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'Everybody maybe has to make some kind of sacrifice'

Jackson County public health officials are urging people who are sick with a fever and cough to stay home or wear a face mask in public, even if they haven’t been diagnosed with the coronavirus now known as COVID-19.

Officials said there have been no new reported cases of COVID-19 in Jackson County since their announcement Saturday of two presumptive cases. Those two people have not had to be hospitalized, Dr. Jim Shames, medical director for Jackson County, said Tuesday afternoon during a press conference.

He said the community has to take precautions as COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe.

“Everybody maybe has to make some kind of sacrifice, and for some people, it will be a more significant sacrifice than others. If in fact you have coronavirus, the risk to the public is significant, and those people will need to be quarantined. And frankly, if you have a fever and you’re coughing, even if you don’t have coronavirus, you probably have something that is contagious to others. And the principle is the same. The fragile members of our community could get very, very sick with something that you’ll just weather and move on from,” Shames said.

The elderly and those in fragile health are most at risk from COVID-19, he said.

The fatality rate is close to zero for those younger than 20, but could be as high as 15% for those older than 80, Shames said.

People who are sick with any kind of illness should avoid being around people who are well, older adults and people with chronic health conditions.

Check in with older adults by phone and use other strategies to keep a social distance from people, public health officials advised.

People who are sick should wear a face mask, but there is no public health benefit from healthy people wearing masks. In fact, wearing a face mask when you aren’t sick is using up an increasingly scarce resource that may be needed by someone who is ill, Shames said.

Everyone should wash their hands thoroughly and often, and cleanse surfaces, he said.

“It’s time to start getting more aggressive with our hand cleaning,” he said.

COVID-19 is thought to spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Transmission is most common between people who are within 6 feet of each other for a prolonged period of time, Shames said.

When sick people are not wearing a mask and they cough, droplets land on objects such as doorknobs, light switches, phones, faucets, counter tops and toilets. People touch those objects with their hands, then touch their eyes, mouth or nose — leading to infection, he said.

In addition to washing their hands and sanitizing surfaces regularly, people should avoid touching their faces, Shames said.

If COVID-19 behaves like other coronaviruses, including those that cause the common cold, it should die within a few hours on surfaces. However, because COVID-19 is a newly identified virus that spread to humans from animals, Shames is advising people to take precautions as if the virus could stay alive for a few days.

The virus is relatively fragile outside the body and can be killed by common household disinfectants, according to public health officials.

People with respiratory illnesses and other symptoms who are sick enough to seek medical care should call ahead to their doctor’s office or a hospital emergency department. Health care workers will decide if you need an appointment and will provide instructions on precautions to minimize the spread of any viruses, such as wearing a face mask.

Shames said COVID-19 testing kits are becoming increasingly available. After ruling out influenza, health care providers may test people with a dry cough and fever.

People who are sick enough with a respiratory illness that they need to be hospitalized should definitely be tested, he said.

Doctors shouldn’t test asymptomatic patients just because they ask to be tested, Shames said.

Labs and health care providers are required by law to report COVID-19 cases to local health departments, according to public health officials.

Jackson County public health officials said they continue to perform case investigations, monitor those who are infected and work with partners in the health care system. They are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Oregon Health Authority, current science and lessons learned from other states and countries affected by COVID-19.

The Oregon Health Authority said today the state has 15 presumptive positive cases of the virus spread across seven counties, including Jackson County.

Shames said organizers of various events in Jackson County have canceled events due to COVID-19.

“Events are being canceled out of an abundance of caution. I think that’s likely to continue. It might get more significant. There might even be events that are mandated to be closed. But at the moment, we’re still doing it on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Events in which large numbers of people gather indoors in close proximity pose the most danger if COVID-19 spreads into the community person-to-person, Shames said.

The two known cases in Jackson County were travel-related and are not believed to have been caused by the spread of the virus within the community, public health officials said.

Outdoor events are less risky, but consider whether people will be handling the same objects or will be in close proximity for long periods of time, officials said.

Shames said people who are elderly and have health problems such as cardiovascular disease should exercise more caution about the events and activities they choose to attend.

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

Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames sanitizes his hands Tuesday during a press conference at Jackson County Health and Human Services. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune