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NORTH BEND — The North Bend Medical Center is closing its clinics to visits and non-urgent appointments to focus its “efforts on the coronavirus outbreak,” according to a press release.

The closure begins at the end of business today.

“We believe that there is only a very small window of time to control the spread of this disease within our community,” said NBMC Board Chairman Steven Shimotakahara, MD, in the release. “Therefore to protect our patients, staff and the community, we have arrived at a difficult decision."

That decision is being described as a “proactive step” to the shelter-in-place protocol, which is proven to be the fastest way to stop the “impending spread of COVID-19,” the release said.

The NBMC Immediate Care Clinic remains open, Coos Health and Wellness said in a press conference Monday afternoon. However, if people are feverish, have a dry cough and difficulty breathing, they should call before coming in.

“Dr. Shimotakahara further states that based on projections from other communities ‘we anticipate that physicians and staff will be needed to respond to the pandemic at our local hospitals in the near future,’” the release said.

Dr. Kent Sharman, medical director for the center, told The World that this was an effort to support current guidelines from the World Health Organization as well as to follow the most successful model to slow down the virus.

“(NBMC) is taking (COVID-19) very seriously,” he said. “To that end, just like all small businesses being closed to contain this, we are trying to do our best to contribute.”

Sharman explained this unprecedented move is to also help give providers and medical staff time to prepare for the expected increase on their expertise.

“It is also to protect some of our clinical staff from exposure, anticipating that they will be needed as healthcare workers only to become patients," he said.

When asked what the ratio is of healthcare workers becoming sick with COVID-19 as they treat infected patients, Sharman said that right now the United States is following Italy’s curve for the illness. He said that Italy is seeing healthcare workers becoming “quite ill” in the “double digits.”

Sharman added that the youth are vectors for the disease, which means “they have the means of providing contagion and contamination in their circles, which includes generations outside their own age at places they visit” like the park, campgrounds, and other people’s homes.

“(COVID-19) affects the vulnerable they interact with, from parents to grandparents,” he said. “Right now, we are in a temporary containment time. This is not lifelong or summer-long, but anticipated for the next 45 to 60 days for people to shelter in place.”

As NBMC closes its clinic, staff are contacting patients to address their appointments while physicians and providers will conduct almost all visits with patients using telephone or video-enabled technology starting Wednesday, the release said.

Meanwhile, the release added that clinic offices will all remain available to handle non-visit related business, including refills and care management.

“In some respects, this is why we went into healthcare,” Sharman said. “We view this as our call to arms for our generation of healthcare providers to make a difference and save lives, ease suffering and do this with compassion and expertise. I don’t think my generation of healthcare workers will experience anything like this again.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236, or by email at worldnews1@countrymedia.net. Follow her on Twitter: @je_wardwriter.

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