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Jackson County sets record for daily COVID-19 cases

Only five ICU beds were open Friday in Rogue Valley

Jackson County reported a record 188 new COVID-19 cases Friday, and the number of open intensive care beds dropped to five among all hospitals in Jackson and Josephine counties.

“Today, Jackson County set a new record for the number of new cases in one day,” Dr. Jim Shames, health officer for Jackson County, said Friday.

On Friday, Oregon reported 1,076 new COVID-19 cases, with Jackson County having the highest number of cases in the state. Josephine County logged 33 new cases.

He said the new cases are straining the health care system.

“Until more people make the decision to get vaccinated and take action, we will continue to see this virus impact our community and push our hospital systems past its capacity,” Shames said.

Jackson County Public Health said the county is seeing a sharp increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases and outbreaks. Officials said the number of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 has reached an alarming rate.

On Friday, 68 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Jackson and Josephine counties, according to Oregon Health Authority data.

That’s a significant increase from last week on Friday, when hospitals were treating 37 COVID-19-positive patients.

The record number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 was 69, set back on Jan. 2 before vaccinations were widely available.

The number of open intensive care beds had dropped to five in Jackson and Josephine counties’ four hospitals, according to Friday information from the Oregon Health Authority.

Ashland and Grants Pass each have a hospital, and Medford has two.

For the two counties, 52 of 57 ICU beds were filled, with COVID-19 positive patients occupying 18 ICU beds and six of those on ventilators.

For non-ICU beds, 410 of 457 were filled at local hospitals.

On Friday, Jackson County Public Health reported three COVID-19 related deaths ― two 83-year-old men, and an 80-year-old man.

The more contagious Delta variant, a mutation of the original coronavirus, is spreading around the world and in Jackson County. Patients with the Delta variant can have viral loads more than 1,000 times higher than people infected with the original strain, scientists have found.

“We are seeing cases of the Delta variant here. The patients we’re seeing are sicker. The age range has been between 19-years-old this week to the mid-90s. What’s really important to stress is that a little over 91% of the patients who have COVID-19 in our hospital are not vaccinated,” said Lauren Van Sickle, spokesperson for Asante. “Please get vaccinated. It makes a difference.”

She said Asante has reactivated its incident command practices to deal with the surge in patients and is postponing some elective surgeries that require overnight hospital stays. Local hospitals are having difficulty discharging patients who no longer need hospital-level care into nursing homes because of a lack of space in local facilities.

Van Sickle said Asante is boarding 50-60 patients in hospitals on any given day because they have nowhere to go.

"We want people to understand that the vaccine works, that the patients we’re seeing that are not vaccinated are sicker and if anybody has any reason to hesitate about getting vaccinated, please seek out information that’s factual and talk to their primary care provider ― and don’t rely on social media for your news and data,“ Van Sickle said.

Only 103,515 of Jackson County’s population of 223,240 adults and kids have been vaccinated, for an overall vaccination rate of 46.4%, according to Friday data from OHA.

Children younger than 12 aren’t yet eligible for vaccination.

In Josephine County, 36,010 of the county’s 86,560-person population is vaccinated, for a vaccination rate of 41.6%, OHA data show.

With the lifting of almost all COVID-19 restrictions this summer and more than half of the local population unvaccinated, the pandemic is essentially spreading unchecked among unvaccinated people.

Unvaccinated people account for the majority of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, health experts said.

Vaccinated people may be able to carry and spread the virus, but they have much less risk of getting sick or dying.

Jackson County Public Health, OHA and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are all recommending that people return to wearing masks in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.

Masks are mandatory in some places in Oregon, including health care settings.

Jackson County Public Health said Friday it is investigating a rising number of COVID-19 outbreaks affecting workplaces and group living facilities.

Local outbreaks include 35 cases and three deaths at Farmington Square Memory Care, seven cases and a death at Lakeland Senior Living, seven cases associated with Food-4-Less and seven cases associated with Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.

COVID-19 cases spiked 300% nationally from June 19 to July 23, experts said.

Jackson County Public Health said the best way to stop the spread of the Delta variant is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death, and are effective against the Delta variant. High vaccination coverage will reduce the spread of the virus in Jackson County and elsewhere ― and help prevent new variants from emerging, local officials said.

Free two-dose Moderna and one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are available at Jackson County Public Health, 140 S. Holly St., Medford.

The building is open from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments are not required.

For information about other vaccination sites in the community, visit jacksoncountyor.org/hhs/COVID-19/Vaccine-Appointments/where-to-get-vaccinated-in-jackson-county.

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