JACKSON COUNTY, Ore-- On Friday, Jackson County officially moved down from an 'Extreme Risk' county to a 'High Risk' county, opening back up indoor dining, gyms and entertainment centers to 25% capacity or a maximum of 50 people, whatever is smaller.
Jackson County Public Health said that the move to a lower risk level was prompted by a decrease in the COVID-19 case rate to below 200 cases per 100,000 population. For two weeks from February 7 through February 20, Jackson County had a case rate of 174.9 cases per 100,000 population, which allowed the county to open back up services that the public had been missing.
"It is amazing," said Jackson County resident Karey James about indoor dining returning to the county. "We love to go out and eat. My husband and I go out quite a bit and we take my mom out as often as we can. We've just really missed it."
Over in Medford, Elmers Restuarant was able to bring back indoor dining in time for the county's changes. Signs and banners were posted near the restaurant on Biddle Road, to help let the public know that they're back, for at least the next few weeks.
"It's just, it's incredible and it's just awesome to be out," said James.
Over the last several months, restaurants, gyms and entertainment centers had to either shut down or limit foot track in and out of their businesses because of the 'Extreme' Covid-19 restrictions set by the state. For some businesses, this caused a large amount of people to leave the hospitality and entertainment business in search of work, to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It's been extremely difficult," said Dave Thomason, who is the owner of Thomason Hospitality Group. "I've been in this business for 40 years and these last 12 months have been the most difficult in that entire time."
Although today has been a happy day for a large majority of Oregonians across Jackson County, coronavirus cases arn't slowing down. In the last five days Jackson County has reported more than 200 cases of Covid-19, which are all apart of the next two week period to reassess Jackson County's status when it comes to the pandemic. According to the guidelines set by the state, for Jackson County to remain in the 'High Risk' category, the county must report between 200 and 400 cases within a 14-day span. With more than 200 cases reported and 9 days still left to go, the county is at risk to be moved back into the 'Extreme Risk' in just a few weeks.
"Until the governor changes the guidance, I suppose we are at risk of rapidly changing back to the 'Extreme Risk'," said Jackson County's Public Health Dr. Jim Shames. "And that would be a shame. It would be a shame for so many reasons."
According to Dr. Shames there is no clear cut answer right now to why cases are not only increasing across the county, but also across the country. However, there are a few possibilities.
"There are a lot of variables right now, " said Dr. Shames. "We've got the variants which are rapidly spreading and there is the possibility that they are more contagious."
Although cases are increasing across the county and the country, there is some positive news.
"The good news is that we are increasing vaccinations every day, and every day that we vaccinate someone we are reducing the likelihood of significant spread," Dr. Shames said.
NewsWatch 12 reached out to members of the Jackson County community on what they would do if the county does move back into the 'Extreme Risk'. Some say that they would consider leaving the area for a short while if that does happen.
"I'd have to get out of town for a while to get a break," said Gold Hill resident Jay Taylor. "It would just be quite a shock to my system to have to go back to that kind of a lifestyle."
While other are asking for more permanent changes to the guidelines set by the state.
"The cases the way they are have trended down in the entire state of Oregon," said Thomason. "It's time for the governor to stand up and say 'We need to get rid of this every two week kind of process.' We should all be moved into what they consider to be the high risk protocol, which allows us this 25% occupancy."