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Jackson County COVID-19 risk level will improve to 'high'

Jackson County’s COVID-19 risk level will move from “extreme” to “high” Friday, according to Jackson County Public Health.

The change is due to the local case rate falling below 200 cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period. Between Feb. 7-20, Jackson County had a case rate of 174.9 cases per 100,000, public health officials said.

“This is hopeful news that Jackson County has a decrease in cases and able to move to a lower risk category,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director. “Even though we are seeing a decrease in cases and moving to a lower risk category, it remains critical that we continue to wear a mask, wash our hands, watch our distance, stay home when we are sick, and get vaccinated against COVID-19 when it’s our turn.”

Gov. Kate Brown confirmed the shift Tuesday. Six other counties, including Lane, Crook, Marion, Polk, Umatilla and Yamhill, moved from extreme to high.

“For the second time in a row, we are seeing great progress in stopping the spread of COVID-19 across Oregon and saving lives,” Brown said in a news release.

Five counties, including Josephine and Douglas, were still in the extreme category. Josephine remained there, while Douglas moved to the designation from high.

Under the high risk level, restaurants can open indoor dining at 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever comes first, according to state metrics. There is also an outdoor capacity of 75 people.

Up to 50% capacity is allowed at indoor and outdoor shopping centers and malls, while faith institutions may have up to 25% capacity or 150 people, whichever is reached first. There is also an outdoor capacity of 200 people. Indoor entertainment establishments such as theaters and museums may allow up to 25% occupancy or a maximum of 50 people. Indoor fitness centers such as gyms may allow up to 25% occupancy or 50 people. Retail stores may allow up to 50% max capacity.

Complete guidelines are online at coronavirus.oregon.gov/Pages/guidance.aspx.

Jackson County commissioners were pleased that the county can move into the high risk category, but they said the burdens placed on businesses are still excessive. In addition, the commissioners worried the county could see an uptick in cases that could push the county back into the extreme risk category in coming weeks.

Commissioners said businesses such as restaurants need to bring back staff and ramp up their operations to resume indoor dining, but they face uncertainty about whether they’ll be able to keep offering indoor dining into the future.

Some may decide not to take the risk.

“I’ve seen restaurant owners say, ‘I can’t do it,’” Commissioner Rick Dyer said.

Dyer said hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 are dropping, and more people are getting vaccinated, but the state is sticking with its system for measuring risk in counties.

Commissioner Dave Dotterrer said he wants the state to be more flexible in how it categorizes counties. A “moderate” risk distinction is 50 to just below 100 per 100,000 people, and a positive test percentage of 5% to just under 8%. Finally, “lower” risk would happen if the case rate dropped below 50 per 100,000 people and the positive test percentage was under 5%.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing via video conference at 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, where public comments on the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions to businesses and individuals will be accepted.

Public comments will be received, specifically, on the restrictions listed on the OHA Sector Risk Level Guidance Chart effective Feb. 12, 2021, for social and at-home gathering size; eating and drinking establishments; indoor recreation and fitness establishments; indoor entertainment establishments; retail stores; indoor and outdoor shopping centers and malls; faith institutions, funeral homes, mortuaries and cemeteries; offices; outdoor recreation and fitness establishments; outdoor entertainment establishments; personal services; and long-term care.

The public hearing may continue Feb. 26. The meeting can be viewed at www.youtube.com/jacksoncountyoregon, or on Zoom, with registration required for the latter at http://jcorcovid19.org/RegisterToView. To obtain the link to provide public comment, register online at http://jcorcovid19.org/PublicComment. Audio comments can also be emailed to BoC-CAO_Admin@jacksoncounty.org, or by calling 541-774-6116.

Jackson County reported 46 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday. Nine previously reported cases were removed, raising the county’s cumulative total to 8,198. The death toll remained at 108.

Seventeen new cases were reported in Josephine County, raising its total to 2,288. Josephine County’s death toll rose to 49 following the Feb. 21 death of a 74-year-old man.

Oregon reported eight more deaths Tuesday, raising the state’s death toll to 2,162. The agency also 528 new cases statewide, raising Oregon’s cumulative total to 153,645.

On Tuesday, 165 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, two fewer than Monday, with 44 in intensive care, three fewer than Monday.

Twenty-seven people were hospitalized from the disease in Jackson and Josephine counties Tuesday, one more than Monday, with nine in ICU, one more than Monday.

As of Tuesday, 282,236 Oregonians were considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 266,162 who have received the first dose.

In Jackson County, 16,520 residents were considered fully vaccinated, with 9,523 who had received the first dose.

In Josephine County, 4,685 residents were fully vaccinated, with 3,481 who had received the first dose.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanPfeil. Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.