JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. — With cases of COVID-19 on the rise in Southern Oregon, Josephine County Public Health experts are calling for renewed vigilance in the face of the rapidly spreading virus. This includes getting vaccinated, maintaining physical distancing and wearing face coverings indoors and in crowded outdoor areas.
Since the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions across the state on June 30, Josephine County has seen a steep rise in both cases and hospitalizations that are pushing hospitals beyond their capacity. Hospitalizations in Region 5, which comprises Jackson County and Josephine County, have gone from 17 to 83 in this time, a 488% increase. The previous peak for hospitalized COVID-19 patients was 69 in January.
Of the 256 new cases of COVID-19 in Josephine County reported last week, more than 68 percent were in individuals younger than 50. More than 100 of the cases were among residents in their 20s and 30s.
One factor at play is the prevalence of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is the dominant strain in Oregon and has been confirmed as present in Josephine County. A mutation of the original COVID-19 virus, the Delta variant spreads more easily between individuals than other variants.
“The Delta variant is more common in those who are unvaccinated, and younger people are less vaccinated,” said Dr. Leona O’Keefe, JCPH deputy health officer. “To help prevent spread and protect the entire community, younger people need to get vaccinated. Furthermore, it will protect them against the randomness of COVID-19. Even young people are becoming ill enough to be hospitalized, often on oxygen support, and we cannot always foresee who those individuals will be.
“Although we tend to feel invincible when we are young, this virus is unpredictable and can harm even the young and healthy.”
JCPH strongly recommends everyone age 12 or older receives the no-cost COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone interested in scheduling an appointment to receive a first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (and receive a $25 Visa Reward Card) is invited to fill out the Josephine County COVID-19 Vaccination Appointment Request Form at http://www.co.josephine.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=2299 or call the COVID-19 vaccination call center at (541) 916-7030.
“To help those who need both COVID and non-COVID care, the community must work together to get vaccinated, wear masks and put some limits on social activities,” O’Keefe said. “Each layer of protection helps to protect you and others.”
JCPH recommends wearing face coverings indoors and at crowded outdoor spaces, even for those who are vaccinated.
“The COVID-19 Delta variant seems at least three times as transmissible as prior variants,” said Dr. David Candelaria, Josephine County Public Health officer. “Outbreaks have been identified in crowded outdoor spaces, such as the Pendleton Whiskey Music Fest in Oregon and several large public events in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. Outbreaks have involved fully vaccinated individuals, but it is still extremely rare for a fully vaccinated individual to die of COVID-19. Those who are hospitalized or die after full vaccination almost always have other underlying health conditions. Overall, vaccines have undoubtedly prevented severe disease and hospitalization.”
Since some fully vaccinated individuals have spread COVID-19, JCPH staff agree with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it is safest to wear a face covering even if vaccinated in order to protect those who have underlying health conditions and/or are not fully vaccinated.
“This truly remains a communitywide effort,” Candelaria said. “The pandemic ends when the health care system can reliably care for people who need all types of medical care. To reach that goal, more people must get vaccinated.
“The longer it takes to contain COVID-19 with vaccination, the more likely it is we will see variants that cause greater problems – and the more likely that societal restrictions like masking will be required.”
Despite area hospitals being pushed beyond capacity, O’Keefe stresses the importance of residents seeking care when they are sick.
“Do not delay care,” O’Keefe said. “Call your provider. Go to urgent care. Go to the emergency room. Let a medical professional decide what level of care you need.”
Those who have COVID-19 can ask their provider about monoclonal antibody treatment to help prevent hospitalization. The treatment is provided at Asante Ashland Community Hospital and requires a referral from the patient’s primary care provider. Certain criteria must be met to qualify for treatment.
See co.josephine.or.us/COVID19 for more information.