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Updated: Douglas County reports first Brazilian COVID-19 variant in Oregon, West Coast

The first case of the Brazilian variant of COVID-19 has hit the West Coast, and it’s right here in Douglas County.

Douglas County Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer confirmed Tuesday that a Douglas County resident has tested positive for the variant.

Local health officials are concerned that the COVID-19 variants could be more infectious, more deadly, and less well controlled by current vaccines, the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team said in a press release Tuesday.

The Brazilian variant, also known as P.1, was first identified in Japan, in four people who had traveled to Brazil. The variant fueled a record-breaking case spike in the city of Manaus in the Amazon. Scientists said it has reinfected people previously immune from having contracted the original virus.

Ten cases have previously been found in America. They were in Alaska, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Oklahoma.

The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team said the case found here was confirmed Monday night from a swab sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for genome sequence testing back in January.

Everyone who contracts COVID-19 is interviewed by local epidemiologists. Swabs are sent for genetic analysis when there are unusual circumstances.

“When the case was reported, our case investigators did a thorough interview, and found that the individual had recently traveled to Douglas County from South America,” Dannenhoffer said in an email to The News-Review Tuesday.

The travel was related to a business trip to Brazil. Just one individual was on the trip, Dannenhoffer said.

Local public health officials are also awaiting results of other samples that were sent to the CDC gene sequence DNA testing for COVID-19 variants.

Dannenhoffer is hopeful that the Brazilian variant hasn’t spread widely.

“We believe it spread to one family member, but no further,” he said.

Still, the presence of a case here is discouraging.

“It is very disappointing, because we were doing so well, and the variants could change that,” Dannenhoffer said.

The individual with the variant became moderately ill but has fully recovered, he said.

It’s believed that the variant can spread more rapidly than the original, and public health officials fear that an increase in the number of cases could put more strain on health care resources and lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

“This is really serious!” Dannenhoffer said. “If this P.1 variant or other variants spread in Douglas County, we could see another big spike in cases.”

He said Douglas County is ready if cases rise.

“We have had a relatively low number of hospitalizations, and we have a plan in place, and are prepared for an increase in cases, but we hope we never need it,” Dannenhoffer said.

It’s important to take steps to decrease risk, he said.

“COVID-19 is real. Public health measures such as social distancing from others not in your household, wearing masks and staying home when you are sick from work, school and events, is just as important for combating the spread of the original virus, as it will be for all of the variants,” Dannenhoffer said.

Douglas County is one of the few counties where local public health epidemiologists continue to investigate, track and support all local COVID-19 cases. The work is done through the Douglas Public Health Network.

“It is through the continued diligence of the County, DPHN and the Epi-Team staff that we have recognized and corrected discrepancies in the state system, identified anomalies with testing facilities, traced and supported hundreds of residents in isolation and quarantine, and submitted samples to the CDC for variant testing,” the response team said in its press release.

The response team reported one new COVID-19 death Tuesday, of a 91-year-old woman who was diagnosed Feb. 19 and died Sunday.

Twenty-five new cases were reported Tuesday.

Roseburg High School announced Tuesday that a person linked to the school had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 269 new cases statewide Tuesday and 13 new deaths.

The county’s first, small shipment of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was received Tuesday, and Dannenhoffer said it will be sent to ambulance companies that will deliver shots to people who are homebound. The vaccine was also sent separately by the state to local Bi-Mart pharmacies.

Future shipments of Johnson & Johnson vaccines could be used to help vaccinate people who are homeless.

People who are homeless will become eligible to receive the vaccine March 29, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Dannenhoffer said in a Facebook Live session Tuesday that all the available vaccines are great, and his best advice for county residents is to get whichever one is available to you.

Ayers sentenced to 20 years for summer I-5 shootings


The former Roseburg UPS truck driver accused of a series of shootings along Interstate 5 has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Kenneth Alan Ayers, 49, pled guilty to the shootings last week and received his sentence Tuesday.

During sentencing, Ayers reportedly did not make a statement or offer a motive for the shootings, according to a report in the Medford Mail-Tribune.

On March 23, Ayers entered guilty pleas to three counts of attempted second-degree murder, five counts of unlawful use of a weapon, two counts of first-degree criminal mischief, three counts of recklessly endangering another person and two counts of second-degree criminal mischief.

Court records indicated, Ayers was sentenced to 90 months in the on two counts of attempted second-degree murder, and 60 months on another count of attempted second-degree murder. Those sentences, totaling 240 months, were ordered to be served consecutively.

Charges of reckless endangering and second-degree criminal mischief were recorded as conviction only, while the remaining charges were dismissed in exchange for Ayers’ guilty plea.

Ayers was facing a total of 34 charges in relation to the shootings.

The latest shooting took place on Aug. 19 near Central Point, where a woman was shot in the shoulder while driving. Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Virginia Greer told the Mail Tribune the victim still has a bullet lodged in her shoulder, causing limited range of motion in her arm.

Shortly after the Aug. 19 shooting, the victim reported seeing a UPS truck pulling two or three trailers entering the freeway near Central Point in Jackson County. Oregon State Police troopers tracked down a truck later that night and contacted Ayers, who had been assigned a similar route that day. During a search of the truck’s cabin, troopers discovered a .45-caliber pistol, which was consistent with the caliber of bullet which struck another person on the freeway on July 9.

The first shooting occurred May 12 in Josephine County, followed additional shootings June 2 in Jackson County, June 15 in Douglas County, June 22 in Josephine County and July 7 in Douglas County. No one was injured in those incidents, although there was damage to the involved vehicles.

Maple Corner Montessori students dress up as their favorite book characters for Read Across America Week

WINCHESTER — Harry Potter, Batman, Molly, Jojo Siwa, Hermione Granger, a mouse and a host of other characters spread out in the grass in front of Maple Corner Montessori on the Umpqua Community College campus on Tuesday.

Students at the school were encouraged to dress up as their favorite book character for the celebration of Read Across America. The youngest students dressed up as Dr. Seuss characters while the classrooms with older children included characters from any book.

Adalynn Hanna dressed up as Thing 1, and she said her brother dressed as Thing 2. “I love every single one of (the Dr. Seuss books),” Adalynn said.

Just after 1 p.m. many of the students went outside to read books, with another reading scheduled for later in the day — inside, so that students could build blanket forts and read with flashlights.

Nora Rogers dressed up as the mouse from the book “The Gruffalo.”

“I really like him and what he does,” she explained. “He outsmarts all animals and they don’t eat him because he tricks them.”

Students started the day off by telling their classmates what character they were and why they chose that particular person or being.

Brielle Crane, a second grader, dressed up as Molly from one of the American Girl book series. Her American Girl doll was dressed up in the same white dress with white and blue trim.

“She’s a fun, amazing, adventurous girl,” Brielle said, adding that she herself also likes to be adventurous. “I like to go out and run up and down the rows of grapes. I live out in the country.”

And while there were many instantly recognizable costumes, there were also a few that needed a little bit of explaining.

Eliza Bliss, a fourth grader, dressed up as Rahel from “The Storyteller’s Beads,” a book by Portland author Jane Kurtz about two girls from different religious backgrounds who embark on a difficult journey through a turbulent and violent Ethiopia.

“I really like reading,” Eliza said, adding that she’s currently reading the first book in the Harry Potter series.

Third grader Olivia Taute and fifth grader Emma Williams dressed up as a character from the Harry Potter series, specifically Olivia was Hermione Granger while Emma was Ginny Weasley.

“I like Read Across America because I love reading,” Olivia said. “Harry Potter is one of the things that inspired me to like writing, because I love how the writer, J. K. Rowling, included so much detail and she doesn’t just do serious things.”