MEDFORD, Ore. — Public health officials in Jackson County say that they are working to ramp up their COVID-19 response as cases surge again, when many of the extra staff hired or assigned to COVID-19 efforts during the height of the pandemic have either moved on or been reassigned back to their normal duties.
Jackson County Public Health reported an unprecedented 253 new cases of COVID-19. That would be a new single-day record, but officials said that some of those cases were stragglers from Saturday and Sunday. Jackson County had the most new cases of any county in Oregon on Tuesday, easily outstripping Multnomah, Washington, and Lane. The agency reported 132 new cases on Monday.
Between Jackson and Josephine counties, COVID-19 hospitalizations numbered 82 as of Tuesday morning, with 26 in intensive care. JCPH also reported two new deaths attributed to the virus, a 43-year-old man and a 96-year-old man. Both had underlying conditions, and died at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.
“Each day, we are experiencing new record highs for the number of new cases and hospitalizations in Jackson County. We are in a bad place for our public health and healthcare infrastructure, and for the health of our community,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County Health Officer. “Our public health and healthcare systems are nearing capacity, at capacity or have surpassed it.”
Officials said that they are hiring on more case investigators and moving staff from other public health programs to take on contact tracing duties.
“Recently, Jackson County Public Health adjusted to the decrease in cases. Many of the staff hired on during the first surge couldn’t stay with us due to the reduced hours being worked, and internal staff went back to their original job positions,” said Jackson Baures, Jackson County Public Health Division Manager. “The reality is, because of the number of new COVID-19 cases and how rapid the increase in cases has been, we do not have the staff needed to be able to contact and investigate every positive case or notify close contacts. Even when we were staffed to respond to the previous surge, we would still be beyond our capacity with the number of cases we have had this past week.”
JCPH Health Promotion manager Tanya Phillips said that public health staff will unlikely be unable to contact positive cases and close contacts due to the number of new cases. She urged anyone who tests positive to isolate immediately and notify all close contacts that they may have been exposed and should quarantine for 14 days.
Those infected with COVID-19 should stay home and separate from others until they have no fever for 24 hours without the use of medicine, their symptoms have improved, and at least 10 days have passed since the first symptoms appeared.
Close contacts should also quarantine even if there are no immediate symptoms, unless they are fully vaccinated. The CDC has advised that fully vaccinated people get tested several days after exposure, regardless of symptoms, and wear a mask indoors while waiting on the test results.
“It is more important than ever for people to get vaccinated and wear masks. We must protect our community, protect our public health and healthcare infrastructure and slow the spread of COVID19,” states Dr. Jim Shames.