Only Social Distancing Can Save Us – Oregon Projects 3/27

The Oregon Health Authority hopes that a best case scenario proves true — that strict social distancing rules keep COVID-19 cases from inundating the state’s medical system.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Even in a best-cased scenario, Oregon hospitals could come close to being overwhelmed by people with serious complications from the new coronavirus, according to new projections by the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM).

On Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority held a press webinar on the state and healthcare providers’ preparations as the number of cases continue to rise. At the forefront were three models from IDM based on different scenarios — a return to “business as usual,” moderate intervention in Oregonians’ everyday lives, and the current “aggressive interventions” aimed at enforcing social distancing.

Based on the models, only the current strategy would come close to keeping Oregon’s hospitals from becoming quickly overwhelmed, and it would still require that individuals practice a consistent level of responsibility.

“These projections tell us the sacrifices Oregonians are making right now can save lives,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer at OHA. “At the same time, they paint a dark picture of what could happen. We can’t afford to drop our guard.”

Sidelinger told reporters that state healthcare providers currently have a total of 684 ventilators. Hospitals are also scrambling to gather enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to handle the rise in patients, what OHA’s Dr. Dana Hargunani called a “coming surge.”

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The OHA and individual hospitals are working to gather more ventilators and PPE, though they are having to rely on donations and contributions from federal partners for the latter.

In the best-cased scenario model of social distancing, Oregon would see an estimated 1,000 people infected with COVID-19 by May 8. Under this model, the number of people needing inpatient care at hospitals would most likely be manageable with the current steps that hospitals are taking to increase capacity and preparedness.

With the more intermediate model, which is based on banning large gatherings and maintaining school closures alone, there would be 6,100 cumulative infections by May 8, with an estimated 340 people needing inpatient beds.

The worst-case scenario reflects a return to “business as usual,” if the state were to lift all social distancing measures. IDM estimated that this would result in 15,000 infections by May 8 and 1,100 people in need of inpatient beds.

Dr. Sidelinger noted that patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 might require care for three weeks or more. And hospitals in the state are not empty by any stretch of the imagination. Right now hospitals and other medical providers are canceling elective procedures and asking EMS services to divert patients to “lower levels of care” whenever able in order to free up space.

OHA said that these models are similar to earlier projections from researchers at OHSU, but take into account the possible impact of social distancing measures across the state.

Currently, OHA says that state agencies are working with hospitals and other healthcare providers on a plan to handle the incoming cases, whatever the outcome:

  • The state is collecting PPE for re-distribution to facilities in need.
  • Regional hospitals have signed mutual aid agreements to shift equipment, workforce and patients from overburdened facilities to others with adequate capacity.
  • The state is working with providers to stand-up alternate care locations (such as the Oregon Medical Station), identify and develop new alternate care sites, enable ambulatory care centers to house patients and re-purpose long-term care facilities.
  • The state and hospitals are sharing hospital bed utilization data so hospitals can manage the use of beds and equipment across their region.
  • The state is developing childcare options for health care workers, so their work isn’t interrupted by school closings and family responsibilities.

“Oregon’s health care system began preparing for a pandemic years ago, which gave us a head start on this plan,” said OHA director Patrick Allen. “From expanding testing to securing more ventilators for Oregon hospitals, we are united by a set of common strategies to save lives in every corner of the state.”

Thursday’s webinar represented the unveiling of Oregon’s joint statewide action plan, developed by the “Governor’s Joint Task Force for Health Care Systems Response to COVID-19″ — a coalition of state and local agencies, healthcare providers, and other organizations.

“Hospital leaders and health officials are doing their part to find beds, secure supplies and protect health care workers. Oregonians can make a difference too: stay home and save lives. We all have a role to play in an unprecedented, unified effort across Oregon to stop the coronavirus from taking the tragic toll we’ve seen it claim elsewhere,” said Governor Kate Brown.