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Jackson County reports two COVID deaths, 88 new cases Thursday

file photoRegistered Nurse Brenda Messmer gives Darryl Meierhoff a COVID-19 vaccine during a drive-thru clinic in the parking lot of Ashland High School.
Health officials urge vaccinations as viral mutations continue to circulate

Jackson County reported two COVID-19 deaths and 88 new cases Thursday, raising the county’s COVID-19 caseload to 9,546 and its death toll to 126.

The deaths included a 66-year-old man who tested positive March 13 and died April 5 at Providence Medford Medical Center, and a 64-year-old man who tested positive March 16 and died April 6 at Providence. Both men had underlying health conditions.

County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames said the jump in new cases is concerning, but two days of 70 or more new cases in the past two weeks don’t make a trend.

“(It’s) two days of data ,” Shames said. “It definitely is worrisome. It’s still a high number, but truly I have learned that you just can’t be sure what you’re doing based on one day.”

Shames added he does not want to downplay concerns about a potential fourth wave as cases and hospitalizations across the U.S. continue to climb. The more infectious B117 mutation of the virus, first reported in the United Kingdom, has become the most common variant circulating in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Oregon Health Authority recently started tracking numbers for that mutation and others, referred to as “variants of concern,” on a new data dashboard.

“It does appear that the vaccines, all of them, are very protective against serious disease — that is hospitalizations and death, and I think that’s really where the money is," Shames said. ”Truly the most important thing we can do is to accelerate our vaccinations.“

As of Thursday, April 8, the number of fully vaccinated Oregonians increased to 824,299, and 522,780 others had received one shot in a two-dose regimen. Data for individual counties remained unavailable.

Though no vaccine is 100% effective, state data released Thursday showed vaccines are having an impact.

OHA officials reported that, as of April 2, they had documented 168 “vaccine breakthrough cases,” or cases where vaccinated Oregonians test positive for the illness “at least 14 days after the final dose of any COVID-19 vaccine series,” an OHA news release said. Three of those 168 cases resulted in deaths.

As of that date, 723,179 Oregonians had been fully vaccinated, and 490,493 others had received one shot in a two-dose regimen.

“Many of the vaccine breakthrough cases identified experienced asymptomatic infection and were tested for other reasons,” the OHA release said. “11% of the vaccine breakthrough cases were hospitalized within the 30 days following their positive test, and most occurred in people older than 65 or with underlying health conditions.”

Of the recorded breakthrough cases, nine came out of Jackson and Josephine counties, the release said. Health officials encouraged vaccinated individuals to continue measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing.

Earlier this week, vaccine eligibility in Oregon expanded to multigenerational households, frontline workers, as defined by the CDC, and age-eligible family members in the same household, and people age 16 to 44 with at least one underlying health condition. On April 19, eligibility will expand again to all Oregonians age 16 and older.

See forms.jacksoncounty.org/Forms/Vaccination for signup information.

La Clinica also offers vaccinations, with officials at the nonprofit’s Wellness Center administering nearly 1,000 shots a week. Rogue Community Health will also hold a vaccination event in Butte Falls Thursday, April 15.

Vaccinations are also available at some local pharmacies.

OHA officials reported five deaths from COVID-19 statewide Thursday, with 678 new cases, raising the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 2,439, the cumulative caseload to 168,795.

There were 168 COVID-19 patients hospitalized with the illness, three fewer than Wednesday, with 38 patients in intensive care unit beds, four fewer than Wednesday. In Jackson and Josephine counties, 19 patients were hospitalized, unchanged from Wednsday and Tuesday, with five in ICU beds, also unchanged from Wednesday.

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