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'This is not what we were hoping for': Jackson and Josephine counties request field hospital as COVID hospitalizations rise in Oregon

The number of hospitalized COVID patients in the two counties went from 12 people on July 6 to 149 on Aug. 12.

JACKSON COUNTY, Oregon — Jackson County has requested more hospital staff, ventilators and a field hospital as Southern Oregon deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases and an increasing number of people with coronavirus requiring hospitalization.

The county put in a request with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and has not heard back yet. A field hospital is a temporary hospital or mobile medical unit that provides emergency care to patients before they are transferred to more permanent facilities.

Health officers from Jackson and Josephine counties held a joint press conference with doctors and nurses from hospitals around the region on Thursday. Representatives from hospitals in both counties said health care workers are struggling to keep up with the growing number of COVID-19 patients.

RELATED: Oregon COVID-19 hospitalizations set new record for a 2nd consecutive day

"We have surpassed anything we've seen before in terms of this disease," said Jackson County Health Officer Dr. Jim Shames.

There were 99 new cases reported in the county the week of July 4, according to Shames. Last week, the county reported a record high of 655 new cases, which is a 561% increase. Shames said the county reported 416 new cases on Aug. 12. That's compared to 247 new cases reported by the OHA the previous day.

“Jackson County houses about 10% of the state’s population and we have 30% of the COVID-positive individuals," said Dr. Jason Kuhl, chief medical officer of Providence Medford Medical Center. 

Because beds are full across Oregon, Kuhl said he’s looked as far north as Spokane and even all the way down to San Francisco for places patients can go.

According to Shames, around 95% of those hospitalized in the region are currently unvaccinated.

"Vaccinations can stop this. It can stop people from getting really sick. It can stop the number of cases we're seeing. And it can reduce the number of people who are sick in our hospitals," said Shames.

RELATED: Not vaccinated yet? Here's where you can get a COVID-19 shot

Amanda Kotler is the vice president of nursing at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford. Kotler said the hospital has canceled more than 350 surgeries because the increase in COVID-19 patients has put a strain on resources.

"What this means is if you come to our hospital for any reason, we might not be able to help you. We're out of beds. Our staff are stretched and we have limited resources," said Kotler.

Josephine County has also seen an increase infections, with 129 new cases reported on Aug. 11.

Statewide, there were 665 people with coronavirus in the hospital and 172 people in intensive care unit beds on August. This week marked the fifth consecutive week of increased hospitalizations.

Shames said health care workers in Jackson County are doing everything they can, but that it is up to the community to help slow the spread of coronavirus by getting vaccinated and wearing face masks.

"This is not what we were hoping for, but this virus is a persistent adversary," said Shames.

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