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Part II: Sky Lakes physician on variability of COVID-19 effects

Community news | Wednesday, April 15, 2020


Dr. Grant Niskanen, a physician and vice president of medical affairs at Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls, spoke to Herald and News about COVID-19 and the variability of its effects on patients on Monday.

Niskanen said while symptoms vary for individuals who test positive, the most common symptoms worldwide are cough, fever, and shortness of breath. So far, four patients have been hospitalized at Sky Lakes for COVID-19, while the rest have recovered or are working towards recovery at home.

Some individuals with the virus are asymptomatic, which can be challenging to identify while also being contagious.


Niskanen said about 80% of individuals who test positive for the virus will only have mild symptoms and can recover without being hospitalized.

About 15% of individuals who contract the virus may experience more severe symptoms that affect their breathing and may not feel safe staying at home while they recover.

About 5% of individuals who contract the virus will need to be treated in an Intensive Care Unit in case they need assistance with breathing but will recover.

About 2.5% of individuals who contract the virus will need to be intubated, a stage that if reached results in a 70% chance of death.

Niskanen said the most at-risk group is men older than 60 who smoke or have other respiratory issues, though there are exceptions.

That’s why Niskanen still encourages social distancing of six feet and wearing a mask in public to help curb the spread to those who may be impacted the most if they contract it.

“When you have a mask on, it’s not going to prevent you from getting the virus,” Niskanen said, “but it’s going to keep you from spreading the virus.”

When asked why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rolled back its original direction to encourage wearing masks in public places, Niskanen explained the reason is that there wasn’t enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to go around for healthcare providers.

“The last thing the CDC or the Oregon Health Authority wanted to do was say, everyone should wear a mask and here we are on the front lines working with a COVID patient without adequate protection,” Niskanen said.

“We still have PPE shortages in the hospital,” Niskanen added.

“We’re okay but it’s something that we are really aware of here.”

So far, about 5,000 PPE have been donated to Sky Lakes Medical Center, according to Tom Hottman, public information officer for Sky Lakes.

“What’s been really incredible here in Klamath Falls is the number of volunteers who’ve been making masks,” he added.

“It really tells you a lot about the community.”

Niskanen added that the Klamath Basin holds about 50,000 people and medical personnel need about 50,000 masks.

“Wear a mask – save a friend ‘cause you really could save someone’s life by wearing a mask,” Niskanen said.

For a pattern and additional resources for making masks, go online at https://www.skylakes.org/ .

hdillemuth@heraldandnews.com; @HollyDillemuth