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Governor's office says Jackson County's request addresses criteria for phase one reopening

Jackson County submitted a request to the governor's office saying it meets state criteria to enter a phase one easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Backed by data, charts and graphs, the county submitted 20 pages of information to the governor Thursday detailing how the community slowed the spread of COVID-19 and readied for any potential surge of cases.

Gov. Kate Brown’s office sent an email to Jackson County on Friday morning saying the county's request was responsive to the state's criteria for reopening. The county’s request will now go to the Oregon Health Authority, Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said on Friday afternoon.

The county doesn’t yet have official approval to reopen.

CLARIFICATION AND UPDATE: A spokesman for the governor's office said Saturday the office meant the county's submission addresses criteria to reopen.

"At this point, we have only verified that Jackson County’s application addressed all of the state’s prerequisites for reopening. In other words, we have verified that we received a complete application from Jackson County," said Charles Boyle, deputy communications director for the governor's office.

Jackson County's application will be reviewed by health experts at the Oregon Health Authority to determine if it fulfills phase one prerequisites, Boyle said.

"Our office has not yet made a determination about whether Jackson County’s application has met the prerequisites for reopening," he said Saturday.

Counties that submit applications the governor's office deems incomplete will be contacted and asked to submit additional information, according to a a governor's office website about county applications.

Brown has said earlier this week counties that meet criteria can begin a gradual reopening as early as May 15.

Jackson County commissioners, state Rep. Pam Marsh and state Sen. Jeff Golden are all asking the governor to consider letting Jackson County enter phase one before May 15. All three county commissioners are Republican, while Marsh and Golden are Democrats — meaning the request to reopen early has bipartisan support.

“Jackson County has done a tremendous job in mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” said Colleen Roberts, chair of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. “Our local businesses, communities and citizens are ready to get back to work, which is why we are pushing for an expedited approval so we can be ready to reopen on or before May 15.”

Shuttered businesses shouldn’t try to reopen on their own before Jackson County wins approval from the state. They could be ticketed and face legal trouble, according to Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton.

Jackson County last reported a new COVID-19 case April 24. With 49 cases as of Friday, it ranks well below the per capita state average on cases, the county said in its request to reopen.

The Asante and Providence health care systems launched drive-thru testing, while La Clinica set up a respiratory triage clinic at its Wellness Center in Medford that prioritizes helping vulnerable people — including migrants, Latinos, homeless people, the uninsured and people without a primary care doctor.

Among other criteria, counties must prove their COVID-19 rates are falling, the medical community has adequate stockpiles of personal protective equipment such as face masks, and that hospitals can handle a surge of cases if infections rise during reopening.

“Jackson County staff, the members of the Emergency Operations Center, the business community and our medical community all came together to keep us as safe as possible during this unprecedented event,” said Jackson County Commissioner Bob Strosser. “It is because of their outstanding efforts that we are ready to take the first steps to reopening the county.”

Jackson County’s Emergency Operations Center, set up at The Expo in Central Point, has helped gather and distribute personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and other needed supplies. Local businesses, schools, makers with their own 3-D printers and others all helped to make protective equipment, augmenting supplies that have been shipped to the county.

Local organizations and the county have teamed up to regularly visit the Bear Creek Greenway to provide physical and mental health care, food and sanitation for homeless people who are sheltering in place there.

In its request to reopen, Jackson County included letters from Asante and Providence hospitals saying they have enough bed capacity and personal protective gear.

In another supporting letter, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 Chief Robert Horton said he surveyed local fire and ambulance agencies and they all have enough protective equipment to last through the summer, even if there is a surge.

Jackson County has reached out to help nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The county has plans to launch a strike team to help any facility that has an outbreak.

In other parts of the state and nation, people living in nursing homes have the highest death rates from the virus.

Jackson County is also poised to team with La Clinica if there is an outbreak among migrant agricultural workers, who often live in group housing. Anyone who is sickened by COVID-19 will receive supportive care until they have recovered.

Jackson County has contracts to offer motel beds to people who may be infected with COVID-19 and don’t need to be hospitalized, but who can’t quarantine safely at home. Those using the rooms have included homeless people and a first responder who had contact with a potential COVID-19 patient and didn’t want to risk infecting his wife and kids.

The motel rooms have outside doors and their own ventilation systems.

Jackson County, cities and local chambers of commerce will help businesses and residents understand the wide range of health and safety rules that will go into effect during phase one.

During the first phase, restaurants can begin offering dine-in service again, and personal services businesses such as hair salons can reopen — but they most follow a host of state safety rules.

Groups of up to 25 people can gather. The state still doesn’t want people to travel, and it’s asking everyone to wear face coverings in public. Many workers will be required to wear face coverings on the job.

Working remotely will be encouraged whenever possible.

“We have more than met the requirements to reopen under phase one,” said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer. “We ask that everyone in our community follow the phase one guidelines so that we can continue on to the next phases as quickly as possible.”

The governor said in a press conference this week that phase one will last at least 21 days as local and state health officials monitor the results. If COVID-19 cases spike, the state could put restrictions back in place.

More restrictions will be lifted during phase two. Phase three, the last stage, would include the resumption of large gatherings such as concerts and sports events with audiences.

Brown has said she doesn’t want any large gatherings until a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19 has been found. She’s advised organizers of large events to either cancel or significantly change their events at least through the end of September.

Jackson County commissioners said Friday they believe the governor is overstepping by saying large public events can only resume after a vaccine or treatment is found.

They want that decision to be made in a more democratic way, with input from state legislators, for example.

Scientists are racing to develop a vaccine for the virus that is new to humans. But no one knows when a vaccine will be developed or how long it will take to manufacture and distribute adequate supplies to the public.

Josephine County submitted its own reopening request to the governor Thursday and said it also meets criteria for phase one.

“I’m encouraged by the success we’ve had so far in Southern Oregon and Josephine County in flattening the curve and mitigating the worst possible outcomes of this disease, and I thank all of our citizens who made this happen,” said Josephine County Public Health Director Mike Weber.

He said phase one balances the needs of residents with ongoing disease-mitigation efforts.

“Businesses are still encouraged to support telework, those at risk are encouraged to stay home and all citizens are asked to take proper precautions, including physical distancing and proper hygiene,” Weber said. “And, most importantly, if you have any COVID-19 symptoms, stay home and call your doctor.”

Information about the reopening guidelines for Oregon can be found on the Oregon Health Authority website at govstatus.egov.com/OR-OHA-COVID-19.

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.