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Commissioner calls open letter a ‘subjective perspective’ of the board’s outreach

FILE - This Saturday, March 6, 2021, file photo, shows vials of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital pharmacy. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
Commission Chair Rick Dyer says getting vaccinated is a personal decision

A bipartisan group of current and former elected officials in Southern Oregon have added their names to an open letter urging the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to “take more active leadership in conquering COVID-19.”

The letter, penned by former health officer and county commissioner Dr. Dave Gilmour and former Medford Rep. Al Densmore, and signed by 17 others, said the county commissioners have not made “strong and unequivocal support for basic health measures” and have not strongly advocated for vaccinations — which they argue is contributing to the local hospital crisis.

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The letter, signed by five current and former Rogue Valley mayors, eight current city councilors across Jackson County and former county commissioners Bob Strosser, Tam Moore and Gilmour, demands that that current commissioners tout the vaccine to their constituents who haven’t had the jab.

The current and former officials said the commissioners should encourage all unvaccinated locals to get their shots “so that they ... do not end up on unattended gurneys in hospital hallways or suffer a premature death.”

When reached by phone, Commissioner Rick Dyer, the chair of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, called the letter’s claims a “subjective perspective from some people being unaware or not privy to some information.”

From a “robust public outreach campaign” to requests for hospital resources from state and federal agencies, Dyer said the county and its staff has been at the “forefront of the fight” since the very beginning, and will keep doing "whatever is necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all of our citizens.“

Dyer said that “of course we’re extremely concerned” about the hospital capacity crisis, and that the elected board works closely with the county administrator and Jackson County Health and Human Services leadership to facilitate the state and federal resources for the local hospital system.

“It’s a team effort, as is most of government function,” Dyer said. “It’s the only way it could work effectively and efficiently.”

During meetings with Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen, Dyer said, he asked leaders to address the more than 70 patients in hospitals who belonged in long-term care homes and skilled-nursing facilities.

On Wednesday, Gov. Brown announced a contract dispatching 10 crisis response teams to the facilities to free up the approximately 77 occupied beds in Southern Oregon.

"I made that direct request,“ Dyer said. ”We’re getting some resolution on it.“

Dyer also defended the board’s vaccination work, describing how the county worked with state and federal agencies to facilitate one of the region’s largest mass-vaccination sites earlier this year.

“When vaccines became available, Jackson County began offering information and education as well as promoting their use while respecting personal choice,” a written statement from Dyer said.

Respecting personal choice “is absolutely vital” to helping locals “go in fully informed” before deciding to get vaccinated.

Dyer said that he is vaccinated, as is his wife and 17-year-old son, but Dyer described the decision to get vaccinated as a medical decision and “medical conditions vary.”

As of Friday, about 59.3% of Jackson County’s vaccine-eligible population had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

When asked whether that number is adequate, Dyer said, “I would hope more people would make those informed decisions to get vaccinated.”’

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.