CEO Joe Sluka says the health system's strategy is simple: Prevent and contain.

COURTESY PHOTO: ST. CHARLES HEALTH SYSTEM - St. Charles Health System CEO Joe Sluka presented this slide during a press conference on Tuesday, March 24.Stay home, save lives.

The Central Oregon Emergency Information Network held an online news conference the afternoon of Tuesday, March, 24, to drill this point home. The conference featured guest speakers representing St. Charles Health System, multiple Central Oregon municipalities and the Oregon Legislature.

Bend Mayor Sally Russell stressed that the actions that the regional leaders and the public take in the next two weeks will save lives.

"We have never encountered anything like this," she said. "We stand to lose not just our businesses and not just our homes, but our lives and the lives of our young ones."

Joe Sluka, president and CEO of St. Charles Health System, went on to stress the same points, noting that "in the absence of a vaccine or other treatment, we have two main strategies to defeat this disease, and those are pretty simple – prevent and contain."

"To prevent, we need aggressive and extensive social distancing," he continued. "Containing is testing, identifying and isolating people who are positive or presumed to have COVID-19."

Sluka pointed out that there is currently a national shortage of testing supplies, and consequently, the Central Oregon region does not have enough supplies to test everyone in the community.

"We are actively working to procure more testing supplies and will be ready once we receive them."

Those words were followed with graphs that sought to reinforce the social distancing message. They showed that the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths could climb dramatically without taking any social distancing action but remain at more manageable numbers if people stay home as instructed.

"We can quickly be overwhelmed if we do not heed the call to stay home," Sluka said.

Rep. Cheri Helt of Bend addressed the economic impact of the current outbreak and stressed that "we have an urgent need to support our economy."

"The economy needs help right now," she said, "and it is on the way from state and federal government."

Helt referenced the upcoming federal stimulus package, which at the time of the conference, was still waiting for approval. She added that the Oregon Legislature would be meeting in the near future to provide similar help.

Russell stressed that everyone in Central Oregon needs to do their part in battling the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We need to stay home, we need to stay informed, and we need to stay healthy," she said. "We all want to look back and say, 'We did this right. We did everything we could, everything in our power to stop this.'"

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