Grande Ronde Hospital file photo 2020

Grande Ronde Hospital, La Grande, made the Oregon Health Authority's weekly list of COVID-19 workplace outbreaks on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.

LA GRANDE — Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande on Wednesday, nov. 18, made the Oregon Health Authority’s weekly report for workplace outbreaks for COVID-19. According to the report, six employees there have COVID-19.

Hospital spokesperson Mardi Ford said in a press release Tuesday the hospital anticipated the listing and the outbreak is unlikely to cause any major disruptions in care, and the hospital is managing staffing levels to compensate.

“The good news is that the internal processes we follow for tracing COVID-19 among our staff has worked well,” according to the press release. “Unfortunately, we are not completely immune from the spread in our community.”

The weekly report also shows the outbreak at the long-term care faculty Wildflower Lodge, La Grande, now stands at 36.

The La Grande School District on Tuesday reported a staff member at Island City Elementary was diagnosed with COVID-19, the district’s third employee to test positive for the virus in the last three weeks. And local law enforcement on Tuesday announced plans to continue the focus on educating residents about Gov. Kate Brown’s mandates that went effect Wednesday to restrict gatherings and social activities to help curb the rising spread of the outbreak.

The school district in a press release stated it will not close buildings but likely will have to move learning to back to online formats.

“In order for us to move forward as a school district with students and staff in our buildings, our reality is we will likely need to shut down class cohorts, close and sanitize classroom locations, etc.,” the release stated.

The district also reported the staff member has not been at Island City Elementary since Friday, Nov. 13, and the areas where they were working have been sanitized.

The reports came as cases continued to skyrocket across the state.

The Oregon Health Authority on Wednesday reported another 1,099 cases statewide, increasing the state total to 59,669. Another 10 people died in Oregon from the virus, raising the state’s death toll to 788.

The OHA reported Union County had six new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and the three more Wednesday, bringing its most recent four-day total to 51 and overall total to 630. Union County’s death toll remains at two.

Grande Ronde Hospital well stocked

While cases in Northeast Oregon continue to rise, local hospitals remain steady in the fight against COVID-19. Ford with Grande Ronde Hospital said the medical facility is prepared for a surge in cases. Should this occur, GRH will work with other hospitals in the region to find beds and supplies if the need arises.

Baker, Malhuer, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties make up the Oregon Health Authority’s Region 9 for emergency response, which had 10 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Tuesday. There are 26 staffed adult intensive care unit beds in the region, with seven beds available. Of the 131 staffed non-ICU beds in the region, 37 remain available.

At Grande Ronde Hospital there are about 350 days’ worth of face shields, 1,500 days’ worth of gloves, 660 days’ worth of gowns, 3,600 days’ worth of N95 respirators and 1,200 days’ worth of surgical masks, according to OHA personal protective equipment tracking.

Police emphasize education first

The La Grande Police Department and Union County Sheriff’s Office in a joint statement reported they have received a number of phone calls after the governor’s announcement of a 14-day statewide “freeze” wanting to know what their position is when it comes to enforcing the directives, which include returning restaurants to takeout only options, limiting indoor church services to a maximum of 25 people and limiting private social gatherings to a maximum of six people from no more than two households.

“We remain united in our efforts to continue to communicate with and educate people about the directives,” the press release stated, “just as we have throughout this event.”

La Grande Police Chief Gary Bell and Sheriff-elect Cody Bowen said officers and deputies will handle responses to violations of mandates and consequences on a case-by-case basis. The police department and sheriff’s office also may refer information to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, just as anyone can. The two agencies also stressed they remain busy and will prioritize calls for service that pose an immediate threat to people or property.

“Our agencies will continue to address all of these priority calls just as we always have,” the joint release said. “We support our officers and deputies in exercising well-reasoned discretion and common sense in their application of enforcement, especially for low level crimes and violations.”

The agencies asked residents to call the business line, 541-963-1017, instead of 911 if reporting a violation of the mandates.

“My thoughts are this, I want our lives back to normal,” Bowen said. “I want our kids back in school. I want to shake someone’s hand and read an expression on a face. I want to see smiles again. My concern is more toward the long-term damage being done to our local economy and the unforeseen social, mental and physical damages being done to our youth. I take the virus seriously, and those at risk should take precautions. However, I take our constitutional rights even more seriously, and I’m concerned about the direction we are heading.”

The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Police also issued a press release Tuesday stating they will continue the education-first approach of enforcing pandemic rules.

“Oregon Law Enforcement will only take enforcement action (criminal citations) as a last resort,” according to the press release. “As with most enforcement decision making, discretion will be used if/when any executive order enforcement action is taken.”

The associations and state police also recommend reporting executive order violations to the Oregon OSHA for workplace violations and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for bar and restaurant violations.

Wildflower comments on outbreak

While Grande Ronde Hospital anticipates making the list for workplace outbreaks, 36 of Union County’s 627 cases stem from an outbreak at Wildflower Lodge, La Grande. Carliene Bolen, executive director of the long-term care facility, said the health of residents and team members remains the top priority.

“While individuals at our community have tested positive for COVID-19, we continue working together to care for our residents, protect the safety of our team members, and protect the people in our community,” she said.

Bolen said Wildflower also has the support of a “senior lifestyle affiliated task force and management team comprised of various disciplines to aid us in our preparation, readiness, communication and management of the COVID-19 coronavirus.”

She said the facility is closely monitoring developments and guidelines for COVID-19 and following enhanced internal protocols to help control the spread of the virus.


Newest reporter to The Observer. Beats include crime and courts, city and county news and arts/entertainment. Graduated June 2019 with a bachelors in Journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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