State health leaders on Thursday warned of dire consequences if Oregonians back down from the fight against COVID-19, laying out staggering potential infection rates based on just how seriously we take the statewide order to stay home.
New models prepared by the Institute for Disease Modeling show returning to “business as usual” right now could lead to an estimated 15,000 Oregonians infected by May 8th; 1,100 needing to be hospitalized.
Conversely, maintaining “aggressive interventions” put in place by Gov. Kate Brown’s “Stay Home, Save Lives” campaign with “high public adherence” could reduce that number to as low as 700 cumulative infections by May 8th.
Simply maintaining the ban on large gatherings and indefinite school closures would lead to an estimated 6,100 infections with 340 people needing inpatient beds.
“These projections tell us the sacrifices Oregonians are making right now can save lives,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer at OHA. “At the same time, they paint a dark picture of what could happen. We can’t afford to drop our guard.”
What’s more, IDM concluded there was an “urgent need for increased testing capacity.”
“It will not be possible to relax social distancing measures and avoid an epidemic rebound without significantly increasing testing,” the report said. Oregon has tested just over 7,200 patients.
In a statement announcing a joint statewide action plan the Oregon COVID-19 Joint Information Center said the fight against the coronavirus depends on Oregon hospitals having enough beds to treat the coming surge in patients who will become seriously ill with the virus.
The plan aims to dramatically bolster the state’s ability to treat people with COVID-19 illness who need hospital care.
While similar to projections completed earlier by researchers at Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), these newer models from IDM take into account the impact of community-level social distancing interventions, which were not incorporated into the OHSU study.
Researchers from OHSU and other hospitals are collaborating with OHA to forecast the COVID-19 burden for their specific hospitals based on this information.
The plan was developed by the “Governor’s Joint Task Force for Health Care Systems Response to COVID-19,” convened by the OHA. It includes a broad range of health systems, health care providers, human services organizations, public health and public safety agencies, insurers and other organizations needed in the battle.
The plan addresses 4 urgent actions necessary to expand the health care system’s capacity and maintain its capability as Oregon braces for a projected spike in new coronavirus cases:
- Procure and distribute critical medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers and ventilators.
- Optimize hospital capacity to be able to treat COVID-19 cases.
- Mobilize the health care workforce to respond to COVID-19.
- Maintain a unified, coordinated and transparent emergency response to COVID-19.
The new projections of COVID-19 cases in Oregon show the state is at a critical moment in the fight against the disease. Social distancing measures could alter the trajectory of new infections, which gives Oregon’s health care system the chance to ramp up to meet the coming surge. But the state has little margin for error. A return to “business as usual” or slight differences in actual infection rates (compared to projected ones) could swamp hospitals with more coronavirus cases than they could treat.
“Hospital leaders and health officials are doing their part to find beds, secure supplies and protect health care workers,” Brown said. “Oregonians can make a difference too: stay home and save lives. We all have a role to play in an unprecedented, unified effort across Oregon to stop the coronavirus from taking the tragic toll we’ve seen it claim elsewhere.”
State agencies, hospitals and health care providers have already begun to implement the plan.
- The state is collecting PPE for re-distribution to facilities in need.
- Regional hospitals have signed mutual aid agreements to shift equipment, workforce and patients from overburdened facilities to others with adequate capacity.
- The state is working with providers to stand-up alternate care locations (such as the Oregon Medical Station), identify and develop new alternate care sites, enable ambulatory care centers to house patients and re-purpose long-term care facilities.
- The state and hospitals are sharing hospital bed utilization data so hospitals can manage the use of beds and equipment across their region.
- The state is developing childcare options for health care workers, so their work isn’t interrupted by school closings and family responsibilities.
“Oregon’s health care system began preparing for a pandemic years ago, which gave us a head start on this plan,” said OHA Director Patrick Allen.”From expanding testing to securing more ventilators for Oregon hospitals, we are united by a set of common strategies to save lives in every corner of the state.”