MEDFORD, Ore. — The Jackson County Board of Commissioners meets for a staff meeting on Thursday, and they plan to address a letter drafted by a list of current and former leaders criticizing their handling of the current COVID-19 surge that is overwhelming southern Oregon hospitals.
Jackson County noted on Wednesday that the staff meeting start time had been changed to 9:30 a.m. the following day, with an added agenda item to discuss "correspondence to the Board of Commissioners."
The letter, promulgated on Wednesday, addresses the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Rogue Valley. While it praises county administration and staff in their response, it criticizes the county commissioners for failing to advocate masking, social distancing, or vaccinations.
"As a result, many of our citizens still feel that all is well. Britt has had concerts where masking was 'recommended' but followed by few," the signatories wrote. "Few masks could be seen at our recent County Fair. Vaccination clinics have either reduced hours or closed down because of a lack of demand."
The letter goes on to say that the current rate of spread could cause businesses or schools to close, in addition to further depleting critical medical and public health staff — asking the commissioners to take a "more active leadership role" in responding to the pandemic.
"Speak strongly and frequently to your constituents about the usefulness of Public Health measures, such as masking," the letter continues. "Encourage all the unvaccinated to get their shots, so that they and their family members, friends and fellow workers do not end up on unattended gurneys in hospital hallways or suffer a premature death."
The full text of the letter and the list of signatories can be found below.
AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Our county in the midst of a medical crisis.
As the Delta variant sweeps through all of our communities, our hospitals are being overrun with very sick patients, with needed elective surgeries put on hold. New inpatients who can no longer be placed in hospital rooms are crammed into hallways and ER exam rooms. Medical staff are burning out. A scenario that is often seen in the developing world is now playing out in the Rogue Valley.
Our County Administration and staff have responded admirably to the challenges, quickly assuming new roles as needed, coordinating mass vaccination clinics at the county Expo, and asking state agencies to provide needed extra resources. Many personnel have gone weeks with no days off.
Yet throughout the pandemic, we have not heard much from our County Commissioners. We have not heard strong and unequivocal support for basic health measures such as social distancing or mask wearing. We have not heard any strong advocacy for vaccinations.
As a result, many of our citizens still feel that all is well. Britt has had concerts where masking was “recommended” but followed by few. Few masks could be seen at our recent County Fair.
Vaccination clinics have either reduced hours or closed down because of a lack of demand.
We risk businesses closing when their already overworked staff, many unvaccinated, become sick or are placed in quarantine from Covid-19 exposure. We risk future closure of schools when unvaccinated staff or children over 12 become sick, or when younger children become sick from unvaccinated relatives. We risk depleting our medical staffs when burn out causes early retirement, or the seeking of other employment in safer non medical environments.
Disaster can still be averted, although we are running out of time.
We are former and currently elected public officials, Republican and Democrat, who strongly urge the present County Commissioners to take a more active leadership role in conquering Covid-19. Speak strongly and frequently to your constituents about the usefulness of Public Health measures, such as masking. Encourage all the unvaccinated to get their shots, so that they and their family members, friends and fellow workers do not end up on unattended gurneys in hospital hallways or suffer a premature death.
We elected you, our County Commissioners, to oversee the health and well being of your constituents. Now is the time for you to step forward and provide the leadership that we need.
Al Densmore, Former State Representative for Medford
Bob Strosser, Dave Gilmour, M.D., Sue Kupillas, Peter Sage, Tam Moore. Former County Commissioners,
Gary Wheeler, Lindsey Berryman, Former Medford Mayors.
Darby Ayers-Flood, Talent Mayor
Bill Walton, Former Central Point Mayor
Jim Lewis, Former Jacksonville Mayor
Cathy Shaw, Former Ashland Mayor
Sarah Spansail, Kevin Stine, Medford City Council.
Tonya Graham, Ashland City Council
Neil Olsen, 'M.D.,Central Point City Council
Mike McClain, Jacksonville City Council
Eleanor Ponomareff, Ana Byers, Derek Volkart, Jason Clark, Talent City Council