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As we have battled the COVID-19 crisis, a few of you have had the experience of knowing someone who has been afflicted with this disease. Some of you have already watched loved ones struggle to recover, while others have experienced devastating losses.

For me, that wasn’t the case until last Friday when COVID hit home.

We got the call early in the morning, from the other side of the country; my father-in-law was sick and in respiratory distress and was being moved to comfort care. It didn’t seem real as my wife had just talked with him earlier in the week. By late afternoon that day he was gone. This is a man that loved and was loved. I lost someone I considered a friend, father and one of my biggest supporters.

And for my wife … well … she lost her dad.

The best any of us can do during these times is hold those that are close to us a little closer and do our best to keep our Central Oregon family safe by protecting ourselves and those around us.

After watching news reports this weekend of people protesting throughout the country – and right here in Central Oregon – I understand the frustration is rising. You are tired of being stuck at home. You are tired of being out of work. You are worried about the future and also maybe a little skeptical about how serious this situation continues to be.

After all, COVID-19 cases in Central Oregon are remaining relatively steady and we have not reached a surge of patients that we can’t handle with our available hospital beds, equipment and staff. That’s because of the hard work our community has done in adhering to our social distancing guidelines. You have bought us precious time and we thank you.

But that doesn’t mean the storm is over.

As St. Charles data scientist Michael Johnson explains in this video – we’ve been really good at riding out the rocky weather in our tents. If we step outside now, the winds will still be blowing and we risk being right back where we started four weeks ago.

Most data-modeling scientists in the state agree that we have about a 10% detection rate for COVID-19. As of today, we have 65 positive cases in Central Oregon, which means there could be as many as 650 people who are (or who have been) infected and are circulating in the community. Many may not have any symptoms. 

While everyone wants to get back to work, relaxing our social distancing measures requires thoughtful planning and consideration to ensure we don’t throw ourselves right back into the eye of the storm.

A roadmap for recovery

Many leaders in health care and other industries have been evaluating how we start to go back to normal. We are actively making recovery plans that will help us ramp up in a safe way.

For hospitals, we are developing guidelines that will assist in resuming services including:

  • Monitoring the availability of widespread testing for people suspected of having COVID-19
  • Ensuring adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies for our facilities and providers
  • Working with our public health partners to support thorough contact tracing for those with positive COVID-19 test results

In good news, St. Charles is receiving shipments of PPE supplies that will help protect our caregivers, although we must maintain our conservation efforts as well. In addition, we have added testing capacity. We now have a drive-thru COVID-19 specimen collection site at our St. Charles Family Care Bend East location. Patients still need an order for the collection from a provider and they need to call 541-699-5107 to make an appointment in advance.

We also recently began running COVID-19 tests in our St. Charles Laboratory in Bend for hospitalized patients. We can now turn these test results around in about 40 minutes and plan to expand this service to our labs in Madras, Prineville and Redmond soon. Expanding our capacity for testing has been one of our top priorities since this crisis began.

The more we identify where the virus has taken hold, the easier it will be to contain it.

We'll be alright

In the midst of all of this craziness and stress, what gets me through the long and tiring days is all of the words of encouragement and notes of thanks I have received from you. This past week, one of our patients wrote and performed a song for our caregivers with a simple, encouraging and important message – we’ll be alright.

Eli Ashley, member of local band Appaloosa, recently visited our Bend hospital with symptoms of a stroke. His wife wrote the following note to our care team:

"My husband, Eli Ashley, was admitted to the ER with stroke symptoms. While I couldn't go in with him, by all reports, every minute under your care was exemplary, especially commendable during this difficult time. He was discharged, came home and got up to record this song. It is very, very heartfelt from him, and he sends this out as a "thank you" to St. Charles, your ER and second floor staff, and to the others and to the people of our community: We'll Be Alright."

Please take a minute to watch Eli’s song and share it with others. We all need to remember that we are in this together.

Our St. Charles team continues to be here for you to provide a safe place to receive care – either through virtual visits in our clinics or for emergency health needs in our Emergency Departments. As we develop our recovery plans and look to the future, we need you to help us by following the Governor's order and staying the course we’re on right now.

The numbers may be low and you may be feeling restless, but make no mistake: It continues to be important that you stay home. The lives of our patients, our caregivers and our loved ones still depend on it.

Sincerely,
Joe

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