Baker County has offered assistance as Union County deals with Oregon’s biggest COVID-19 outbreak, and local officials are also prepared for potential new infections in Baker County.
“It’s prudent for us to keep all of our staff ready,” said Mark Bennett, a Baker County commissioner and the county’s incident commander during the pandemic. “We’re not an island. We’re a little more sensitive because we’re so close and we have so much interaction with Union County.”
Bennett said he spoke with Union County Commissioner Paul Anderes Monday and offered to have some of Baker County’s 14 contact tracers help with the Union County investigation, or any other assistance Baker County could provide.
“We offered right away,” Bennett said.
Bennett said Anderes told him that both the state and Umatilla County are also helping, and so far none of Baker County’s contact tracers has been needed.
Although almost all of the COVID-19 cases in Union County — 236 of 240, of which 218 were announced Monday or Tuesday — are connected to the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Island City, Bennett said there’s still the potential for Baker County residents to have been exposed while in Union County.
“I think it’s too soon to see the full implications here,” he said Wednesday morning.
Bennett said he has no reason to believe that any large gatherings of people not following social distancing guidelines or wearing face masks, as was the case at the Island City church, have taken place in Baker County.
“We’ve not received reports of anything of that sort, even anecdotally,” Bennett said. “We’re not aware of that.”
Baker County has had only one confirmed case of the virus, which was reported May 6. That person, who was not identified but lives in the 97814 ZIP code area, recovered at home, according to the Baker County Health Department.
Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker City, the county’s only hospital, has “a surge plan in place and are prepared for an increase in patients should that occur,” Laura Huggins, a spokeswoman for the hospital, wrote in an email to the Herald on Tuesday.
The plan Baker County submitted to the state prior to phase 1 of reopening, which started May 15, stated that Saint Alphonsus had boosted its capacity from 25 beds to 35, including five intensive care unit beds.
In addition, the county had set up an alternate site with the capacity for up to 60 more beds.
Bennett said the county’s emergency management team had a discussion Monday, and the team confirmed that the county’s contact tracers are ready if needed.
Bennett also said the county is ready to operate a call center if the Health Department starts to receive more calls from concerned residents than its staff can handle.
The call center, which would be staffed by county employees, is designed to give residents the information that’s also available on the county’s COVID-19 website, www.bakercountycovid19.com
Bennett said he understands that not all residents have internet access, and that some would prefer to talk to a person in any case.