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Case counts puts Jefferson County into the 'extreme risk' category; freeze will likely run through December

HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER  - Nurse Tara Peschel gives Bailey Brown a flu shot during an Oct. 23 COVID testing and flu shot event at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Restrictions to prevent the spread of the COVID virus will extend past two weeks and likely to the end of the year in Jefferson County, along with 20 other Oregon counties, including Deschutes County.

"This comes as no surprise," said Jefferson County Public Health Director Michael Baker. "I know our cases are high, higher than they've ever been in the pandemic."

Jefferson County averaged more than 80 cases a week over the past two weeks, which puts the county at "extreme risk" of rampant viral spread.

The two-week "freeze," which Gov. Kate Brown established on Nov. 20, will expire for some counties on Dec. 3 as originally planned. In those counties where restrictions continue, rules will lighten some. Restaurants will be able to add outdoor dining to what had been take-out only. Gyms may offer outdoor activities. Houses of worship will be allowed to gather at 25% of capacity indoors.

Baker says restaurants and pubs haven't been the problem in Jefferson County. "It's household outbreaks. It's families."

County health departments don't have the latitude to stray from guidelines the state hands down.

"It is frustrating from an epidemiology standpoint. It may be exactly what neighboring counties need," said Baker. He says the focus in Jefferson County needs to be on behavior at family gatherings.

"If you decide to meet with family, do so safely. Limit the number of individuals. Where there are people from more than one household wear a mask, physically distance and wash hands regularly."

Baker expects to see a surge of cases after this holiday weekend.

"Personally, I will actually be working. I will be doing the COVID investigations Thursday and Friday to ensure my employees can be home with their families."

Baker will spend the holiday weekend contact tracing, tabulating labs as they come in. "I'll probably be interrupting peoples' dinners," with calls about contact tracing. "The only way out of this is through individual choices."


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