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Jackson County reports daily record of COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Jackson County Public Health has been investigating an outbreak of 18 cases of COVID-19 among Amy’s Kitchen employees and their close contacts since July 28, agency officials confirmed Wednesday.

The case count includes all people linked to the outbreak, including household members and close contacts of Amy’s Kitchen employees, and the employees themselves. Thus far, the investigation has showed most of the spread occurred outside the workplace “in social gatherings among co-workers, family and friends,” according to Tanya Phillips, Jackson County health promotion program manager.

“We can’t conclusively say that there hasn’t been any spread or any contact at work while someone was in that incubation period,” Phillips said.

Last week, Amy’s Kitchen officials confirmed that there had been 10 cases at the business since the pandemic began. At that point local health officials had not publicly disclosed those specific cases beyond daily positive case counts. The Oregon Health Authority discloses workplace outbreaks if five or more cases are recorded at a company with 30 or more employees. There also has to be a “shared, defined exposure to at least one other case,” the OHA website says.

Phillips said Amy’s Kitchen has been a “great partner,” and that the company has implemented protective measures for its employees.

“Within our plant, we conduct a variety of safety precautions, including daily temperature checks and symptom screenings, masks and protective gear for all individuals, and increased social distancing and protective barriers, as well as staggered entrance and break times,” Jen Tucci, Amy’s Kitchen external engagement manager, said in an email. “As we’ve seen more cases contracted outside of the workplace, we’ve provided our employees with additional masks and hand sanitizer for at-home use and have worked diligently to educate and communicate best practices for staying safe outside of the workplace.”

On Wednesday, Jackson County reported 24 new cases of the illness, the highest single daily number in the county since the pandemic started, bringing the local total to 618 cases. Of that number, 199 are considered infectious, according to the public health officials. There have been 50 local hospitalizations from the disease and two deaths.

The local number of daily positive infections is on the rise, public health officials reported. During the week of Aug. 8, the county reported 93 new cases, or an average of about 13.3 cases per day. So far this week, the local daily average has risen to 20.3 cases per day. The weekly positive test rate has also seen an increase, state data show. On July 5, Jackson County had a 1.5% positive test rate. During the week of Aug. 2, that rate had risen to 4.1%. Last week, the rate rose to 8.5%.

“They’re considerably up,” county Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames said.

The recent spread is largely due to social gatherings among family, extended family and friends.

“People are used to associating their home with safety. Somehow the rules don’t apply because that’s your safe place,” Shames said. “People are bringing folks into their home, often folks they know and they love, but they’re bringing the disease into the home.”

Public health officials reminded residents of the importance of wearing a facial covering in public while making efforts to stay at least six feet apart from others, along with frequent and thorough handwashing. With Labor Day weekend fast approaching, Shames said Jackson County residents should have their guard up even more and avoid indoor celebrations.

Oregon saw 203 new cases and 11 more deaths from the illness Wednesday, according to an OHA news release. That brings the number of state cases to 23,870, with the death toll rising to 408.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.