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COVID-19 cases escalating in Jackson County

Jackson County Public Health reported 10 new COVID-19 cases for Thursday and warned about an escalation in the number of local cases in recent weeks.

“It took nearly four months into the pandemic for Jackson County to hit 100 cases,” said Jackson Baures, Jackson County Public Health Division manager. “It took just three weeks to reach 200 cases, and just 11 days to reach 300 cases.”

Last week, the county reported 56 cases.

This week through Thursday, the county reported 59 cases, including its first death.

Public health officials are stressing the importance of wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing, washing hands and frequently disinfecting surfaces that are touched often.

At the state level, Oregon reported 416 new confirmed and presumptive cases Thursday and five more deaths.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director, said the escalating cases in the county are a worrisome trend.

“It absolutely concerns me,” he said.

Shames said the science is clear that taking actions like wearing a face covering helps prevent the spread of the virus, but too many people are ignoring important safety steps.

“I think we got away with a lot in the beginning because we just didn’t have a lot of disease here. So people could kind of break the rules and there were no consequences. I think if we break the rules now, there are consequences,” Shames said. “People are getting sick.”

He said people who pick up the COVID-19 virus will end up bringing it home to their families and infecting those who are especially vulnerable, including grandparents, people with compromised immune systems and people with underlying health conditions.

“We’ve got to make those social adjustments now so this doesn’t get any more severe,” Shames said.

Across Oregon, face coverings are required in outdoor public spaces when physical distancing is not possible. In addition, face coverings are now required when exercising indoors, plus outdoors when people can’t physically distance. The statewide mask requirements apply to all Oregonians 5 and older.

Shames said the jump in cases is straining Jackson County Public Health’s ability to perform COVID-19 case investigations.

Baures said a case investigator is a person who contacts people who have tested positive for the virus, advises them on how to self-quarantine and figures out others they’ve been in contact with recently.

The list of contacts created by a case investigator is then sent to a team of contact tracers, who reach out to those who may have been exposed and advise them to self-quarantine.

Case investigators have more training and experience than contact tracers, and Jackson County needs more case investigators. The county is in the process of recruiting more people to help with the entire case investigation and contact tracing process, Baures said.

He said case investigators need to be knowledgeable about COVID-19 and community resources to help people in quarantine and have empathy, patience and problem-solving skills.

“They really need to be able to listen to people and hear their concerns,” Baures said.

The county has about seven case investigators and nine contact tracers. Not all of those people work full-time on the COVID-19 response, and the numbers fluctuate based on the number of cases in Jackson County, Baures said.

Shames said county workers are also putting in a lot of time following up with people in quarantine, making sure they have what they need to self-isolate.

“That’s a lot of work. So, it’s a strain. We’re keeping up, but we could use more staff,” he said.

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

The number of coronavirus cases in Jackson County is escalating.