Sky Lakes President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Stewart, in a social media video, offered his observations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and urged everyone to take the situation seriously and exercise the strategies that have successfully prevented its spread elsewhere.

“Hello, everyone. I’m Paul Stewart – really, behind this mask, it’s really me – and I wanted to update you on some of the ways Sky Lakes is preparing for the oncoming train we know as COVID-19. I also wanted to remind you some of the things you can do to help us – and our community — prepare.

“The number of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 in our community doubled in 36 hours. I’m afraid that is likely only the beginning of a local surge in positive cases.

“In the very near future, you’ll be seeing and hearing public service announcements from several well-respected members of our local medical community regarding strategies for slowing the COVID-19 spread.

“They, like me, fear there are still too many people who are not taking this threat seriously – continuing to hold social gatherings, shake hands, gather too close to others in public.

“One of the strategies is ‘physical distancing’ — maintaining at least a 6-foot separation. Notice I called it ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing.’ The idea is to put physical space – 6 feet or more — between us as a barrier to the virus and recognizing that we are all social creatures.

“There is emerging information that people who do not show symptoms – they don’t know if they have it or not — can ‘share’ COVID-19 for days.

“Keeping that distance is a good, practical way to avoid the infection. We will survive this pandemic only if society works together – but at a distance.

“Physical distancing works! Preliminary data show that in California and Washington – the first states to report community-spread infections and the first to mandate ‘stay home’ restrictions – the rate of COVID-19 infections was significantly less than on the East Coast, where distancing rules came later.

“In the Bay Area, where ‘stay at home’ was ordered early in the outbreak, the number of confirmed cases per capita was 15 times less than in New York City, which put the rules in place after a few weeks. And the rate in San Francisco was one-third that of Boston where the rules also came later.

“Staying home isn’t as easy as it sounds, I get that, but it’s important and it works! But physical distancing is not the same as social isolation.

“Just as Sky Lakes and Cascades East primary care providers have started using ‘tele-visits’ with their patients, please stay in touch with each other – your friends, your family, and those who are at risk – by using apps such as Face Time or Skype or any of an assortment of other ‘virtual visit’ technologies available. Let them know you care. Reassure them. Be there for each other.

“Now, about this mask. No, I do not believe I have COVID-19. No, I’m not wearing this mask because I’m concerned that you will infect me. I’m wearing this mask because I – like just about everyone else in this community – really have no idea whether or not I have the virus, and I want to make sure I don’t inadvertently spread it to someone else.

“Sky Lakes earlier this week encouraged all of our non-clinical staff to wear a non-medical mask that covers their nose and mouth. Employees who have patient-care responsibilities – of course – will wear the appropriate personal protection equipment – PPE – not homemade masks.

“We recommend that everyone should wear a mask whenever they’re interacting with anyone not living under the same roof. This does not mean use a medical-grade mask – we want to reserve those for the healthcare workers who will be on the frontlines of patient care.

“And if you have any medical-grade masks – either N95s or surgical – we would ask you to consider bringing them to the medical center so our frontline staff do not have to worry about running out of protective equipment in the event of a coronavirus surge.

“A fabric mask or even a folded bandana that covers your mouth and nose — that’s all it takes to protect others from us.

“COVID-19 can be broadcast by merely speaking aloud – neither a sneeze nor cough is required – by people who don’t show symptoms, and it can live a relatively long time in the air and longer still on surfaces, which is why frequent hand washing is a good idea.

“Also, when everyone wears a mask, no one is seen as ‘odd’ by using one. It becomes accepted, perhaps even, expected.

“Wearing non-medical masks, maintaining physical space, washing your hands – these are relatively simple ways we can protect one another and help reduce overall community transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

“Take good care of yourselves – make good choices – get outside when you can – and do what you can to protect yourselves. Take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, but please don’t be afraid. Instead, be kind.

“And we’ll get through this as we always do: Together.

“Thanks, and stay safe.”