As I soaked up the wonderful weather over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think how this springtime perhaps more than any other represents regrowth. At the same time the physical world around us is bursting back to life, we are tepidly transitioning to a new season of this pandemic, one in which we may slowly start to resume some of those familiar aspects of our lives.
But just as the handoff between winter and spring can be a variable mix of sun and sleet, what comes next in the COVID-19 story may feel similarly jarring.
While the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Central Oregon is now low, we don’t know if it will stay that way. We don’t yet understand if this virus will behave like the flu, allowing us to anticipate its resurgence, or if the social distancing measures we keep in place moving forward will be enough to prevent localized outbreaks. We can’t reliably predict when a vaccine will be available and—absent one—how long this virus will have to circulate before we have sufficient herd immunity.
With so many questions still unanswered, it’s critically important that we responsibly manage the phased reopening of our communities. St. Charles is committed to helping do that. Gov. Kate Brown has announced the limited reopening of some state parks, outdoor recreation facilities and natural areas throughout the state. And starting Friday, she said, counties whose reopening plans are approved by the Oregon Health Authority can unshutter some of their local businesses, including restaurants, personal service businesses and stand-alone retail.
As part of this process, St. Charles experts have actively worked with officials in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties to provide important data as they develop their reopening plans. A county’s eligibility to reopen is in part contingent upon the local health system’s capacity to handle another surge in patients. Thanks to your efforts to “flatten the curve,” which bought us time to expand our acute bed capacity, stockpile more personal protective gear and provide more testing, we can confidently say we’re prepared to take care of our community.
At the same time our counties are planning their recovery, so are we. Some of our services are beginning to resume, albeit not at the same levels as before. Starting today, we will be performing more elective surgeries at our hospitals, taking care of more patients whose care has been delayed. Our Home Health team is working in tandem to care for more patients as a result of the higher volume of surgeries.
Still other services keep evolving. St. Charles Medical Group clinics are encouraging patients to continue preventive care through video, phone and email visits—and the results are encouraging. In February, only 106 patients “saw” their provider via a phone visit (and none by video). By April, more than 6,200 patients had visited with their provider over the phone and another 3,500 via video.
As we ease back into public life, St. Charles and our local health departments will be working closely to monitor the prevalence of the virus, as well as those other benchmarks that indicate our ability to handle an outbreak. If the situation changes, so will our response.
At the same time, we are also committed to supporting our local economy. Just like Central Oregon was here for St. Charles when we needed the support most, we will be here for you as you begin to navigate the choppy waters of reopening. We’re still having conversations with our business leaders to understand what that may look like and how we can best help, but I assure you we are going to play a role in helping our local businesses safely reopen—and stay open.
We owe it to you.