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New rules leave it up to us to slow virus

Jackson County has avoided moving into the “extreme” risk category for COVID-19, but not because we’ve done a great job of preventing the disease from spreading. Instead, thank Gov. Kate Brown, who decided to increase the threshold of new cases and hospitalizations, allowing restaurants, gyms, indoor entertainment and churches to continue operating as they have been.

Now it’s up to all of us to stay vigilant and careful, and for everyone to get vaccinated.

If Brown had not changed the metrics, Jackson and 10 other counties would have moved from the “high” risk category to extreme, whipsawing restaurants and other businesses that are struggling to stay in business as they wait for restrictions to loosen further. Now it will be two more weeks of the high category while officials monitor the number of cases and the number of statewide hospitalizations. It’s the latter statistic that kept Jackson County from moving up; if it had been based just on cases, we would have been over the threshold of 200 cases per 100,000 residents.

Under the new metrics, counties won’t move unless cases are 200 or more and statewide hospitalizations total 300 or more and there is a 15% increase in the seven-day hospitalization average over the previous week. On Tuesday, Jackson County’s cases were 246.3 per 100,000 over the previous two-week period, but only 255 patients were hospitalized statewide.

The trend here is not looking good. Jackson County reported 45 new cases on Tuesday, but on Wednesday that number jumped to 93. On May 4, if the county’s performance doesn’t improve, we’ll be headed for the extreme category, and we’ll have only ourselves to blame.

As of Monday, every Oregon resident 16 and over is eligible to be vaccinated. And Jackson County is now the site of a pilot project that opened Wednesday at the Expo, dispensing the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. There is no excuse not to take advantage of that opportunity, to protect yourself against the virus and help the local economy recover at the same time by keeping the county’s infection rate down.