ENTERPRISE — COVID-19 didn’t disappear.
But, as 2022 continued, residents throughout Wallowa County emerged from quarantine and social distancing, took off their masks (in some cases) and, to some extent, resumed their lives.
It was a natural reaction to life during the first few years after the pandemic struck: Public meetings were banished. Performances in the OK Theatre were canceled. Restaurants were closed. Schools were shuttered. Gyms were closed.
Life still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic normalcy — and, in fact, that may never completely happen.
But the number of COVID cases is dropping in Wallowa County, just as they’re dropping throughout the state. During the last week or so, an average of less than one COVID case per day has been reported in Wallowa County, according to state statistics.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,542 COVID cases have been reported in the county, which has a population of about 7,500. In all, COVID has claimed a reported 25 lives in the county, according to state statistics.
The pandemic was a stern test for the county’s health care professionals — but they say they’ve learned from the experience and are preparing for the next pandemic.
“We are constantly planning for the next outbreak,” said Brooke Pace, director of communications and experience at Wallowa Memorial Hospital. “It is why we have policies, procedures, and protocols (including isolation protocols), and surge plans in place that we regularly review. For example, due to a significant increase in influenza and RSV currently, our Incident Command Team is stood back up and our surge plan is in place.”
Added Ruthie Mann, the hospital’s director of infection control and employee health: “Medical workers have learned a lot about versatility and flexibility. Although the entire health care system is still trying to recover from shortages in workers, supplies, and medication, we have learned to maximize our resources, skills and abilities. Regionally, hospitals continue to communicate and use resources as needed in Eastern Oregon.”
But the pandemic took a toll on health-care workers and members of the public: “The pandemic also had a large effect on the mental well-being of our employees and the population as a whole,” Mann said. “We continue to support our staff through our employee assistance programs and through educational events around burnout, depressions, and anxiety.”
Meanwhile, county residents — after two years dominated by Zoom and other virtual meetings — resumed in-person meetings during 2022. Here are some highlights:
• The 27th annual Healthy Futures dinner auction returned live on Saturday, Nov. 12, after two years of virtual presentations due to COVID-19 restrictions. The event raised more than $144,000 that went toward getting new equipment for Wallowa Memorial Hospital.
Even though the event itself had emerged from the shadow of COVID, the challenge caused by the pandemic was on the mind of Larry Davy, CEO of Wallowa Memorial Hospital, as he spoke to attendees.
The pandemic was tough for hospitals worldwide, Davy said, both in terms of finances and the effect on health care workers. He said more than 20% of U.S. health care workers left their jobs during the pandemic.
“As you look at health care, there are still a lot of challenges,” he said. “For a while we didn’t have enough beds for patients, throughout the state and the nation. Now we have enough beds, but we don’t have enough staff.”
But, he said, Wallowa Memorial Hospital is “still strong and still in the black, although two-thirds of Oregon hospitals are losing money right now,” he said. “We’re close, but we still have our head above the water.”
• South Fork Grange in Lostine shut down for over a year, but came back in force as members launched a celebration of the Grange’s centennial and raised more than $3,000 for its new location in Lostine, with a cake and pie auction at M. Crow.
Longtime Grange member June Colony stressed the importance of passing the reins to a younger generation.
“We want to go into the new century,” she said. “It’s very important that we get into our second 100 years. It’s important for the community, and the people of the county, because we are a way of building our community together.”
• The Wallowa Avalanche Center resumed its annual in-person briefing and fundraiser at Winding River Expeditions’ Boathouse.
The briefings have become a tradition, but for the past couple of years, the COVID pandemic pushed them into online settings. The recent session at the Boathouse Shop was the first in-person briefing in three years.
Attendees munched on pizza from M. Crow and sipped on beer from Terminal Gravity as they listened as Victor McNeil, director of the Wallowa Avalanche Center, described why the region has developed what he called a “persistent avalanche problem” this season.
• The Odd Fellows building in downtown Enterprise opened for in-person space rental after an extensive renovation.
After receiving more than $200,000 in grants and donations to fund restoration work on its historic building, the building in downtown Enterprise is now available to rent as an event venue.
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