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Jackson County reports second COVID-19-related death

An 80-year-old man is the second Jackson County resident to die from COVID-19, Jackson County Public Health announced Friday.

The man tested positive July 15 and died Aug. 6 at Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford. He had underlying medical conditions, the county said.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director, said he didn’t know the specifics of the man’s case, including why he remained at a local hospital, unlike Jackson County’s first resident to die with coronavirus.

That death, reported July 29, was a 65-year-old man who died July 25 at Providence Portland Medical Center. He also had underlying medical conditions, the county reported.

Jackson County also reported 12 more COVID-19 cases Friday, bringing the county’s total to 448.

With the new death, Jackson County’s death rate among recorded cases rose to 0.4%, according to data reported by the Oregon Health Authority Friday. That’s significantly lower than some of Oregon’s other counties, such as Polk County, with a fatality rate of 3.9% among identified cases. Josephine County had a fatality-per-case rate of 1.7%, and Klamath County was at 0.9%, according to OHA.

Shames said the fact that people younger than 50 make up such a substantial portion of Jackson County’s cases — 66%, per a Mail Tribune analysis of the county's case data— is likely playing a role in the county’s lower fatality rate.

“I do need to stress that relatively young people who are not aware of having serious health problems are still at risk,” he said.

Jackson County’s test positivity rate continued to trend upward in the past week, up to 7.2% the week of Aug. 2 to Aug. 8, according to OHA data.

The county also remained well below the state’s recommended metric for contact tracing. OHA’s goal for cases in a seven-day period that contact tracers followed up on within 24 hours of the positive result is 95% or above.

Jackson County was at 45% in the past week, OHA’s Friday data showed.

Shames said that influxes of cases in that time frame outpaced contact tracers’ ability to follow up at the pace they would have liked.

“We’ve bolstered our capacity significantly since then,” he said, adding that “things are beginning to flatten out a little bit.”

Cases per 100,000 and positivity rates continue to be key metrics for Jackson County officials to watch, as those are the metrics that not only OHA, but also the Oregon Department of Education, will watch to determine whether schools can open to partial or full-time on-campus instruction.

As of the past week, Jackson County isn’t in compliance with the state metrics of new cases per 100,000 to open schools to kids of any ages, data show. That prompted at least four Jackson County school districts — Eagle Point, Phoenix-Talent, Ashland and Medford — to shift gears on their plans and announce an online-only start to their school years for all students.

As time passes and schools watch to see whether they can reopen in the weeks after the academic year begins, Shames said it will take a collective will to make that possible.

“What I want to emphasize is we’re not helpless here,” Shames said. “If people are wondering why to wear masks, why to create social distancing, it’s really not about just that person. ... We’ve got to bring those numbers back down, we know all the tools that will do it. Let’s do it for the children. Then they can get the education they deserve.”

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

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