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Flight from Seattle may have exposed local passengers to COVID-19

If you were a passenger on Delta Flight #4124 that arrived in Medford from Seattle on March 18, Jackson County Public Health has a warning for you.

"We believe somebody was symptomatic with COVID virus on that flight," said Dr. Jim Shames, medical director for Jackson County, in a Wednesday interview. "Our recommendation is individuals who were on that flight should self-quarantine."

A news release from Jackson County Public Health on Wednesday stated that the passenger in question remains only a possible case, and the diagnosis has not yet been confirmed. It called the overall risk for most people on the flight low, though if the department receives more information about the person's spot in the plane and who was seated near them, officials could begin contacting individuals most at risk, Shames said.

Jerry Brienza, director of the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, said he didn't have a comment, as the COVID-19 case has not yet been confirmed.

"It happened a week ago, so there's nothing we would do today that would make a difference," he said.

The airport has ramped up the frequency of sanitation in high-traffic areas and moved its existing hand sanitizer stations to be more visible, Brienza said.

He found out about the case Tuesday night on a local news broadcast, he said.

Jackson County Public Health also was notified about the possible case in an unorthodox way: by a press release out of Humboldt County in California. After calling the county, Jackson County Public Health was given more information from California State Public Health, the release said.

Typically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is responsible for monitoring communicable disease exposure in airline flights, Shames said. The CDC would notify a state agency, such as the Oregon Health Authority, which would then notify the county.

This time, that process went in reverse. Jackson County Public Health notified OHA of the potential exposure.

"I don't know what might have happened on (the CDC's) end, but ultimately they're human beings working under a lot of load," Shames said. "We'll take the information wherever we get it. If we can confirm it's of public health significance, we will pass it on to the public."

He said that the situation serves as a reminder for people to heed warnings to avoid non-essential travel while stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders remain in place.

"It's a reminder that that curve is beginning to climb quite steeply," he said. "It's happening for us, and if it can serve as a reminder that people need to stay at home and avoid all contact that is not absolutely necessary, now is the time to do that."

Jackson County Health Promotion Program Manager Tanya Phillips said the Oregon Health Authority defines close contact on an airline as passengers who were within 6 feet of each other.

People who took Delta Flight 4124 from Seattle to Medford on March 18 and who were sitting within 6 feet of the person with possible COVID-19 will be notified, Phillips said.

Jackson County Public Health put out the press release about the Delta flight so that everyone on the plane and the public in general could learn about the possible exposure, she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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