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County behind the curve in moving to moderate

Jackson County moving into the moderate risk category is welcome news. What’s frustrating is that we could have already been there for some time if more local residents had just agreed to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Southern Oregon residents like to complain about the densely populated Portland area, which tends to call the shots in Salem because it has far more seats in the Legislature. But Multnomah and Washington counties have been in the low-risk category for weeks, and Clackamas County joined them last week — not because of votes in the Legislature but because residents of those counties did what was necessary to reduce infection rates and increase the percentage of the population with at least one dose of a vaccine.

Jackson County, by contrast, is still far from the 65% vaccination threshold that would significantly reduce COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants, gyms, indoor entertainment and retail stores. In percentage terms, it is in the middle of the pack among counties still short of the target, but because of its size, it needs to vaccinate more people than any other county in the state to reach 65%.

Just over half — 51.7% — of eligible Jackson County residents were vaccinated as of Monday. But to reach 65%, 24,531 residents still need to get the shot.

In May, Gov. Kate Brown set the vaccination target for individual counties at 65% and for the state as a whole at 70%. When the statewide target is reached, all capacity limits for restaurants and other businesses will be lifted and mask requirements abolished in nearly all public places even for unvaccinated people.

Oregon health officials estimate the state will likely reach 70% by the end of this month. So Jackson County residents will be spared any further restrictions despite failing to reach the county-level target on their own.

Despite the restrictions that still officially remain in place, we’ve noticed many local residents are venturing out without masks, even in stores. That’s not a problem if you’re vaccinated. If not, you’re still at risk of contracting COVID-19, although the danger is much reduced thanks to more people being vaccinated.

But none of this should be taken as an excuse not to get the vaccine. It’s now widely available and can be obtained without waiting. It’s still important to protect those who are not eligible to be vaccinated: children younger than 16 and adults with compromised immune systems. Those who refuse to be vaccinated aren’t just risking their own health but that of those around them who are most vulnerable to infection.

So enjoy the new sense of freedom, but if you’re not vaccinated, do the right thing and get the shot.