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Jackson County still having problems tracing COVID-19 cases

Jackson County Public Health officials hope additional state resources intended to help with contact tracing and case investigation will help remove the county from Oregon’s COVID-19 watch list.

“We’re going to do everything we can working with the state and hoping to get the public on board to turn that around as quickly as possible,” said Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames.

Counties are placed on the watch list when there have been more than five sporadic cases — cases that cannot be traced to a known source — and when there is a sporadic rate of 50 or more cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period, according to a news release from Gov. Kate Brown’s office.

From Aug. 2-16, Jackson County had 118 sporadic cases or 53.3 per 100,000 people, according to Tanya Phillips, Jackson County health promotion program manager.

Counties that don’t show improvement can revert back to previous reopening phases, or even the initial stay-at-home order the state instituted in March. Jackson County is one of eight counties now on the state watch list, joining Baker, Hood River, Jefferson, Malheur, Morrow, Multnomah and Umatilla counties.

“The concern is that we cannot trace a majority of our cases back to known outbreaks. That’s worrisome to us, and the state (is) recognizing that it’s a concern as well,” said Shames. “It makes it harder to get a handle on it and get control of the pandemic when that occurs. Once we get to a place where we have a better handle on where the cases are coming from, we should be able to reduce the overall numbers.”

Despite the difficulty of tracing all the cases to known sources, some recent cases have been traced back to social gatherings, health officials said.

“A lot of this is really individual behaviors, and some of this is the nature of a pandemic,” Shames said. “If you look at where the pandemic has flared up in Oregon and around the country, you’ll notice it’s very unequal. You’ll have some areas where they’re doing well, they’re doing well, they’re doing well, and then in a very short period of time, they get a lot of cases.”

Jackson County reported 18 more cases Friday, raising the local total to 654 cases. Of those, 219 are considered infectious. Fifty-six people have been hospitalized, and two people have died from the illness.

Oregon reported 259 more cases and two more deaths statewide Friday. The state has recorded 24,421 cases, with 414 deaths.