Central Oregon officials from health care, schools, law enforcement and government packed into close quarters in Bend on Monday night, transforming a basement room into an operations center where the mission was to meet fear with accurate information, and try to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in the region.
“We don’t have a public health crisis in this community at this moment. We have an information crisis because the information that is out there is not consistent, it’s not clear, and often it’s not accurate,” said Julianne Repman, the Bend La-Pine Schools District director of communication and safety.
The new coronavirus is spreading across the Pacific Northwest. Here some basic things to know:
• Coronavirus is more severe and more contagious than the flu. Take it seriously but don’t panic.
• The elderly and immune-compromised are most at-risk, but everyone can get sick.
• If you are sick stay home, self-quarantine and call your doctor.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer is a backup option.
• Cough into a sleeve. Wash hands after coughing. Avoid touching your face.
• Sterilize things you touch often, like computers, phones, keys, and tablets.
• If you have prescriptions, call your doctor and ask for a 3-month supply in case of drug shortages.
There were no presumed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, disclosed in Deschutes, Jefferson or Crook counties as of Tuesday morning.
Repman urged skepticism of social media posts and directed people to a website for regional safety information and updates.
Central Oregon school districts will implement a pandemic plan this week, according to Repman.
“You’re going to see things like more cleaning of high touch areas in schools,” Repman said. “We’re going to start asking everyone who comes into our schools to wash their hands when they come in, and when they leave.”
But even some elected officials at the meeting were unsure of best practices.
“You really need to wash your hands with warm water,” chimed in Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair.
“So, it’s actually about the friction,” corrected Heather Kaisner, the head of Deschutes County’s program for communicable disease and emergency response. “It’s really about soap and water, and it’s really that friction in making sure you’re getting in your fingernails and everywhere else.”
St. Charles Health System spokeperson Lisa Goodman said false information can fuel panic and divert essential health care resources away from people who actually need them. For now, the region’s only hospital is asking people to call before they come in with respiratory symptoms and fever. The hospital anticipates rolling out more restrictions this week, Goodman said.
“You may or may not have COVID-19, but in the event that you do, this helps public health and the hospital coordinate their response so as to reduce exposure to other people,” she stressed.
“The single biggest issue that St. Charles is dealing with, and many other hospitals are grappling with, is the supplies,” Goodman said, citing manufacturing shortages of protective equipment like masks and gowns due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in China.
She said St. Charles is currently relying on a stockpile of 10,000 masks ordered last month.
The meeting closed with an invitation to grab a small bottle of hand sanitizer for the road. Some of the emergency planners practiced saying goodbye by bumping elbows instead of touching. But many of the longtime colleagues still shook hands, or hugged.