News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

COVID has not peaked in Deschutes County

COVID-19 “may have plateaued but has not crested” in Deschutes County, according to Mike Johnson, senior data scientist at St. Charles Health System.

Johnson reported last week that the hospital is still seeing a steady number of cases every day in September, roughly 100 per day, the same number as in August.

Both Johnson and Dr. Doug Merrill, medical director at St. Charles, expressed chagrin that local behavior is not changing, observing a sense in the community that the pandemic is over.

“It’s not,” Merrill said emphatically.

He is somewhat appalled seeing stadiums full of unmasked, cheering, shouting fans.

“Delta is eight times as effective as COVID from last spring,” Merrill said, adding, “We’re combining irresponsible behavior with a far more malicious version of the virus.”

It’s a revolving door, Johnson indicates. On September 21, 16 patients were discharged and 16 admitted.

“As ugly as August was, September is on track to be a new record,” Johnson said.

Merrill is disheartened that some recent headlines touting the decline in cases statewide have been perceived as being out of the woods.

“All pandemics are local,” Merrill said.

They are dependent on local behavior – masking, handwashing, distancing. He expressed gratitude that Central Oregon does not have a large football program.

St. Charles continues to find inventive ways to cope with the surge. For example, surgery recovery beds have been transitioned to handle some COVID-19 patients no longer infectious but not yet ready for discharge. They have actually doubled up patients in some ICU rooms to meet the crisis — and crisis is the word Merrill uses.

Half of the hospital load right now is COVID-related. Elective surgeries are “a day-by-day situation,” Merrill reports.

“Right now we are at about five surgeries a day compared to an average of 25 to 35 before the surge.”

He assures us that critical cases such as heart attacks are being met.

Merrill reports that the backlog of what used to be called “elective surgeries,” now called “scheduled surgeries,” is 4,000. That includes surgeries for illnesses like breast and colon cancer and some cardio procedures.

“Patients with those needs hardly consider their surgeries elective,” Merrill said.

When asked about pediatric admissions, Johnson said, “The number of children hospitalized is steady at .2 percent, but ED (emergency department) visits so far in September are up 40 percent.”

Merrill has some concern that pediatric infections could rise due to the return to in-person learning.

What about breakthrough cases, those of patients fully vaccinated? Johnson says the number continues to increase marginally and last week stood at 13 percent. Merrill insists that the main driver remains the unvaccinated and pleads for the hesitant or resistant to get the vaccine. The average age of “breakthrough” patients is 73. For unvaccinated, it is age 59.

Through September 22, 571 patients have received monoclonal antibody therapy.

“We can comfortably say that the risk of admission is lower for those who have received infusions, and if they are admitted, they require a lower level of care and decreased length of stay. There is a clear and demonstrated benefit to our patients who have undergone this therapy,” said Lisa Goodman, the hospital’s public information representative.

As to just when Deschutes might mirror the declines in hospitalizations seen statewide and in some other states, Merrill is pessimistic.

“Hospitalizations follow cases/positive tests, and those are still at August highs if not increasing,” Merrill said. Indeed, he predicts a rise in cases from behavior.

According to Johnson, 90 percent of St. Charles’ COVID-19 cases are from their three-county service area. From time to time they have admitted patients from the Willamette Valley, when the high number of cases in Portland and Medford forced a statewide shuffling of beds and resources.

As for masks:

Hospital professionals wear those that are N-95 rated. These are deemed the most effective of all masks used for abating COVID-19 transmission. They can be purchased in respirator and non-respirator style at Sisters Ace Hardware, and a limited supply is available at Hoyt’s Hardware and Building Supply.


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