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Multiple reasons why Jackson County has more cases than neighbors

Why does Jackson County have so many more cases than Josephine County? I know Jackson has two and a half times the population as Josephine, but it’s consistently had many more times the number of cases. Both counties have major cities, both have colleges, both have a wide variety of open businesses, churches and activities. Are they just better at mask wearing and social distancing?

— Cara, Medford

We reached out to Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames, and it turns out you’re not the only one who’s puzzled by the significant spikes here compared to our neighbors.

There’s a certain volatility with any viral outbreak or pandemic that makes them somewhat hard to predict who’ll get infected next, according to Shames.

“Outbreaks tend to have a mind of their own,” Shames said.

That’s not to say Shames doesn’t have ideas — he is, after all, a public health expert.

Shames said part of the explanation could be Jackson County’s economics compared to surrounding counties. For instance, Jackson County gets far more shoppers from out of the area than Klamath County or Josephine County.

Another possible explanation is earlier outbreaks.

“A couple superspreader events can reverberate through a community for months,” he said, describing how in a short period of time second, third and fourth generations of outbreaks can spread from one outbreak. “Within a short period it’s already out of our hands.”

Another variable is that the majority of people infected with the virus aren’t the ones spreading it to others.

“Most of the spread of the disease is from about 20% of the infected,” Shames said, hypothesizing that some people expel more virus-carrying droplets than others.

“Some people may just be more gregarious.”

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501 or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.