As new COVID-19 cases in Douglas County continued to climb at an alarming rate Tuesday, community health leaders gathered for a press conference to discuss the preparations they’ve made in case of a continued surge, and to urge members of the public to take safety precautions.
In the past week the world, the country, the state and the county have all posted their highest case counts yet, Douglas County Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer said at Tuesday’s press conference at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
“At every level this has been a historic week for the number of cases,” he said.
The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team reported 20 new cases Tuesday, pushing the total since Friday to 81 and the total since the pandemic’s start to more than 500. The county is now supporting close to 700 people in quarantine or isolation.
Ten COVID-19 patients are hospitalized locally.
Statewide, the Oregon Health Authority reported 771 new cases and three new deaths on Tuesday. That brings the total cases to 51,909 and total deaths to 737.
Dannenhoffer said about half the people in quarantine in Douglas County are related to COVID-19 cases in schools.
Another key issue is people going to work or school when they’re sick.
“This is a time when if you’re the least bit sick, please stay home until you’re well plus one day more and then go back. If people did that it would decrease the number of people in quarantine by at least half,” he said.
Dr. Jason Gray, Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Medical Center, said the hospital has gone from two or three COVID-19 patients at a time to between eight and 11.
The hospital has a current capacity for 130 patients, including 16 in intensive care unit beds. In a crisis situation, they could expand to hold 174 patients, he said.
He fears cases could rise with the upcoming holiday season.
Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman said there is no one person or thing to blame for the recent rise in cases.
“I think it is a thousand small choices by thousands of different people that cause the virus to spread. I don’t think it’s any one big thing. And oftentimes it’s people doing things they normally do. Things that would seem normal, having friends over for dinner, having a family reunion, going to a wedding,” Freeman said.
The government isn’t going to be able to stop it, he said.
“The way to stop this virus is for each individual person to make the decisions they need to make to protect themselves and those around them,” Freeman said.
KC Bolton, incident commander for the Response Team and CEO of Aviva Health, said sustained diligence by the community is needed. That means wearing masks, maintaining six feet of distance and increased hand washing, along with staying home when sick.
“If you want to keep the economy on its path to recovery, we need to find ways to both contain the virus and keep schools and businesses open. I don’t think that’s possible without a full commitment of each and every one of our county residents to follow all the public health guidelines,” he said.
Dannenhoffer said it can be difficult to convince people how bad this virus is when most here don’t know someone who’s had it.
“This week may change that. This week more and more people are getting it and there are more and more people who are sick,” he said.
Editor’s note: For in-depth coverage of the county’s response to the growing COVID-19 threat in our community, including additional information from Tuesday’s press conference, see Sunday’s edition of The News-Review.