Dr. Damon Armitage, Camas Swale Medical Clinic doctor and lieutenant colonel has been deployed since the start of April to assist in the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Wing’s medical group. PHOTO PROVIDED
With the stay-at-home measures proving effective in recent weeks in the Willamette Valley, a Creswell doctor and South Lane emergency personnel are deployed to help combat COVID-19 across the state.
South Lane County Fire & Rescue fire chief John Wooten and division chief Joe Raade were deployed Monday, April 27 to the emergency operations center in Salem, and Camas Swale Medical Clinic’s Dr. Damon Armitage has been deployed since the start of April to assist in the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Wing’s medical group.
Wooten and Raade are working out of the emergency coordinating center, the hub for the entire COVID-19 response around the state. Raade and Wooten are communicating with all emergency managers statewide and are stationed there for up to 21 days. Armitage is in Portland for up to 60 days as a medical adviser.
Deployment is nothing new for these first responders, though Wooten said this one is especially unique because this type of work is “new for everyone; no one’s done a pandemic since 1918.”
Wooten and Raade are deployed most summers to California to fight wildfires. Raade has also been on assignment in response to Hurricane Michael, where he spent 14 days in Panama City, Fla.
With his medical and military background, Armitage has been previously deployed to Alaska, where he assisted a pediatric clinic for a month and a half, he said. He was also on active duty when H1N1 struck and said it was “very challenging from a healthcare perspective because everyone on base got sick at the same time.”
Armitage, a graduate of Cottage Grove High School and lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, is working in Portland to offer medical perspectives, keep the crew of about 1,400 healthy, see patients and fill in for crews who are deployed elsewhere.
Wooten is the deputy operations chief in the human resources division of the State Fire Marshal Incident Management Team (IMT), and works 12-14 hours a day for 14 days straight with authorities to plan COVID-19 responses. Wooten was also deployed to assist at the Oregon Health Authority in Portland from March 23 to April 6.
Wooten said that the operations team implements all plans that come out of the OHA. “I am working with human services, where we help build plans around EMS responses, set up hospitals and coordinate regional healthcare across the state,” Wooten said.
“For instance, if a strike team of ambulances need to be put together, the operations team would make that happen,” Wooten said. “If a nursing home was infected, a process would take place to surge services to that location.”
If there is a plan to distribute personal protective equipment to the hospitals or nursing homes, that’s where Raade – the logistics chief for his team – comes in.
Raade is responsible for making sure there is adequate personal protective equipment for all first responders and facilities in the state. He is in charge of arranging, acquiring and managing operations, like acquiring hundreds of ventilators or masks. Working hand-in-glove, Wooten’s operations team then plans how those materials are distributed.
Wooten said that while away, operations control was delegated to SLCF&R division chief Justin Baird. Raade said that the district has been fully staffed and in full-force since the start of the year.
“We are working as hard as we can so we are still capable of doing our job day-to-day,” Wooten said. “Don’t be afraid to call 9-1-1 if someone has an emergency.”
Raade and Wooten deployment isn’t draining the district’s resources, Wooten said. “Our positions are completely paid for by the state while we are gone, so the district is not out any money doing this – actually, the district is saving money because our positions are covered by the state and not the district for a few weeks.”
Armitage said that business at Camas Swale Medical Clinic has been slow lately, but remains well-staffed while he is deployed.
“This activation came at a very good time because right now, the patient clinic volume is such that there isn’t enough to provide for two full-time employees,” Armitage said. A full-time physician’s assistant is in the office, and Armitage encourages patients to seek preventative care, “especially vaccines, as all regular illnesses are still a threat,” he said.
Wooten, Raade and Armitage all agree that social-distancing measures have been successful. “From a personal perspective, the threat of the virus is still there, but it is good that the measures implemented are effective,” Armitage said.
“It is getting better,” Raade agreed. “We are seeing the benefits of social distancing and how effective it is, so hopefully people will continue to follow it.
“These small steps are just snowballing in effectiveness. As long as we are staying vigilant and following the governor’s orders, we will get through this.”
Armitage said he personally anticipates a second wave of this virus in the fall, but to what degree at this stage is speculative.
“It is expected to see a second wave in the early fall, but no one knows what it would look like,” Armitage said. “It may be that people that were not exposed become exposed, or that people already exposed become exposed again. It is too new to know what reinfection rates would be and what immunity would be.”
“We are not out of this yet,” Raade said. “Until we have a vaccine, we will continue to see cases of COVID-19 throughout Oregon and the world.”
Wooten agreed. “The virus is something we are just going to have to live with now.”
“Unfortunately, we all have to be patient ... Gov. Kate Brown has a really good plan and if we follow that, hopefully we can reopen the state soon,” Raade said.