If you’re feeling whipsawed by the COVID-19 headlines as of late, you’re not alone.

At the same time guidelines for mask wearing and physical distancing are being relaxed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA), some hospitals—like ours—are still treating very high numbers of COVID-19 patients.

Today, we have 45 people with COVID-19 who are hospitalized in Bend, a number we haven’t seen since mid-January. To put that number into more context: Central Oregon, which represents just 5.9% of the state’s population, has 13.6% of the state’s occupied COVID-19 beds, according to our data scientists.

Even as we struggle as a health system to manage this surge—we’ve had to once again limit elective surgeries, care for hospitalized patients in areas of our hospitals where we ordinarily wouldn’t and shuffle caregivers throughout departments to ensure we have adequate staffing—the OHA announced Deschutes County will be considered “low risk” as of Friday since 65% of the 16 and older population has been vaccinated.

So, what’s going on?

Nationally, we’re seeing the number of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths trend downward at the same time we’re seeing vaccination rates slowly tick up. This is good news, and it is what prompted the CDC and some state public health agencies like the OHA to change their guidance on masks.

But locally, we’re not consistently tracking with these trends, and we think there may be two reasons why.

One, there are variants of COVID-19 circulating in our community that are more easily spread and have the potential to make people more ill. And two, a disproportionate number of people who live in Deschutes County are 50 or younger and are still unvaccinated. So, while the county boasts a 65% vaccination rate, the bulk of those vaccinations have occurred in the 50 and older population.

That means there are more than 100,000 Central Oregonians who are still vulnerable and could still be hospitalized with COVID-19. If you follow St. Charles on Facebook (and if you don’t, you should) you’ll recall seeing the below graph, which shows that between January and April, we saw a 13-year drop in the average age of our hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

So, what does this mean for you?

In the short term, it means your surgery may be cancelled. Every day our hospitals are making tough decisions to cancel surgeries to replace joints, remove cancers and fuse spines. The reality is we simply can’t afford to offer our hospital beds to anyone who isn’t very sick or injured.

In the long term, it means we need your help to end this pandemic. If you haven’t already, please—get vaccinated. Every Central Oregonian who is 12 and older is now eligible, and there are more places than ever offering vaccines, including our very own St. Charles Family Care clinics. And until more of us are vaccinated, I encourage you to keep wearing those dang masks a little longer. I know I will.

It isn’t just me asking this of you. It’s also our many caregivers who are tired, but who continue to work tirelessly to care for our community. They know you want this to be over, and believe me, so do they. In this recently released video, one of our ICU nurses said it so well:

We may be over COVID, “but COVID isn’t over us.”

topics in this article