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Combining health regions makes little sense

Oregon has done a good job of responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and Jackson County has done better than some other counties in the state, measured by the number of cases — 49 at this writing — and the number of deaths (0). So the county should be well-positioned to begin a gradual reopening when all the criteria are met — except for one obstacle.

State officials have decided to group together health regions in combinations that seem to make little sense. And some of the key reopening criteria, such as testing, surge capacity and supplies of personal protective equipment — must be met as a region, not by individual county.

That wouldn’t be a problem for Region 5 — Jackson and Josephine counties. But the state has grouped Region 5 with Region 3, which encompasses Lane, Douglas, Coos and Curry counties.

Douglas County might make sense to combine with Jackson and Josephine, but Lane is in the Willamette Valley. Eugene is closer to Salem than to Medford. Coos County is even further away.

It’s hard to imagine how Jackson County could provide testing for Coos County, or hospital beds for that matter, which are also available in Eugene. Coos County just had a spike of 19 new COVID-19 cases in a state prison there.

Even more spread out is the combination of Region 6 and Region 9, which stretches from Hood River County up the Columbia to Wallowa and then all the way down to Malheur.

If the ability of hospitals to handle a 20% increase in hospitalizations is measured by region, it’s not clear whether that means hospitals in Medford and Grants Pass would be expected to accept patients transported from Coos Bay or Eugene — which would strain ambulance resources at the very least. If not, then why measure hospital capacity on a regional basis?

Grouping Hood River County in the same region as Malheur makes even less sense.

Those two groups are the only regions being combined. The other health regions are being evaluated on their own.

Counties across the state are eager to begin the slow, careful process of reopening some segments of their economies in phases. But it appears not all regions are being treated equally.