Oregon could face a shortage of equipment used to protect health care providers from the coronavirus and rural hospitals could find themselves short-staffed as the state confronts the outbreak, Gov. Kate Brown warned Tuesday, March 3.
She also said the state will need millions of dollars in financial support from the federal government to handle the impacts of COVID-19 across the state.
The governor cited the concerns in a March 3 letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the federal response to the outbreak of the virus. The letter was sent following a March 2 briefing Pence gave to governors on the response to the outbreak that has caused nine deaths in the United States and sickened thousands globally. While the Democratic governor struck a diplomatic tone in her letter, she did raise areas of concern.
In Oregon, state health authorities have identified three people presumed to be infected with COVID-19 and are monitoring 101 people who show no symptoms but may have been exposed. The governor set up a task force of key state agencies and a command center was opened in Portland.
"(We) have heard significant concerns from our small rural hospitals and health practices about potential workforce shortages and their ability to maintain appropriate staffing levels should this virus spread further." — Gov. Kate Brown
Brown wrote that Oregon doesn't have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, which includes respirators and other gear that prevent health care workers from contracting the virus. She said that while federal authorities have made more respirators available, she asked that more equipment be released from the national stockpile. She mentioned gowns, gloves, Tyvek suits, ventilators and others items.
She wrote that Oregon faces challenges with its large rural areas in responding to the outbreak. "(We) have heard significant concerns from our small rural hospitals and health practices about potential workforce shortages and their ability to maintain appropriate staffing levels should this virus spread further," Brown wrote. "Those concerns are echoed by our local public health departments."
Brown also identified other "emerging issues," such as how to provides services for unsheltered Oregonians, those living in congregate care and those who rely on home health care workers. Additionally, Brown said that her staff places to quarantine people who have no place to isolate themselves if they are suspected of being infected.
Responding to the outbreak will be expensive. Brown estimated that Oregon will need between $7 million and $10 million per month for additional resources, plus reimbursements for earlier costs.
State Rep. Paul Evans, a Monmouth Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness, told the Oregon Capital Bureau that he also had concerns about the supply of protective equipment. "When you try to ration that equipment, you have a situation you don't want to have," he said.
The Legislature is in session and scheduled to adjourn on Sunday, March 8. However, a Republican boycott of the session has prevented any legislation from moving.
Evans said he was not aware of any legislation proposed related to coronavirus outbreak.
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