LA GRANDE — The Oregon National Guard delivered 150 military cots along with blankets and hygiene packs Friday morning to Grande Ronde Hospital. Local public and health officials Wednesday explained the delivery is part of being ready for an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The National Guard reported its delivery came at the request of Union County Emergency Management to support the ongoing medical response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are all part of one team working together to ensure the safety of our communities throughout Oregon,” said Stephen Bomar, director of public affairs for the Oregon Military Department.
Union County has one positive test for the coronavirus, but nearby Umatilla County reported is now has four, while the statewide the total Friday afternoon was 414, including 12 who have died, according to the Oregon Military Department.
A crew of four Oregon Army National Guardsmen in Salem on Wednesday assembled the military cots, blankets and hygiene packs, then loaded the items for the ride to La Grande.
In addition to delivering the supplies, the team planned to support a Grant County request to assist in setting up temporary structures at the Blue Mountain Hospital in John Day for short-term medical stations. Grant County has no confirmed cases of the virus.
Grande Ronde Hospital CEO and President Jeremy Davis, Dr. Susan Rice, Center for Human Development Public Health Administrator Carrie Brogoitti and County Commissioner Matt Scarfo gathered remotely on a video conference Wednesday to discuss what the crisis looks like on the local scene and how their organizations are preparing for an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Union County.
Davis said the hospital has implemented a number of protective steps to combat the spread of the virus, including visitor restrictions and reducing to one the number of hospital entrances. He also said preparation is part of the routine for the 25-bed hospital, but taking on the coronavisus is not the same as handling an influx of bus crash victims.
“This obviously is more slow moving and has a longer period in which we have to manage (patients),” Davis said. “We’re trying to gear up and ramp up for what we anticipate is going to be a long haul as this disease continues.”
Brogoitti said there have been 14 negative test results in Union County and concern is growing about having enough testing kits. But while the number of tests is small, she said, so is the number of people who need to be tested.
Testing criteria frequently changes, but Brogoitti explained the people being tested are those most at risk. And getting tested isn’t something everyone needs to do. She said as long as we all are responsible in our social distancing, having or not having test kits is not going to increase the spread.
“I want to acknowledge that it’s hard and that people want that information and want to be tested,” Brogoitti said. “We just don’t have the ability to have that much testing.”
Rice said the novel coronavirus is often a minor illness for those who do not have underlying health problems. If a person tests positive, unless there is a need for further medical care, they can go home to isolate and recover. Even in the hospital, Rice said there is no treatment, just management of symptoms, such as using ventilators or CPAP machines.
The hospital has 12 ventilators with three more on the way and six respiratory therapists. Davis also said the hospital has canceled elective surgeries to preserve personal protection equipment, such as gloves, masks and face shields.
“We want to put ourselves in the best position possible to help those who need it most,” he said.
Brogoitti explained the Center for Human Development is doing everything it can to keep the public informed about this health risk. While repetitive information may frustrate and annoy people, such as frequently being reminded of social distancing or washing your hands, Brogoitti said, “In the absence of a treatment and vaccine for the disease, hand washing and social distancing are the best tools we have.”
Brogoitti also said the center finds out information around the same time as the public does. She explained there is very little lag time between CHD knowing and the public knowing, and when there is information people want from the center, sometimes it is not something that can be shared, such as personal health care information.
Gov. Kate Brown told reporters during a conference call Wednesday she has ordered the Oregon Health Authority to share “all COVID-19 information with the public that does not compromise patient privacy.”
That includes more exact age ranges of patients, hospitalization status and the number of available hospital beds and ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
Legislators, journalists and others have asked repeatedly for data that track the situation. The Oregon Health Authority only had been releasing cumulative data from Jan. 24, plus daily updates on confirmed cases, testing and deaths.
Scarfo during the local video conference spoke about how the county continues to remain open and and supports small businesses. He asked people to continue to shop locally, even reaching out online to see if businesses sell items.
Scarfo also said business owners need to track all losses due to the mandates to fight the virus. As the state and federal government work out how to help small businesses, he said keeping track will be key to maximizing any assistance.
“We don’t know what they are going to ask, (so) track everything,” Scarfo said.
The three officials acknowledged while this is a scary and uncertain time, Union County will continue to come together to support the community.
Dick Hughes of the Capital Bureau contributed to this article.