News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

COVID-19 by the numbers in local community

SARS-CoV-2 and the resulting illness, COVID-19, is front and center again with increasing case counts and hospitalizations.

As The Nugget has reported, frustrations and tempers are also on the rise, likely in some part due to lack of data or misinterpreted data, or in some cases refusal to accept the data. Then there are those who mistrust the source of the data, so we are left with a slurry of opinions as to the severity of the delta variant surge that began unofficially July 19, after two successive days of zero cases surged to 29 in Deschutes County.

The County remains at comparatively low levels for COVID-19 through Saturday’s New York Times tracker, reporting 253,000 cumulative cases in all of Oregon with 3,033 deaths. Of those, 12,430 are mapped to Deschutes with 89 deaths. With a statewide population of 4.24 million, Deschutes County at 197,374 persons has 4.6 percent of the state’s citizens and 4.9 percent of its cases. The County survival rate is lower, posting 2.93 percent of the statewide deaths.

Through Saturday, the seven-day rolling case average for Oregon is 2,073 and for Deschutes, 125, or six percent of the cases, an upward trend.

Most of the media attention is first on cases (those testing positive), closely followed by hospitalizations. Deaths are often not reported. Of course, every death is a deep loss to family and loved ones — and to a large degree preventable, health professionals admonish.

The survivability rate in Deschutes County is 99.28 percent, according to the County’s COVID-19 Dashboard, a result of the high quality of care and treatment at St. Charles Health System and seventh-best county vaccination record in the state; 86.2 percent of county residents over 65 are vaccinated (better than the state at large) and 73.5 percent of all 18+ are vaccinated vs. 70.9 percent across Oregon.

In Jackson County, by comparison, those rates are 75.2 percent for the over 65s and 45.6 percent for those 18 years and older. Deschutes’ death rate is 36.6 percent less per 100,000 residents than Oregon as a whole.

Not surprisingly, 64 percent of all deaths in Deschutes County recorded as “from” COVID-19 are 80 or older, an age demographic comprising four percent of the county’s population. Seventy-eight percent of COVID-19 deaths are 70-plus years of age (12 percent of the citizenry) and 97 percent are at least 60 years old. After a deep-dive search, The Nugget can find only one death “from” COVID-19 in Sisters, a 94-year-old male who died March 1. Matching deaths to zip codes has proven extremely elusive.

On the other hand, cases of COVID-19 by age group is a complete flip: 51 percent of Deschutes County cases are among those age 20 to 40 (who represent 24 percent of the population); 14 percent of recorded cases are under 20 with four percent under 10 years old.

Geographically, zip code 97756 (Redmond) has 26.1 percent of the cases through Saturday. Bend has 58.6 percent and Sisters (97759) is registering 276 total cases (2.9 percent of the total county cases). Using Census Bureau estimates, Sisters (97759) has 7,896 people — four percent of the county total. So, the 276 cases as a percentage is a good sign when measured against other communities.

Comorbidity is often cited as a major contributing factor to death from COVID-19, including obesity and its cousin, diabetes. Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reports that obesity is present in 14 percent of deaths and diabetes 28 percent. Cardiovascular disease found in 50 percent of deaths and 32 percent are bearing neurological conditions.

The OHA’s dashboard tells us that 509 eligible persons in 97759 remain to be vaccinated to reach the goal of 80 percent, a goal that originally stood at 70 percent. Redmond appears to be the most vaccine-resistant of our neighbors. Zip code 97756 needs another 8,974 of its residents to get jabbed to reach goal.

Three percent of all reported COVID-19 cases in Deschutes required hospitalization. Last Wednesday morning OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting) reported: “There are no ICU beds left in all of Oregon Region 7, which includes Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Klamath, Lake, and Wheeler counties.”

The Nugget sought confirmation of that report and reached out to Lisa Goodman, public information officer for St. Charles Health Care. She reported that, in fact, they had six available ICU beds. This is but one of a number of contradictory news reports issued as broadcasters and publishers scramble to keep up with a fast-moving target. On Monday, OHA reported that there were three adult ICU beds available in region 7.

Still, ICU beds at St.?Charles and across the state are under pressure with the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. Likewise, staffing shortages in the St. Charles system led to about 150 Oregon National Guard personnel arriving Thursday to lend a hand. None, however, are filling licensed, clinical roles, a broad misconception leading to reports of the hospital being completely overwhelmed with COVID-19.

St. Charles, like all employers, is combating a severe labor shortage, especially at lower-skilled and starting-wage jobs — some of the ones to be filled by the Guard through September. By design, hospitals operate with lean staffs relying on overtime and traveling nurses to stopgap temporary rises in patients.

More and more frontline healthcare workers — nurses, physician assistants, physical and respiratory therapists — are opting to be independent contractors traveling to the setting and season of their choice and working less-demanding schedules. A travel RN can earn as much as $10,600/week, although $1,000 per day is more typical. It is not just COVID-19 that is the source of staffing woes.


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