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Social distancing appears to be working in Oregon, experts say

State health officials believe thousands of people could be spared from the coronavirus if Oregonians stay home and practice social distancing.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Social distancing and staying home appears to be working in Oregon to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to researchers.

It's not easy keep our distance. We're all social animals and like to be close to each other.

But it appears to be working to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

And yes, we are hearing about more positive tests, but Oregon Health Authority doctors say that is to be expected because so many more people are getting tested.

“A whole bunch of those that are coming back are not critically ill. They're milder cases because we are expanding testing as we can to reach broader and broader audiences,” said Dr. Dawn Mautner.

During a conference call Thursday, state health director Dr. Dean Sidelinger said it looks like the social distancing is working—and could keep hospitals from being overwhelmed in Oregon.

"if people heed the advice, the orders in the current executive in Oregon, the orders and 'Stay Home and Save Lives'... We will keep people healthy and that number of infections will rise very slowly and that number would be something that could be taken care of by our hospital partners,” said Dr. Sidelinger.

The Institute of Disease Modeling issued charts showing what could happen between now and May 8 in Oregon.

RELATED: Social distancing could protect up to 20,000 Oregonians from getting COVID-19, models show

They estimate if we went back to business as usual there could be as many as 26,000 people infected and that would likely overwhelm the hospitals.

But they found that even the moderate measures – closing schools and banning large gatherings, would hold infections down to a more manageable level of roughly 6,000.

And the current aggressive strategy of staying home could hold infections down to as little as 1,000 people in Oregon between now and early May.

Another promising part of the report predicts we can slow the spread of the virus. The experts found that even moderate steps like closing the schools cut the rate of infection by 40%. And the more aggressive measures can slow it down by as much as 80%.

So far the hospitals are relatively quiet. Dr. Jennifer Vines, the lead health officer for Multnomah County, said we still need to assume a surge is coming, but each day people stay home helps.

"I think many people have heard our advice to stay home for mild illness. So again, this buys us time and hopefully we'll be saying, maybe weeks from now, that we overreacted, but I would much prefer that to the opposite scenario,” Dr. Vines said.

RELATED: Portland schools to roll out online learning program amid coronavirus pandemic

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