A post-pandemic Oregon: Experts talk new variants, flu cases and more

Nationwide, the 2020-2021 season saw record low flu transmission rates. Will higher rates return?

Posted: Jul 8, 2021 4:06 PM
Updated: Jul 8, 2021 6:23 PM

LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- Oregon's COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted for nearly a week now, but health officials say following safety protocols especially during peak flu seasons will be crucial to preventing future pandemics.

RELATED: OREGON REOPENS, ENDING MOST STATEWIDE CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS

Nationwide, the 2020-2021 season saw record low flu transmission rates. In Oregon, the percent positivity rate was consistently below 0.5% weekly. Health officials attribute this to health guidelines in place during the pandemic.

KEZI talked to Dr. Bob Pelz, director of infectious diseases at PeaceHealth. He said currently PeaceHealth is not showing an uptick in other infectious diseases but anticipates that flu seasons could look like previous years once schools are back in session and colder weather comes around.

"I don't have any doubt viruses are going to make a comeback," Pelz said. "We're not seeing it yet. But schools are closed and people have only been taking off their masks for a week or so."

Pelz said it's a good idea to use masks in the future during cold or flu seasons.

There is also growing concern with new COVID-19 variants rapidly spreading. Health officials said there is a possibility the current vaccines will no longer be effective against the variants so the key is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. This is because emerging new variants only occur among infected people.

"The Delta variant is somewhere between three to five times more transmissible than most of the other strains of COVID-19 circulating," Pelz said. "This is likely to replace the other variants that are present in Oregon."

Currently, OHA reports that 92% of COVID-19 cases involve those who are unvaccinated. Health officials continue to emphasize the importance of vaccines and say that the notion that immune systems become more durable after infection is false.

"People that get really sick with COVID-19 are worse off in terms of their immune system because they take such a beating from the infection," Pelz said.

Lane County Public Health said that their data for flu and rhinovirus remains low as of now.

Community members said they believe the implementation of increased santitation should help keep respiratory disease rates low.

"I'm not really concerned about flu because we have those hand cleanliness stations and hand sanitizers," said Blue River resident Rhain Hagan. "I think it will be lower than it has been in the past."

Eugene resident Bruce Lawrence also weighed in.

"I don't think it's a bad idea to keep safety protocols in place," Lawrence said. "I wash my hands a lot more than I used to."

Pelz said following the same health guidelines will help prevent disease in the future.

"There are lots of other coronaviruses and other viruses that could cause problems again like this," Pelz said.

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