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Southern Oregon COVID-19 Cases Spike Following Private Parties

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Kelsey Chance

Jackson and Josephine counties have seen a spike of more than two-dozen confirmed coronavirus cases in a single week that health officials are tracing to two small, private parties.

County public health officials wouldn’t give many details about the parties during a virtual press conference on Monday. They said each party had had about 15 to 30 people who weren’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

Party attendees then drove between the two counties, leading to a spike of more than two-dozen confirmed coronavirus cases in a single week. Contact tracers haven’t contacted everyone yet, but they’ve determined that it likely started with someone from out of state.

Jackson County Medical Director Jim Shames took the opportunity to explain how people can host a party safely.

“You want to know who’s coming and where they’re coming from,” Shames said. “People should bring their own food and drink. Have it set up so that people can be socially distanced. Everyone should be wearing a mask.”

Shames added that he thinks people should avoid going to social gatherings altogether, but with Fourth of July coming up, it’s clear that people are going to do it anyway.

Health officials with both counties used the press conference to announce that they’re forming a sort of mutual aid agreement to share contact tracing resources and information to better understand how the virus is impacting the Rogue Valley.

Josephine County health officer David Candelaria said it seemed like people in Southern Oregon have been less likely to wear face masks than the rest of the state. Hours earlier, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that all Oregonians will be required to wear a face mask in indoors public spaces starting Wednesday.

“Change is difficult; I think that’s part of the reason for the slow adoption of masks,” Candelaria said. “But I’m seeing evidence mounting [in support of wearing masks] and I’m hopeful that the citizens in Southern Oregon will see this change and embrace it. Not only for their own health, but for the health of the whole community.”

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.