Trevor Phillips. (Courtesy/Trevor Phillips)

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When Trevor Phillips arrived for his Sunday shift at the Salem Health emergency room, he’d already spent two weeks reading and learning as much as he could about COVID-19.

He had hadn’t worked at the hospital since schools closed statewide after taking a planned vacation he intended to spend campaigning by phone for his race for Salem City Council. He’s running against incumbent Brad Nanke.

Those plans were derailed as the southern Oregon native instead hosted a town hall on Facebook to answer people’s questions about whether they could use a CPAP machine as a ventilator or if they should travel for a birthday party and to advocate for the need for more personal protective equipment.

On Sunday, Phillips made oatmeal and breakfast tea before heading to the hospital he's worked at for more than a decade to start his 7 a.m. shift.

On his way in, he walked past a tent set up in case there’s a surge in new patients infected with COVID-19.

Sunday shifts aren’t usually as busy, and he grabbed a mask that he would end up wearing for his 8-hour day.

“It may sound like typical emergency room shift. Nothing about it was typical other than the fact that Sunday mornings aren’t that busy,” Phillips said.

At his workstation, he took extra care to make sure it was clean and to wear goggles while seeing patients.

One of the main differences Phillips highlighted was “the diligence with which I think a lot of us in the healthcare field are approaching the maintenance of our personal protective equipment. That’s our lifeline.”

Phillips said he couldn’t elaborate on the patients he saw or what conditions they were experiencing but said “it was unlike any shift I’ve ever worked.”

It was physically and mentally challenging to stay hyper-vigilant about staying clean. He prepared to go the day without taking a break.

“You just try and eat and stay hydrated ahead of time,” Phillips said.

Salem Hospital is releasing updated COVID-19 patients counts on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Eleven hospital patients had confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 9 a.m. Tuesday, March 24, hospital spokeswoman Shannon Priem said. The hospital was awaiting tests for 40 additional patients.

Hospital beds were 59% full, a typical rate for flu season.  The hospital has 494 beds.

When Phillips was done for the day, he stored his stethoscope and other medical gear in way that it didn’t touch clothing that’s in his locker.

An indent from the goggles he wore lingered on his forehead for more than an hour.

As he got home, he changed his scrubs to clean clothes, careful to immediately put them in the laundry and then he showered to avoid putting his wife, Michelle, and their children at risk. The pair met at Linfield College and have lived in Salem for about a dozen years.

“The big thing I would like to communicate outside the medical community: People need to take this very, very seriously,” Phillips said.

In his own brain it feels like a balancing act - the risk isn’t 100% but its not zero either.

It was sobering for Phillips to learn that two emergency medicine doctors elsewhere in the country were in critical care after contracting the virus. The emergency room doctor in Washington is about the same age as Phillips.

He said many doctors are making sure that their wills and power-of-attorney are in order, anticipating the surge to come.

“It’s so difficult because it’s new,” Phillips said. “Normally we rely on history and science and data.”

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell: saphara@salemreporter.com.