Dr. Emilio DeBess
Dr. Emilio DeBess
The delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, seen for the first time in India in October 2020, carries a genetic change that makes it highly transmissible. It’s the most contagious form of the virus so far, said Dr. Emilio DeBess, epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority.

An Aug. 23 Oregon Health Authority report cited 4,701 new cases of COVID-19, an increase of 78% compared to the previous 14 days. Two dozen more patients died as a result of the disease, bringing the total number of deaths from COVID-19 in Oregon to 3,036.

“The delta variant caused at least 92% of new infections in the United States on the East Coast, and in Oregon we are already reaching 80%, especially in unvaccinated people,” DeBess said.

“The more people get infected, the more strains are going to develop,” he warned.

DeBess said the approved vaccines are the best protection against COVID-19 and its mutations. In face of the delta variant, the centers for Disease Control and Prevention have again recommended the use of face masks, even if people are fully vaccinated.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued executive orders reinstating the use of face masks at public gatherings, indoors or outdoors. The Archdiocese of Portland announced that face masks are required again for all adults and children over the age of 5 at parishes.

Father Manuel Becerra of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Salem lamented the strong impact of the pandemic on faith practice. However, the priest said that strict adherence to the norms established by health authorities and the archdiocese have led to success in controlling transmission. No case of contagion has occurred in western Oregon Catholic churches.

Father Becerra received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in February and the second dose three weeks later.

“I decided to get vaccinated with myself and my community in mind,” he said in Spanish. “It is very important to protect our life and protect the lives of others. There is nothing more valuable that God has given us and placed in our hands than our own lives and the lives of the people we are in charge of.”

Father Becerra expressed concern at the high percentage of people in Oregon’s Hispanic community who have not yet received the vaccine.

He urged members of the community not to be afraid and to stop believing in myths.

“Let's believe the people who know and go to get the vaccine,” he said. “God created science and gave intelligence and wisdom to doctors and scientists. I think that the most important thing here is to help God and help humanity so that the spread of the virus can be stopped.”

Oregon hospitals face unprecedented havoc.

“We are far exceeding the hospitalization numbers we saw during the pre-vaccination surges last fall and winter,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, epidemiologist and director of the Oregon State Division of Health, said in a news release. “This situation is putting unprecedented pressure on our local hospitals. Some hospitals have been forced to suspend much-needed medical procedures due to overflowing capacity.”

As morgues fill, refrigerated trucks are being sent to health care sites, including Providence hospitals around the state. National Guard troops have stepped in to help health workers.

patriciam@ocp.org