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Jackson County reports seventh COVID-19 death

A 78-year-old man died Tuesday in Ashland Community Hospital from COVID-19, pushing Jackson County’s death toll from the virus to seven.

News of the death came as health officials reported 35 new cases of the disease Wednesday, the second most in a single day since the pandemic began. The county reported 36 cases Oct. 22.

The man who died was diagnosed Oct. 13. He had underlying medical conditions, Jackson County Health and Human Services said in a news release.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director, said that despite the latest death, doctors have a better understanding of how the illness affects the body.

“Our mortality rate is better than it was, and people have a better chance of leaving the hospital alive than they did,” Shames said, adding that he’s worried the mortality rate could go up as the numbers of people in the hospital and intensive care units increase.

Jackson County has now reported 1,742 cases of COVID-19, and 231 of those people are considered infectious. So far 124 people here have been hospitalized from the illness.

The Oregon Health Authority reported seven more deaths and 424 new cases of COVID-19 statewide, pushing Oregon’s death toll Wednesday to 671, with 43,228 cases.

Shames said the new cases and hospitalizations can’t be explained away with testing.

“It’s absolutely not just testing,” Shames said. “It’s real increases.”

Shames said Jackson County Public Health staff “try and contact every positive case,” so local public health officials have a “pretty good idea of what’s causing the spread.”

Lately, the common factor seems to be people having close contact in indoor work environments, according to Shames.

“They’re sharing indoor space not adequately protected,” Shames said.

Once an infected person starts showing symptoms, they’ve likely already infected others.

“No one is doing this purposefully,” Shames said. “It’s the nature of the disease.”

Public health officials are investigating an outbreak of the illness at Costco in Central Point, where four employees and a close contact of one of the employees have tested positive. Investigation of the outbreak began Oct. 7, and Shames said Costco officials have been a “collaborative partner” with the county.

“They’ve been good to work with,” Shames said.

Shames said that while some employers are “really paying attention” to public health guidelines, others have been “more reluctant.”

“We want to call out the businesses that work closely and collaboratively with public health,” Shames said.

The increase in cases comes as the holiday season looms. This weekend is Halloween, next month is Thanksgiving and the start of the traditionally crowded holiday shopping season.

Shames suggested ways to enjoy the holidays safely.

“We want to encourage people to maintain the traditions that are important in their lives,” Shames said.

Shames said dressing up for Halloween and walking around neighborhoods checking out spooky decorations are activities that people can enjoy safely while social distancing.

“Thanksgiving is going to be more of a dilemma,” he said. “We just can’t bring people into our houses safely and have meals and chat ... unless you’re going to do it outdoors.”

In order to minimize contact during the holiday shopping season, Shames encouraged people to consider shopping at odd hours when stores may be less crowded, or calling ahead to see what accommodations local shops can make to possibly provide some gift suggestions ahead of time.

“We really want to support our local businesses until this COVID thing is over,” Shames said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat. Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com and follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.