MEDFORD, Ore. — Jackson County Public Health issued a statement on Wednesday urging that people wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. The county-level recommendation comes after similar changes to guidance at the CDC and Oregon Health Authority on Tuesday due to extensive spread of the Delta COVID-19 variant.
The recommendation applies to everyone 5 years and older, or 2 and older if tolerated.
JCPH said that the advisory accompanies a rise in COVID-19 cases in Jackson County, a relatively low local vaccination rate, and the spread of the Delta variant in Oregon.
"Since June 27, 2021, Jackson County Public Health has seen a significant increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, with both categories increasing over 200 percent," the agency said.
Most of the recent cases have been among the unvaccinated, public health officials said. Over May and June, case rates were six times higher among those who were not vaccinated, and only .1 percent of fully vaccinated people got COVID-19 during that two month period.
The Delta variant in particular has mutations on its spike protein that make it easier to infect human cells, and thus has been more contagious. Health officials cited a recent study, which found that the Delta variant's viral load is about 1,000 times higher than the original virus that causes COVID-19.
"With the viral load being 1,000 times higher, this means that an infected person is shedding more of the virus, increasing the probability that a close contact will be exposed to more virus, become contagious quickly after being exposed, and infect more people," JCPH said.
Jackson County's adult vaccination rate is just 54.7 percent, the 17th lowest in Oregon.
“Because of the low vaccination rate in Jackson County, we will see the virus spread when people engage in riskier activities that include more contact with people and where prevention strategies are not being used, such as getting vaccinated and/or wearing a mask,” said Tanya Phillips, Health Promotion Manager for Jackson County Public Health.
The agency reported 91 new COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday morning, in addition to two more deaths attributed to the virus. There have been 153 such deaths in Jackson County since the beginning of the pandemic.
“It will continue to take a multilayered approach to stop the spread of COVID-19; there is no one strategy, that when used alone, will stop the pandemic,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County Health Officer. "Vaccines are the most critical tool we have to stop this pandemic. Wearing masks and using other prevention tools will remain necessary until more people are vaccinated, and herd immunity can be reached. A multilayered approach will consist of getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, staying home when you are sick, staying away from others who are ill, good hygiene practices, and physical distancing.”