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Jackson County extends COVID-19 state of emergency

Amid spiking local and state COVID-19 cases, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners extended the county’s state of emergency related to COVID-19 until Jan. 28 of the coming year.

Newly elected Commissioner Dave Dotterrer will take office in early January. He will have time to adjust to the new position before being asked whether to vote on another extension of the emergency declaration, current commissioners reasoned.

The declaration paves the way for the county to be reimbursed by the federal government for ongoing expenses related to the pandemic. Jackson County is the local government tasked with contact tracing and other work to slow the spread of serious communicable illnesses, including COVID-19.

The county state of emergency doesn’t impose health and safety regulations.

Gov. Kate Brown, who recently extended Oregon’s state of emergency through Jan. 2, has issued statewide regulations such as mask mandates and rules for if schools can be open for in-person classes.

Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts joined Commissioners Rick Dyer and Bob Strosser in voting unanimously Thursday to extend the county’s emergency declaration.

“I reluctantly say yes,” said Roberts, a frequent critic of the governor’s COVID-19-related restrictions.

Roberts said she would have preferred for the county to take a stand against the governor.

“It has to start somewhere,” she said.

Roberts said when the governor first imposed COVID-19 regulations, the goal was to slow the rate of infection and avoid inundating hospitals with sick patients. She said hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said there are 12 intensive care unit beds in local hospitals and 13 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Several of those are in intensive care and several are on ventilators, he said.

Hospitals do have the ability to expand their intensive care capacity, he said.

“It may not seem like a crucial moment yet, but it’s building. It’s getting worse for our hospitals,” Jordan said.

Jackson County set another weekly record for new COVID-19 cases for the week ending Oct. 31 when it reported 245 cases. The surge marks a 39% increase from the previous week, according to Jackson County Public Health.

The cases appear to be real new cases in the community and not due to an increase in testing. The county’s test positivity rate rose to 10.5% for the week ending Oct. 31, meaning more people who take the COVID-19 test are testing positive, public health officials said.

Statewide, cases are rising as well, with Oregon reporting a record-shattering 805 cases Thursday, breaking the previous record of 600 cases from Oct. 30. The state positivity rate is climbing, reaching 8.5% last week, state officials said.

With cold weather and holidays approaching, cases could rise further as people spend more time indoors around other people, public health officials warn.

Roberts said focusing too much on case counts is “tunnel vision.”

She voiced concern about negative impacts on businesses, schools and people’s freedom.

Dyer said he believes the COVID-19 situation has been over-sensationalized and overblown.

But he said the emergency declaration is a utilitarian decision that helps the county access needed resources.

“We’re being held hostage somewhat,” Dyer said.

Strosser said he wants to make sure the county can get any and all resources that will help the community.

“We’re looking out for the residents of this county,” he said.

Strosser is retiring and will be replaced in January by Dotterrer.

Without outside funding, the burden of responding to COVID-19 would fall on county taxpayers, Jordan said.

The emergency declaration also allows the county to make quick purchases if needed to respond to COVID-19 instead of going through the usual procurement process, which is slower, said Jackson County Senior Deputy Administrator Harvey Bragg.

Drug companies are in the midst of trials for COVID-19 vaccines, which are likely to be released in the coming year.

The county will continue to incur COVID-19 related costs as the public is gradually vaccinated against the virus, Jordan said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.