Central Oregon hospitals, healthcare centers prepare for COVID-19

A tent goes up outside the emergency room entrance at St. Charles Redmond on Friday, March 13, 2020 in preparation to triage incoming patients with COVID-19 symptoms. 

County health officials expected a post-holiday spike from Labor Day gatherings and were not surprised when the number of COVID-19 cases doubled in Deschutes County in a week-over-week comparison.

Past holiday weekends — Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Fourth of July — all were the same: a surge in cases 10 to 14 days after.

From the week beginning Sept. 6 to the week beginning Sept 13, the number of cases went from 20 to 46 in the county, said Morgan Emerson, Deschutes County Health Services spokeswoman. For comparison, the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 there were 13 cases of COVID-19 in Deschutes County, according to county data.

“The increase in the past week is notable,” Emerson said. “We’ll have a better sense with another one or two weeks of data.”

Cases rose 87% in Central Oregon during the same period from 39 to 73, according to county data.

Nationwide the number of new daily confirmed cases has jumped more than 13% in the past 10 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon Health Authority health officer and state epidemiologist, acknowledged that the state’s COVID-19 case counts have increased in the past couple of weeks, but testing has decreased, in part because of wildfires, evacuations and poor air quality. Oregon’s infection rate rose by 19%.

“We have not yet seen significant cases due to the transmission over Labor Day weekend, but our identification of these cases lags.”

Gov. Kate Brown, at a press briefing Wednesday in Salem, said that despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, Oregon is among the states with the lowest overall infection rates.

“We all want to celebrate with our family and friends, and I think when we are with people we know and love we let our guard down,” Brown said.

Hotel occupancy in Bend hovered around 90% over the Labor Day Weekend, according to STR, an international hotel analytics firm. By comparison, hotel occupancy for the weekend ending Sept. 12 averaged about 70%.

The higher case counts in Deschutes County are mostly from social gatherings, travel and workplace transmissions among co-workers, Emerson said.

In September, more than a third of the county’s cases were from travel, 21% from household connections, 44% linked to a cluster from another close contact, but not a household member, she said.

Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles Health System chief physician executive, said the difference between this surge and the first one when the coronavirus first made its appearance in March in Central Oregon, is that this time the hospital is busier and seasonal flu is ramping up.

Currently the hospital has seven patients with COVID-19, Absalon said.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, our hospitals weren’t busy,” Absalon said. “We had canceled elective surgeries and the ER wasn’t busy. We’re busy now and we have COVID that’s with us. Everything our community can do to protect individuals, the community and our families is really important for us from becoming overwhelmed.”

In Crook County where the cases of COVID-19 are relatively low, people have mask fatigue, said Vicky Ryan, county Health Department emergency preparedness coordinator. Crook County has 61 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday. Health officials say they may not be seeing the surge yet because some of the gatherings occurred later than other communities. Some events did not enforce facial covering requirements, Ryan said.

“We’ve done so well up to this point to keep our cases low. We’ll be hitting the messaging hard. The biggest concern is that we’re starting to see face-covering fatigue. They’re done and want to be done.”

The county passes out free facial coverings to individuals and businesses in its public outreach, Ryan said.

Health officials are concerned that with such a large amount of cases tied to travel, the virus is spread further. Travelers who might have the COVID-19 virus stop at rest stops, gas stations and restaurants along their route.

“You have more interactions with people and more potential for transmission, so you’re increasing your risk,” Emerson said. “Because people can transmit the virus before they know they’re sick, they have the potential to transmit the virus to others and that increases the spread of the virus.”

Generally viruses spread during the fall and winter months more because people are indoors and are in close contact, Emerson said.

“Our community has done a great job, and we’ve seen similar spikes after other holidays and the case counts have gone back down,” Emerson said. “We’re hoping that people will continue to take the precautions they’ve been taking.”

Gary Warner contributed to this report

Reporter: 541-633-2117,

sroig@bendbulletin.com

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