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State's front-line doctors and nurses push for help because 'It all feels like the calm before the storm.'

COURTESY PHOTO: BEN BOTKIN/THE LUND REPORT - Supplies for a 250-bed emergency hospital at the Oregon State Fairgrounds were delivered March 18. State health care providers worry they will run out of vital protective equipment.Oregon is erecting a field hospital at the fairgrounds in Salem to treat an expected overflow of patients due to the coronavirus epidemic, but that's not going to be enough.

The state is scrounging for more protective masks and suits for health care workers, but officials acknowledge they're running out of options.

It all feels like the calm before the storm. We are (talking with) a good number of patients who have all the clinical symptoms of COVID-19 but are not ill enough to be hospitalized."

Many nurses, doctors and other practitioners feel left out of the information loop -- and they're worried about being exposed to the virus. They're facing an immediate future of working around the clock and setting aside their families and their own personal safety in an effort to save patients in hospitals without enough supplies or beds.

"We are all concerned as front-line workers," Dr. Fred Cirillo, an emergency room physician at Kaiser Permanente, told The Lund Report. "We're concerned for our personal safety and what we'll be bringing back to our families."

Two Oregon Health Authority physicians — an epidemiologist and Oregon's chief medical officer — held a March 18 webinar for 1,000 providers that covered a range of topics, from an expected surge of infected people at hospitals to obstacles to stepping up telemedicine visits. But the hour-long event, which was a first, lacked details. For some physicians, it reinforced their concerns about how the response to the pandemic is being managed.

PMG"We need a centralized source where front-line providers can go for reliable and up-to-date information, be able to ask questions, and get answers," said Dr. Sharon Meieran, an emergency room physician and Multnomah County commissioner. "I would think the OHA would want to engage with health care providers to get an accurate picture of what is happening on the front line."

Cirillo, who's married to Meieran, said that half of his shifts lately have involved remote telemedicine visits with patients. "Many people are staying away," Cirillo said. "It all feels like the calm before the storm. We are (talking with) a good number of patients who have all the clinical symptoms of COVID-19 but are not ill enough to be hospitalized."

That's likely to change. Oregon's case count rose to 75 on March 18 — up 28 patients from two days ago. So far, three people have died. Oregon is testing about 1,200 people a week, but it is still limiting tests to people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms.

Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer and epidemiologist, said during the webinar that two-thirds of patients who tested positive are older than 55. "We definitely have predominance there," Jeanne said.

That trend may continue but the total patient count is expected to soar.

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