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Easter gatherings push spread; Baker expects county's risk level to be elevated

After two weeks ranked as lower risk for COVID, case numbers have spiked in Jefferson County again. As of Monday, the county has 27 active cases, eight of those patients are in the hospital. Over the weekend, public health fielded coronavirus cases in people from age 1 to 97.

"The cases that we are looking at here in the last couple of days all look to be related to Easter," says Michael Baker, Jefferson County Public Health director.

Baker says family gatherings and church gatherings make up for most of the spread, with some cases related to events or individuals in Deschutes County.

At this rate, Baker expects the state to reclassify the county at a higher risk level. The state will announce new classifications Tuesday, April 20. New restrictions would go into effect Friday, April 23. If the county moves from lower risk to moderate risk, indoor capacity at restaurants and entertainment venues cap at 100, or 50%, whichever is smaller. Outdoor gatherings go from a 300-person maximum, down to 150. Closing time drops from midnight to 11 p.m. Places of worship go from a 75% maximum down to 50%.

"The rise in cases points to the fact that (the virus) is still here," says Baker, "and it does take our individual actions to keep those numbers down."

Public health has found no evidence of COVID spread in schools, which he contrasts to the spread at Easter gatherings.

"At school, they're required in order to be open to have the masks, the distancing, the hygiene, things like that," observes Baker. "At a church gathering or a family gathering, there's the recommendations, but those aren't always followed."

The contrast confirms to Baker that masks, distancing and hygiene are still the frontline of defense against the virus.

The agency also moves full steam ahead with the second weapon: the vaccine. Monday, April 19, everyone ages 18 and older qualifies for the Moderna vaccine, ages 16 and older for those who want the Pfizer shot.

"Since the 19th is the opening of eligibility for everyone, we're trying to have one large clinic," says Baker. "We're trying to get as many doses as we can and just open it up to everyone in the community."

Public health will hold the vaccine clinic April 19 at the First Baptist Church of Madras from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Another clinic Saturday, April 24 focuses on employees of Bright Wood and Keith Manufacturing, but public health hopes to get enough vaccine to invite more members of the community. Again, First Baptist Church of Madras hosts the clinic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The county passed a milestone this week. Friday, April 9 was the one-year anniversary of the first COVID case involving a Jefferson County resident.

"A year later, it's hard to believe we made it through all of that." Baker says the pandemic forced the public health department to work harder and closer than ever before. "It's helped foster a really good team environment. If we can make it through this, we can make it through anything."

COVID vaccine clinics

April 19

9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

First Baptist Church of Madras

85 NE A St.

Open to all ages 18 and older

April 24

9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

First Baptist Church of Madras

85 NE A St.

Open to Bright Wood and Keith Manufacturing employees and others age 18 and older


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