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For months, Oregon seemed to be a national outlier, spared the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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But in the past several weeks, a surge in seriously ill COVID-19 patients have arrived in emergency rooms from Portland to Medford to Bend, pushing hospital bed occupancy in some regions towards 90% and straining the health system.

Related: Rural health systems challenged by COVID-19 surge

“For much of the last four months, we were oscillating between roughly two and eight patients requiring hospitalization with COVID-19 disease. Today we have 49 patients,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, the chief physician executive for the St. Charles Health System, which operates four hospitals in the Bend region.

“We honestly

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