St. Charles CEO: ‘Behavior needs to change’ to avoid continued COVID spike

By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

St. Charles’ CEO said Tuesday “behavior needs to change” locally or Central Oregon will look like Arizona and Texas where hospitals are overwhelmed and more people are dying from COVID-19.

In an email to subscribers, Joe Sluka reiterated a message earlier in the week from Gov. Kate Brown.

“What happens next in the COVID-19 pandemic is up to us,” he said. “We know we can curb the transmission of the virus by wearing face coverings, maintaining our physical distance from others and washing our hands. But this concerning rise in cases and indeed the number of COVID-positive patients in our Bend hospital tells us that too few people are heeding this public health advice.”

Sluka cited stats last week that showed hospitalizations nearly doubled from six to 11 in a 24-hour period.

As of Wednesday morning, the hospital had seven COVID patients, one was in ICU and on a ventilator. Deschutes County reported 48 current active cases of the disease that has sickened 221 people here and more than 10,000 people statewide.

COVID has killed 220 Oregonians.

“This concerning rise in cases and indeed the number of COVID-positive patients in our Bend hospital tells us that too few people are heeding this public health advice.”
– St. Charles CEO Joe Sluka

He said the hospital has been preparing for a surge and has the capacity to treat the current patients and anyone else needing care there.

“But the concern is the exponential growth,” he said. “Prior to this month, we saw at most 40 new cases in a week. In the most recent seven-day period, we saw 106—and there is no sign of it slowing.”

Sluka said people were wrong to think a dropping mortality rate is a sign the virus isn’t as serious as first thought.

“The reality is the mortality rate now is lower than what we saw earlier in the pandemic because the most recent uptick in cases is among the very young and healthy—folks in that 20 to 40 age group,” he said. “As the number of cases go up, however, there is reason to believe the virus will find headway into our more vulnerable populations.”

The hospital posted a video on social media over the holiday weekend featuring an Emergency Department doctor issuing a plea to the community.

“My goal is not to point fingers; my goal is not to scare everyone,” said Dr. Nathan Ansbaugh. “But my goal is to communicate an honest, somewhat desperation about what’s happening here and to ask that everyone who lives in this community takes care of this community.”

Sluka said wearing a mask wasn’t a political issue.

“It is a health and safety imperative that, if followed, could save lives in the coming months and help keep our economy open,” he said. “But the sooner we all practice these things, the sooner we’ll see the number of new COVID-19 cases decline, making our community safer and making our economy stronger.”

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