Staying home does appear to be slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon and in Deschutes County — and health authorities are urging that measures stay in place into May to keep numbers down.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reports that new projections from health researchers estimate that Oregon’s “aggressive” social distancing measures have prevented as many as 18,000 cases of COVID-19 and 500 hospitalizations. However, OHA states, these restrictions must be maintained into May to prevent new cases from rising above current daily levels. A link to the report on “COVID-19 intervention effectiveness and epidemic trends for Oregon: a model-based analysis” can be found with the online version of this story at www.nuggetnews.com.

Researchers “emphasize the urgent need for enormously increased testing capacity. It will not be possible to relax social distancing measures and avoid an epidemic rebound without significantly increased testing.”

The latest model is based on actual COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death data. Researchers lengthened their assumptions on hospital length-of-stay based on accumulation of additional data from Oregon cases. The results aid in planning the state’s response. According to the latest report, which extends modeling until May 18:

• Under current social distancing conditions, the total cumulative infections with COVID-19 in Oregon on May 18 would be fewer than 20,000. If the state were to return to moderate social distancing (i.e., reopen non-essential businesses, keep schools closed), new infections would quickly climb to more than 60,000 by May 18.

• Active infections would stay at currently projected levels of more than 2,000 cases per day through mid-May and then begin to slowly subside, if the state maintains current social distancing. However, if the state were to return to moderate social distancing, the number of active infections each day would spike to more than 17,000 per day.

• The projected adult acute care and intensive care bed usage will remain below the available capacity in Oregon through the model period (through May 18).

The models were prepared by the Institute for Disease Modeling in Washington. Based on the data, researchers predict there are about 7,000 active infections in Oregon at this time.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer at OHA, said: “Staying at home and maintaining physical distancing is difficult and has had serious economic impacts that have affected many people, but the data continue to show that Oregonians are saving lives by staying home. The latest projections are more conservative than previous versions of the model because they account for variables such as longer hospital stays or the likelihood that COVID-19 has been in Oregon longer than we initially estimated. However, even these estimates, show we can slow new COVID-19 infections and ultimately begin to drive them down if we can sustain today’s social distancing measures.”

According to the model released Saturday, the state should expect to see fewer than 500 hospitalizations per day due to COVID-19 if social distancing remains in place; Oregon hospitals would use fewer than 200 ICU beds per day. Nearly 2,000 beds per day would be needed by May 18 if current stay home orders were relaxed.