.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s governor said Friday that she will send up to 1,500 National Guard troops to hospitals around the state to assist health care workers who are being pushed to the brink by a surge of covid-19 cases driven by the delta variant.

Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said the first group of 500 Guard members will be deployed next Friday to serve as material and equipment runners in the most stricken hospitals and to help with covid-19 testing, among other things. Troops will be sent to 20 hospitals around Oregon.

There are 733 people hospitalized with the virus in Oregon as of Friday, including 185 people in intensive care units — more than 60 people more than just a day before and nearly double what the number was two weeks ago.

“I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of this crisis for all Oregonians, especially those needing emergency and intensive care,” Brown said, reiterating that message. “When our hospitals are full with covid-19 patients, there may not be room for someone needing care after a car crash, a heart attack, or other emergency situation.”

The delta variant now makes up 96% of all samples tested, up from just 15% six weeks ago, according to Oregon Health Authority data.

“The harsh and frustrating reality is that the delta variant has changed everything,” the governor said.

Oregon, once viewed as a pandemic success story, has seen that progress slip away in recent weeks. The state kept an indoor mask mandate and social distancing rules in place until June 30, shut down restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses repeatedly since March 2020 and had strict indoor capacity limits for businesses long after other states had returned to near-normal.

Amid the surge, Brown has mandated masks for all students and staff in K-12 schools and a new statewide indoor mask mandate took effect Friday. But earlier this week, hospitals warned that Oregon’s record-setting virus hospitalization numbers were pushing them to capacity and some have already had to start delaying care for non-covid conditions.

Oregon Health & Science University reported dire projections show the state will have 1,000 hospitalized covid-19 patients on Labor Day if nothing changes, leaving Oregon short 400 to 500 hospital beds.

“This is the worst-case scenario that Oregonians worked so hard to avoid in March 2020,” said in a statement from the hospital read.

There were 1,785 new or presumed cases statewide Friday and seven deaths.

About 29% of adults in Oregon are unvaccinated, and more than 102,000 vaccine doses have been thrown away because of non-use.