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Jackson, Josephine counties have best COVID-19 immunity in state

Rogue River resident Rick Fielder is greeted by his wife Sherry Fielder in August after spending more than a month in a hospital and rehabilitation center fighting COVID-19. He decided to get vaccinated after his ordeal. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
Rogue Valley hardest hit with coronavirus infections

Jackson and Josephine counties were hardest hit by the summer COVID-19 surge but now have the best immunity of any health care region in the state after so many people became infected with the virus.

As of Sept. 27, 14% of the population of the two counties was still susceptible to the virus — the lowest figure in the state, according to estimates from Oregon Health & Science University.

For the two counties, OHSU estimates 40% of residents got infected with COVID-19 during the pandemic, 34% got vaccinated, and 12% are vaccinated and also had COVID-19. The last category covers people who got vaccinated after recovering from COVID-19, plus those who experienced breakthrough cases despite being vaccinated.

The data covers residents of all ages, including kids age 12 and younger who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination.

Jackson and Josephine counties have a combined population of 309,800, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

With 14% of residents still susceptible, 43,372 remain who could gain immunity through vaccination or, if they survive, infection with the COVID-19 virus. All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in America contain no COVID-19 viruses.

The four hospitals in Jackson and Josephine counties have 436 regular hospital beds and 59 intensive care unit beds, according to hospital data.

There are 87.6 local residents still susceptible to COVID-19 for every one hospital bed.

The OHSU report said Jackson and Josephine counties, which make up health care region five, were the hardest hit by the COVID-19 surge that began this summer. Hospitalization rates were almost twice as high as the second-worst region, which covers Coos, Curry, Douglas and Lane counties.

Overwhelmed Rogue Valley hospitals doubled up patients in intensive care unit rooms, put patients on gurneys in emergency rooms and halls, postponed all but the most critical surgeries and sent COVID-19 patients and others via life-flight to any open beds they could find in Washington, California, Idaho and Nevada. Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other health care employees worked to exhaustion. Many of their patients died despite their herculean efforts.

Hospitalization rates in the Rogue Valley have now dropped to levels found elsewhere in the state, OHSU said.

However, OHSU forecasts that hospitals across the state will remain extremely full well into December.

In region one, which includes the Portland metro area, 22% of residents remained susceptible to the virus, 47% were vaccinated, 12% were both vaccinated and had been infected, and 19% had been infected as of Sept. 27, OHSU said.

In region two, which includes the Salem area, 24% of residents remained susceptible, 42% were vaccinated, 11% were both vaccinated and had been infected, and 23% had been infected, OHSU said.

In region three, which includes Eugene, Roseburg and the Southern Oregon coast, 23% of residents remained susceptible, 46% were vaccinated, 8% were both vaccinated and had been infected, and 24% had been infected, OHSU said.

In region seven, which covers a vast area of Central Oregon including Bend, 18% of residents remained susceptible, 39% were vaccinated, 12% were both vaccinated and had been infected, and 32% had been infected, OHSU said.

Oregon doesn’t have region four or region eight labels for its health care regions. OHSU’s report did not include herd immunity estimates for region nine, which makes up far Eastern Oregon, or region six, which includes the Hood River area.

Hospital intensive care units in the Rogue Valley remain under strain from COVID-19 patients.

At the end of September, COVID-19 patients filled 70% of intensive care beds in Jackson and Josephine counties. That was the second highest percentage among Oregon’s seven health care regions, OHSU said.

Region three covering Coos, Curry, Douglas and Lane counties recorded its ICU beds were 167% full of COVID-19 patients. The region is operating above its listed capacity in part by doubling up patients in ICU rooms, OHSU said.

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