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Coronavirus Watch: Jackson County commissioners push back on COVID-19 leadership criticism

Meeting via Zoom for a staff meeting on Thursday, Jackson County's Board of Commissioners considered the response to editorials critical of their leadership during the Delta surge of COVID-19.

Posted: Aug 26, 2021 12:24 PM
Updated: Aug 26, 2021 6:16 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — Meeting via Zoom for a staff meeting on Thursday, Jackson County's Board of Commissioners considered the response to editorials critical of their leadership during the Delta surge of COVID-19.

With Jackson County experiencing some of the highest case rates and COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, putting tremendous strain on the local hospital systems, critics have have pointed to the county-level leadership for a perceived lack of messaging in favor of masking, vaccinations, and physical distancing.

It began with a column from Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board that compared outcomes in Jackson County to those in the highly populated Multnomah County, where a considerably higher portion of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. Most recently, it came in the form of a letter from a bipartisan group of current and former local elected officials who urged the Board to "speak strongly and frequently" to constituents about embracing these public health measures.

In Thursday's meeting, the Commissioners made clear that they strongly disagree with these characterizations of their efforts.

"The insinuation that we haven't done anything is patently false," Commissioner Rick Dyer said.

Dyer said that the County has been quick and responsive with requests from Jackson County Public Health and the local hospital systems for resources, indicating that JCPH functions as the County's messaging on public health matters like COVID-19.


Coronavirus Watch: Jackson County reports record-breaking 614 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday


Commissioner Dave Dotterer expressed doubt that the Board weighing in vocally to support public health measures would sway anyone's outlook on COVID-19 countermeasures such as vaccinations, agreeing with an earlier comment from Dyer.

"Yes we can be part of that, but I think there are some people that actually believe that somehow that would dramatically increase the numbers, and I don't believe that," Dotterer said.

"What the research has shown is [healthcare professionals] are responded to, are the best messengers . . . and the worst, and the least trusted, sadly, is elected officials and the media," Dyer said. "Sometimes if you're out there and you're stumping too much about it, it works against you and you get more resistance, you get more division, and you get more dissension in your community."

The Commissioners agreed broadly that they have been effective in responding to the pandemic, but disagreed about how to respond to the criticism. Commissioner Colleen Roberts shared a draft letter of response countering the allegations, but Dyer and Dotterer said that they preferred to issue a letter simply laying out what they've done effectively during the pandemic rather than fueling debate.

Roberts referenced a Harvard study that correlated wildfire smoke in 2020 with an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Pacific Northwest, implying that this might be at least partially responsible for Jackson County's current surge. Dyer opposed including the reference in the Board's response, preferring to stick a catalogue of the Board's actions to date.

Ultimately, the Board decided to revisit the response letter next Tuesday with input from each of the Commissioners — potentially deciding to issue individual statements instead of one from the Board.

"I just have an issue with people not knowing what we've done, making claims that our citizens are suffering because of our inability to lead," Roberts said.

This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 352026

Reported Deaths: 4185
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah55306692
Washington38321316
Marion36352445
Clackamas29350304
Lane27309299
Jackson22783304
Deschutes19886124
Umatilla14286144
Linn12617120
Douglas11918241
Josephine9292195
Yamhill8584111
Klamath7765111
Polk719680
Malheur552774
Benton537630
Coos492593
Columbia375743
Jefferson366351
Union316247
Lincoln313338
Wasco282640
Crook277646
Clatsop240729
Baker199228
Tillamook194929
Hood River190137
Morrow183023
Curry178723
Harney110225
Grant98012
Lake89711
Wallowa67312
Gilliam1494
Sherman1463
Wheeler1031
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4825708

Reported Deaths: 70829
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles147768626443
Riverside3704095008
San Diego3649124169
San Bernardino3574215597
Orange3234075528
Sacramento1584372283
Fresno1451192063
Santa Clara1450041895
Kern1449141615
Alameda1202831381
San Joaquin1022501721
Ventura1008011165
Contra Costa99612995
Stanislaus856421319
Tulare79513958
San Francisco54220644
San Mateo53970622
Monterey50772583
Solano45898340
Santa Barbara45005522
Merced42047579
Sonoma40822402
Placer39118420
Imperial35794764
Kings32587315
San Luis Obispo29797331
Madera23680281
Butte23649265
Shasta23544341
Santa Cruz20928218
Yolo20240248
Marin17644243
El Dorado17083149
Sutter13847172
Napa12855100
Yuba1000882
Tehama9406107
Humboldt9171108
Nevada909490
Mendocino757686
Lassen749946
San Benito741372
Tuolumne680893
Lake6565104
Amador540364
Siskiyou445842
Glenn433632
Calaveras385180
Del Norte357141
Colusa302818
Inyo203540
Mono16565
Plumas16046
Mariposa130815
Trinity86711
Modoc6758
Unassigned1820
Sierra1810
Alpine1030
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