As one of four focus areas of the Sisters Country Vision, “resiliency” has been top-of-mind for the Vision Implementation team this month, as Sisters Country grapples with changes to our daily lives, including the ways we connect with one another, plan for the future, care for the most vulnerable among us, and support our local economy. In these unprecedented times of global pandemic, the Vision Team has been inspired and encouraged by many examples of positive, community-led action. I had the honor of speaking with a few Sisters Country residents and local leaders who have learned to adapt and innovate to encourage community resiliency during COVID-19.

“The support for our first responders and healthcare workers has been amazing. Restaurants have been dropping off food, and some private citizens have been picking up food and dropping it off at the fire station,” said Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire Chief Roger Johnson, whose local force has been on the front lines of emergency response and preparedness. His team has made significant changes to their daily operations to adapt to new CDC health and safety guidelines.

“Our primary goal is to continue to provide high-quality ambulance service, while mitigating risk for providers. This is a major challenge for a small agency like ours. If a few providers fall ill or need to be quarantined, that’s a large percentage of our workforce.” Johnson points out. However, he has actually seen a decrease in demand for their services since the crisis began, which has him worried for another reason.

“We’ve seen a 20 percent reduction in ambulance transports. People aren’t calling 911 as often and when they do, there’s a hesitancy to go to the hospital. Even if they have conditions that should probably be evaluated in an emergency setting, they are hesitant to go. If people have serious conditions, they should still see a doctor,” Johnson said.

The Fire District, along with other fire agencies, are also thinking ahead and looking for ways to prepare for the upcoming fire season while adapting to social distancing requirements.

“On the Sisters Ranger District, our goal is to fully staff two engines, a 10-person hand crew and the Black Butte Lookout. We’re working to include daily temperature and wellness checks for firefighters, offering virtual fire trainings and briefings, increased sanitation of crew quarters, and the potential of quarantines before and after wildfire incidents, if needed.” said District Ranger Ian Reid, who added that USFS has also recently authorized a powerline right-of-way clearing project to improve fire safety and resiliency.

Sisters resident Laura Wang found another way to support first responders and healthcare workers. Along with friends Elisa Melton and Timothy Gorbold, she founded Central Oregon Emergency Mask Makers (COEMM), a Facebook group mobilizing local residents to produce and distribute PPE, including cloth masks, 3D-printed face shields, and soon, gowns. The group took off quickly, rapidly expanding to include more than 3,400 members who have produced over 18,000 masks. Wang says the group has attracted international interest, with members as far flung as India and Australia. The PPE produced by this dedicated corps of volunteers has been distributed to hospitals, medical clinics, home health aides, retirement and assisted living facilities, correctional facilities, and police and fire departments. They have supplied 35 major facilities, with fully 70 percent of masks going to hospitals. Facilities can sign up through the COEMM Facebook page to place a request for PPE.

“Our request list is growing day by day, but with the peak coming we may slow down a bit. We’re trying to balance how to do this safely for all our volunteers” said Wang.

Janel Ruehl is Program Administrator for Community & Economic Development with Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council. She is working on implementation of the Sisters Country Vision Project.