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Local hospitals aren’t strained yet by COVID-19 patients

Rogue Valley hospitals aren’t seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Mail Tribune file photo
Jackson County going back to extreme risk category Friday

The state is pushing Jackson and Josephine counties back to the extreme risk category, but Rogue Valley hospitals say they aren’t being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

The two counties are among 15 across the state that will see the shutdown of indoor restaurant dining and other restrictions effective this Friday.

Those counties have COVID-19 case counts that put them in the state’s extreme risk category, but they have been enjoying a reprieve because the number of COVID-19-positive patients in Oregon hospitals was below 300.

The number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in hospitals statewide hit 328 Tuesday, triggering an announcement from Gov. Kate Brown that the 15 counties would move into the extreme risk category.

The Portland and Salem areas account for the bulk of hospitalized COVID-19-positive patients, with 231 in hospital beds Tuesday, according to Oregon Health Authority data.

Several counties in those metro areas are among the 15 counties returning to extreme risk restrictions because of their COVID-19 case counts.

The number of people with COVID-19 in Jackson and Josephine county hospitals stood at 23 Tuesday. Since April 10, numbers have fluctuated in the 20s and 30s.

“We did see an increase in patients a few weeks after spring break, but we’re holding steady now,” said Lauren Van Sickle, spokeswoman for Asante, which operates hospitals in Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass.

She said local hospitals aren’t being strained by COVID-19 patients.

Van Sickle said hospitals are continuing to have problems finding enough space in nursing homes, assisted living centers and other care facilities where they can discharge patients who still need some level of care. As a result, some patients are being held in hospitals longer.

If local hospitals do see a surge in COVID-19 patients, they are prepared with plans they crafted at the beginning of the pandemic. Those plans include shifting patients among hospitals to balance the load, Van Sickle said.

Counting patients with and without COVID-19, Jackson and Josephine counties had 374 non-intensive care unit beds occupied Monday and 72 beds were available, OHA data show.

For intensive care unit beds, 45 were occupied by all types of patients, with 12 beds available.

Hospitals in Jackson and Josephine counties are well below the peak numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients they saw during the winter.

The number of COVID-19-positive people hospitalized in the two counties peaked at 69 Jan. 2, according to OHA data.

The lowest point came March 14 when 11 people diagnosed with the virus were in local hospitals.

Health care Region 7, a large area that includes Deschutes County in Central Oregon, is pushing up against its hospital capacity.

There, 45 intensive care unit beds were full Monday with all types of patients, including those without COVID-19. Only two ICU beds were available.

Non-intensive care unit beds had 461 occupants, with 41 available in that Central Oregon region, according to OHA data.

In her announcement that 15 counties would go back to extreme risk safety restrictions, Brown said, “If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19. Today’s announcement will save lives and help stop COVID-19 hospitalizations from spiking even higher. With new COVID-19 variants widespread in so many of our communities, it will take all of us working together to bring this back under control.”

The Providence health care network, which includes Providence Medford Medical Center hospital, has joined the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems in a statement, said local spokeswoman Julie Denney.

OAHHS President and Chief Executive Officer Becky Hultberg said the evidence is clear that Oregon is experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, with case counts up almost 60% over the past two weeks. She said Portland area hospitals are prepared for a potential surge of patients.

Hultberg said hospitals around the state have set up ways to work together to manage capacity, including coordinating bed space, supplies and essential services.

Hultberg said the most important step people can take to help the economy and keep schools open is to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Oregon has among the lowest overall case counts and deaths of all states, but our cases are now growing faster than almost any other state. We can’t let our guard down now,” she said. “We support the governor in making tough choices to control the virus in our communities and get us safely through this pandemic. These choices have been necessary, but wrenching, especially for Oregon’s small businesses, and we all need to support them in recovery. If the pace of vaccination continues, we will get through this together and expect to return to a summer with a more normal level of business and recreational activity.”

Vaccines are free and available to anyone in Oregon 16 and older, Hultberg noted.

The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association blasted the governor’s announcement that indoor restaurant dining will be halted in 15 counties.

The association said COVID-19 outbreaks have been tied to educational institutions, health care settings and manufacturing facilities ― not restaurants and gyms that will again face restrictions.

Gyms will see restrictions on the number of people they can have inside.

“COVID-19 closures and restrictions on indoor dining are clobbering Oregon’s restaurants, bars and hospitality sector,” said Jason Brandt, president and chief executive officer of the association. “We’ve seen more than 1,000 close because of the pandemic recession. The uncertainty and arbitrary nature of targeting restaurants has made it impossible for these local businesses to plan during a time when they’re already struggling to survive. The governor should stop blaming restaurants as the source of COVID-19 spikes. It is blatant discrimination against our local businesses. Instead, we should focus on what we know will work ― vaccinating all Oregonians.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.