St. Charles CEO ‘worried’ about delta variant in Central Oregon; expects spike


St. Charles Health System President and CEO Joe Sluka, wary of the new delta variant of COVID-19, issued another urgent plea Friday for Central Oregonians to get vaccinated.

“As much as I hate to say it, the delta variant of COVID-19 is increasing in our communities,” he said in an e-mail to the community. “Honestly, I’m worried.”

He cited wastewater samples throughout the state showing an increase from 5% to 40% of the more transmissible variant of COVID.

The vaccination rate in Central Oregon isn’t high enough to provide herd immunity, he said, because it spreads more easily than earlier versions of the virus.

“Keeping all of this in mind, we expect to experience a new spike in COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated individuals in the near future,” he said. “And although our counties have worked so hard to make vaccines available, we still have large numbers of people who have not received the vaccine. Children under the age of 12 remain ineligible for any of the vaccines and are at a high risk of contracting the new variant and spreading it to others.”

Currently, about 71% of eligible Deschutes County residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine; 50% in Crook County and 55% in Jefferson County.

“We expect to experience a new spike in COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated individuals in the near future.”
– Joe Sluka, President/CEO St. Charles Health System

Local COVID cases are up this week.

Deschutes County has reported 74 cases just in the last three days – that’s more than all of last week.

St. Charles on Friday reported it had 15 COVID patients; four were in the ICU and on ventilators.

The hospital had nine patients earlier in the week.

Sluka said he still chooses to wear a mask inside some public spaces and that it’s prudent to “avoid large gatherings where you don’t know the vaccination status of those in attendance.”

But the best thing for the public right now is to get vaccinated, he said.

“The vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19, but we have had a handful of cases in vaccinated individuals where hospitalization was necessary,” he said.

You can find information on vaccine availability at

“Also, consider talking with your friends and family members who have been vaccinated about their experiences,” Sluka said. “These videos show familiar faces from Crook and Jefferson counties sharing their thoughts on why the COVID-19 vaccine is important. Give them a watch and share them with others.”


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