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Jackson County says it's prepared to reopen from COVID-19 orders

Jackson County officials said Wednesday the county meets criteria established by Gov. Kate Brown for a phased reopening of the economy, which could start May 15 in some rural counties.

The county plans to send a letter by Friday detailing the community’s preparedness.

Friday is the soonest Brown will begin reviewing requests to gradually reopen shuttered parts of the economy, the governor has said.

Jackson County officials say the community has adequate stockpiles of personal protective equipment such as masks, hospitals could handle a potential surge of new COVID-19 patients, and the county and medical community have ramped up their ability to trace and contact people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

To buttress the county’s argument, county staffers are gathering letters of support from local hospitals, cities and first responders to send to the governor.

“It looks good for our area if the county and cities and hospitals are all working together,” said Jackson County Commissioner Danny Jordan.

Based on draft criteria needed to reopen, Jackson County initially thought it would be judged along with Josephine, Douglas, Lane, Coos and Curry counties on some criteria, including hospital surge capacity and stockpiles of personal protective equipment.

Jackson County officials learned this week the county will be judged on its own merits.

“I thought it was encouraging especially to learn we’re not having to depend on others in other counties and their level of preparedness,” said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer.

Commissioner Bob Strosser said he’s pleased Jackson County won’t be slowed if another southwest Oregon county can’t meet requirements.

“This county has done a lot to get ready,” he said.

Although the May 15 opening date for rural counties is tentative, Dyer said he feels optimistic Jackson County can meet the governor’s criteria.

But commissioners said they’re frustrated they have to wait until at least May 15 to begin reopening businesses that have been shuttered to protect people from the deadly virus. They said businesses have been devastated and unemployed people are in dire straits.

“Each day is so critical,” said Commissioner Colleen Roberts, who said she was disappointed to hear the phase one reopening stage, which originally was expected to last 14 days, will last for 21 days.

Phase one will allow restaurants, which have been limited to takeout and delivery, to resume dine-in service. Child care and personal service businesses such as hair salons would also start up again. The businesses will have to follow new safety guidelines and restrictions.

Employees in all sectors will still be encouraged to work from home if possible, and gatherings will be limited to small groups.

Businesses such as bars and gyms will reopen in a later phase, with large venues such as theaters and sports arenas among the last to restart.

Brown could tighten restrictions again if COVID-19 cases spike.

Rural Oregon has been less hard-hit by COVID-19 than the Portland metro area.

Jackson County reported one positive COVID-19 case April 24 and another case Wednesday. The number of people diagnosed with the virus in Jackson County stands at 50.

So far, 40 people have recovered, while 10 are still experiencing symptoms. The county has had no COVID-19 deaths, according to a Wednesday update by Jackson County Public Health, which is still urging people to stay home as much as possible, practice physical distancing, wash hands frequently, and wear a face mask in public.

Although many businesses are champing at the bit to reopen or expand, Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton cautioned them not to jump the gun before the county wins approval from the governor.

Businesses could wind up in legal trouble for violating the public health measures, he said.

Benton said county commissioners do not have legal authority to end the state restrictions.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Many businesses are looking to open soon in downtown Medford.