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Coronavirus Arrives In Southern Oregon

April Ehrlich/JPR News
Jackson County medical director Dr. Jim Shames (center) announces two new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county on March 7.

UPDATE: SUNDAY, MARCH 8, 11:30 a.m. ... Health officials have now confirmed four presumptive cases of the coronavirus in Southern Oregon, including Jackson, Klamath and Douglas counties.

Officials in Douglas County announced Sunday morning that they had identified a presumptive case, whom they identified only as a Douglas County resident who was "medically stable."

Health officials wouldn’t give many details about the other cases, either, for fear of revealing their identities in relatively small communities. Jackson County officials said that the two infected people there are between 55 and 74 years old, they live together, and they recently traveled outside the country.  

These cases are presumptive in that their samples tested positive for the coronavirus in state labs, but they have yet to be confirmed in the federal Centers For Disease Control and Prevention labs. 

At a press conference Saturday morning, Jackson County medical director Dr. Jim Shames said the health department is bracing itself for a potential outbreak.

“We can’t prevent something that’s inevitably going to happen,” Shames said. “We can prepare for it, we can mitigate it, and that’s what we’re doing.”

With regards to the risk of a serious outbreak, Shames said rural areas like Southern Oregon benefit from having smaller population densities. But limited medical resources could be a challenge. 

The Klamath County Public Health department held a press conference Saturday afternoon, but they gave no details about the case there, only that it was contracted through international travel.

“There is no identified risk to the greater community in Klamath County, and there is no community spread at this time,” Director Jennifer Little said. “As testing becomes more widely available, we anticipate the identification of additional cases.”

In Jackson County, Dr. Shames said there’s a shortage of coronavirus tests locally, so doctors are only testing people who are at a high risk of contracting the disease.

“We would like to be in a position where we could test more people  — understand the spread, get a better sense of how this disease is presenting,” Shames said. “You work with what you got.”

The Centers For Disease Control has provided doctors with a list for screening patients who should be tested. They include people who have recently traveled internationally and people who have had contact with an infected person. 

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