PENDLETON — The COVID-19 surge sweeping Umatilla County continues to drive up hospitalizations at CHI St. Anthony in Pendleton.

Roughly two-thirds of the hospital’s inpatients over the past week tested positive for COVID-19, and more than a quarter of patients admitted to the emergency department had the virus, according to Harold Geller, the president of CHI St. Anthony.

“We urge everyone to become vaccinated,” said Geller. 

On Saturday, July 31, the hospital had 13 COVID-positive patients in their care, the highest daily total since the pandemic began, according to Geller. If that total exceeded 18, Geller said the hospital “may need to suspend elective surgeries, but not emergency surgeries.” On Aug. 2, the number of hospitalized patients had dropped to 9.

As infection ramped up in the county in July, the hospital admitted 24 patients with COVID-19, with 22 of those patients coming in the last 10 days of the month. Those patients were spread across the hospital’s critical care and medical units.

And as hospitals throughout Oregon and Washington fill with COVID-19 patients, transferring patients to other hospitals for a higher level of care continues to be a challenge for St. Anthony, according to Emily Smith, a hospital spokesperson.

Of the 25 staffed intensive care unit beds available in Eastern Oregon, only five were available as of Aug. 3, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

“The governor is incredibly concerned about the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations we are seeing due to the spread of the delta variant in areas with low vaccination rates,” Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for Gov. Kate Brown, told the Oregon Capitol Bureau. “Severe illness from COVID-19 is now a preventable disease, thanks to vaccines.”

Boyle said the governor’s office and OHA have “been in communication with Umatilla County about what assistance or additional resources they may need” and added that the state “will continue to reach out and stand ready to assist.”

Reported COVID-19 hospitalizations have spiked statewide as the highly contagious delta variant rips through communities, infecting huge swaths of unvaccinated people. As of Aug. 3, nearly 380 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest total since January, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

And Umatilla County has been at the epicenter of the infection, which health officials attribute to the county’s low vaccination rates. The county reported 745 cases during the past two weeks, amounting to a case rate that was the highest in the state and more than eight times higher than Multnomah County. More than 22% of all tests conducted in the county came back positive during that time period, the second highest in Oregon, according to state data.

Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston, however, is not seeing the same uptick in hospitalizations as St. Anthony. As of Aug. 3, the hospital had reported just five COVID-19-related hospitalizations during the past two weeks, according to Caitlin Cozad, spokesperson for Good Shepherd.

But the number of tests coming back positive at the hospital has more than tripled since mid-July, Cozad said.

Nearly 9,900 people have contracted COVID-19 in Umatilla County since the pandemic began, according to the county health department. In all, the county has reported 94 COVID-19 deaths.

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Reporter primarily covering government and public safety in Umatilla and Morrow County.

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