Douglas County is one of the four counties in the United States at the highest risk of having more COVID-19 patients than its hospital can handle, according to a new report from Tech Republic.
Tech Republic is an online technology-focused magazine owned by CBS. Its report is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maps showing how quickly counties across the country could run out of hospital space during the pandemic.
The maps show several possible scenarios, ranging from 20% of the population being infected over 18 months to 60% being infected over 6 months.
The shorter the time and the higher the percentage, the more overwhelmed hospitals will be.
Fewer infections over a longer period allow most hospitals across the country to cope. But in the 60% infected over 6 months scenario, just about every county across the country has twice as many patients as its hospitals can handle.
So why is Douglas County one of the riskiest places in the nation? There are a lot of older people here, for one thing. More than one-third of the population is 60 or older, and older people have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
Another problem is there aren’t that many hospital beds here.
According to the report, CHI Mercy Medical Center has 140 staffed beds, 174 licensed beds and 32 intensive care unit beds. That’s enough to meet the need under ordinary circumstances. But amid a COVID-19 pandemic, it might not be.
Poor socioeconomics also hurt the county’s rank.
The other three counties that ranked among the four at highest risk were Highlands County, Florida; Marion County, Florida and Mohave County, Arizona.
Douglas County Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer expressed skepticism about Douglas County’s inclusion in the Tech Republic story.
“Although we know that we have an older population and we are a poorer county compared to many, this article underestimates the number of beds, as we use Riverbend for some of our secondary and tertiary care locally,” Dannenhoffer said.
Peace Health Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend is located in Springfield, but under ordinary circumstances, many patients are sent there from Douglas County. The hospital service area, as a Douglas Public Health Network spokeswoman pointed out, is different from county lines.
However, the CDC’s maps indicate that most of Oregon, including Lane County, would be unable to meet the demand for care if a large percentage of the population is infected with COVID-19 over a short period.
Dannenhoffer said Douglas County has another resource in its people.
“We also have a tremendously involved community that works together, and has been really innovative,” he said.
He cited the community COVID-19 hotline and the county’s drive-thru screening clinics as examples of what’s going right.
Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman responded to the article with a statement that county leaders are “fully engaged in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We continue to ramp up emergency operations and will continue to meet the needs of our residents,” he said.