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An important message to the community

Since most of us don’t yet know anyone who has the virus, much less anyone who has become seriously ill, this causes some to ask, are we all overreacting?

With only a handful of local cases confirmed, it can seem like closing businesses and schools is an unnecessarily heavy-handed response that may cause more harm than good. While these disruptions are painful and significant, they are temporary and they are necessary to save lives.

Let’s start with some facts.

COVID-19 is a serious infection that is very easily transferred between people and is about 10 times more likely to cause death than influenza. Since it is a new virus, there is no immunity in the community, and no vaccine or treatment exists. The good news is that we have a powerful tool to fight this epidemic. Social distancing is proven to lower the number and rate of infections. If we all follow the guidelines, we will get through this and life can get back to normal.

Slowing the spread is critical. Oregon has fewer hospital beds per capita than any other state in the nation: 1.6 beds per 1,000 people. This means that we are more likely to run out of beds during a potential surge of coronavirus patients. (For comparison, Italy has 3.2 beds for every 1,000 people. Overall, the U.S. ranks 30th in the world in person-to-bed ratios.)

What we know from watching China, South Korea, and Italy is that this new coronavirus is fast-moving and capable of causing serious illness and death. Here in the U.S., it is early, but the number of cases is growing rapidly.

Total number of COVID-19 cases in U.S.

Feb. 26 — 15

March 4— 98

March 11—1,215

March 18—10,442

March 25—68,440

You should be concerned. But you should not panic. There are things you can do:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home, stay safe.
  • If you must go out, practice social distancing — stay at least 6 feet away from others.

Most of those infected are likely to have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, which means they can spread the virus without even being aware they have it. Staying at home and practicing social distancing when you must be out for essentials (like grocery shopping and medical appointments) are the most powerful tools we have and it is really effective if we all participate.

To keep the numbers low in our community, we must act aggressively now. Oregon’s Stay Home, Save Lives is designed to slow the spread of the virus, reduce the intensity of demand on our limited hospital facilities, and save lives. By slowing the spread, our hospitals have a better chance of providing critical care.

We know that being bombarded by news stories can be confusing and overwhelming. Here are some helpful links that are constantly updated with the most accurate and current information:

Oregon Health Authority (govstatus.egov.com/OR-OHA-COVID-19) — Oregon facts, resources and information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/) — National statistics, resources and information

While we must prepare for the worst, we are hopeful that the extreme measures we’re taking as a community will slow the outbreak and give our healthcare workers a fighting chance.

Take care of your physical and emotional needs — get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise, and talk to others. If you are feeling overwhelmed or depressed, think about ways you are strong and call one of the 24/7 crisis response lines if you need additional help.

Jackson County Mental Health Crisis Line: 541-774-8201

Josephine County Mental Health Crisis Line: 541-474-5365

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Hotline: text to 741741

Lines for Life

Mlitary Helpline: 888-457-4838

Youth Helpline: 877-968-8491

Senior Loneliness Helpline: 503-200-1633

Stay home. Practice social distancing. Ask for help when needed, offer help where you can. We’re all in this together.

The Jefferson Regional Health Alliance (jeffersonregionalhealthalliance.org), is a nonprofit coalition of medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment providers and government agencies. The current chairman is Bruce Van Zee, M.D., a retired nephrologist, and the past chairman is Lee Murdoch, a retired pediatrician.