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Jefferson County virus cases sporadic, risk level uncertain, rules confusing

COVID case numbers in Jefferson County have risen to levels we haven't seen since December.

"We're looking at 40 to 50 cases per week rather than just 20 to 30 cases a week," says County Public Health Director Michael Baker.

Over the past two weeks, Jefferson County has reported 73 new coronavirus cases, which would ordinarily put the county into the extreme risk category. "But I am no longer going to talk about classification," says Baker, "because as soon as I do, the governor changes the rules."

Last week, Baker predicted the county would move to extreme risk, according to the standard metric. Then, based on lower hospitalization rates, Gov. Kate Brown allowed all counties that had exceeded the extreme risk threshold to drop back to high risk.

As case numbers drop nationally, infections surge in Oregon.

"I don't think there's a clear explanation on why that's happening," says Baker.

Further complicating the situation, the cases reporting to public health are sporadic, with no evident connection to each other.

"From a workload, that makes (contact tracing) difficult. From a community response, that makes it even more difficult," says Baker. "We cannot connect the dots to solve the puzzle."

And as infection rates rise in Jefferson County, interest in the vaccine falls. For the first time since vaccinations began, public health had to discard five doses of the vaccine for lack of people to vaccinate.

Health workers hoped for 300 participants at the Latino Community Association vaccination clinic held at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds Friday, May 7. Only 175 people showed up.

"We served a lot of our community that wouldn't ordinarily seek medical care," says Baker. "It was a great opportunity to create new trusted partners."

So far, Jefferson County has vaccinated or partially vaccinated 9043 people, or about 37% of the county population.

The disconnect between case numbers dropping nationally and rising in Oregon creates more confusion. The Center for Disease Control relaxes some rules nationally, while Brown wants rules to remain in place to prevent even further spread of the disease in Oregon.

"Consistent messaging is desperately needed right now," says Baker.


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