We Must Improve Oregon’s Response to the
Coronavirus (COVID19) Pandemic
Lisa Reynolds, MD Mar 11, 2020 8:30 p.m.
As a pediatrician, I am on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Every day for nearly two weeks, I’ve sat (masked) in exam rooms with families, helping them decipher what is the best next step for their child who is not all that sick but who MAY have coronavirus. Parents want to be good community members - shouldn’t they keep their child home? But parents also need to get back to work. With just a cough or runny nose, can’t they go to school? Decisions like this can determine the course of the pandemic right here at home. Yet there is no clear message, few facts, and not nearly enough bold measures being taken to stem the spread of the new coronavirus here in Oregon.
Yet we are just across the river from Washington, which is struggling with almost 300 confirmed cases and 24 deaths. King County County had a 64% increase in cases from Monday to Tuesday, March 9 and 10. California has almost 200 confirmed cases at this time. Oregon has 21 cases in 8 counties.
And we know this is the tip of the iceberg.
Oregon, however, is ignoring the math and falling down on its job to protect the public. We need 60 days of honesty, clarity and fast action by the Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Kate Brown, who together can convene the state, regional, county, and local authorities to work together to slow the spread of the virus and better inform the public.
Why? If unchecked:
Coronavirus will infect 70 percent of Oregonians. Quickly. This is almost 3 million Oregonians.
At a predicted death rate of 2 percent, coronavirus will kill 60,000 Oregonians.
Even if we see a fraction of these numbers, the number of deaths would be untenable.
We can, and must, “check” coronavirus with LEADERSHIP. We can, and must:
LEARN FROM OTHERS: Let’s learn from Washington. At the very least, we should be mirroring what Washington is doing.
MAKE HARD DECISIONS: We need a state task force that is working 24/7 to adopt, communicate, and implement strong policies to curtail the coming onslaught of illness and death. This needs to be a singular priority for our government officials. We need to close schools and limit gatherings. I am glad University of Oregon and Oregon State announced plans for a five week closure this afternoon.
COMMUNICATE WITH THE PUBLIC: We need daily press briefings with public health officials giving clear and direct instructions for Oregonians. “Wash your hands” isn’t enough. We need a stand-alone state webpage with constantly updated data and social media posts with unified messages from state and county health departments that clearly communicate these direct instructions. We need to use our emergency communications system to update Oregonians. We need detailed information on the cases already diagnosed and then strictly quarantine and isolate contacts. Yet, officials from Oregon Health Authority have not released basic demographic information on residents who have tested positive for coronavirus - a breach of standard public health protocol that helps the public understand who has been getting sick and how the virus is spreading. This is seeding misinformation and mistrust.
INCREASE TESTING: Testing helps us understand the pandemic as well as assess a patient’s prognosis and need for isolation. Oregon needs to increase testing capacity ASAP. We need more CDC kits and we need to access private labs for testing. We need to loosen restrictions on who can be tested and set up drive-through public testing using every resource necessary.
ACQUIRE AND DISTRIBUTE PERSONAL PROTECTION EQUIPMENT: For our first responders and medical personnel need more N-95 masks, plastic gloves, medical-grade hand sanitizer, and more. We’re all running out.
TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER: We need a plan to feed our students and families who rely on schools for their nutrition. We need to pay employees to stay home if they are sick or vulnerable or are caretakers of the sick and vulnerable.
Taking these steps would mean massive disruption in our work and school and social routines. But Oregonians’ health and safety depend on leaders making these tough choices. WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.