REEDSPORT — Weeks after the event, community members are learning that the costumes at a Reedsport Halloween party weren't the scariest things there.
An unwelcome attendee: The COVID-19 pandemic.
As the city becomes a COVID-19 hotspot, Reedsport's public health and school district officials are raising the alarm about gatherings during the holiday season. The city had been largely missed by the pandemic, but that's been changing.
"We have seen a real spike in cases in Reedsport and the Scottsburg area," said Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer, the Douglas County public health officer. "It is worriesome to see this many cases in such a short period."
According to state health officials Thursday, the ZIP code representing Reedsport and Winchester Bay had reported 12 cases of COVID-19 — a rate of about 225 cases per 100,000 residents. That's the lowest rate among ZIP codes that the state reported (officials only report when ZIP codes with 10 or more cases), but it's also the first time that the area made the list.
The city's increase in cases has already caused changes. On Monday, Reedsport School District officials announced that classes would be going online-only, district-wide until the end of the month.
One staff member in the school district has tested positive for the virus, and about 25 students between both schools came in contact with that person, according to Superintendent Jon Zwemke. But the increases in cases citywide was a major factor in the decision to go online, too, Zwemke said.
"This helps us mitigate anything that might come of that," he said. "It's always disturbing when there's disruptions to the educational process."
The 20-day transition is complicated by scheduling, because of the Thanksgiving holiday and the time needed for teachers to switch between online and in-person schedules.
What's more, Zwemke said the district's ability to continue reopening in the future is dependent on cases in the community. While it had previously been under an exception to certain state rules, new guidance means the district is now dependent upon the case rates within the county to determine what grades may reopen for in-person instruction.
"Ultimately, our community and their behavior with pandemic-related stuff is going to determine if our schools get to stay open or not," Zwemke said.
But with Thanksgiving, Christmas and other winter holidays on the horizon, Dannenhoffer said that could be in jeopardy.
"If you had to design something that would be a superspreader event, that would be called Thanksgiving," Dannenhoffer said.
The reason? Holiday parties — where people are typically indoors, typically close together and typically eating without face masks on — are perfect places for COVID-19 transmission, according to Dannenhoffer.
With public health in mind, he's already made his Thanksgiving plans: Instead of a traditional large meal with family members from different areas, Dannenhoffer will be limiting his Thanksgiving to just himself and his wife.
"We're really hoping that people are cautious with their activities," Dannenhoffer said.
Also of concern: out-of-area travel. Dannenhoffer said many of Douglas County's cases have been linked to individuals going to higher rates of COVID-19 and bringing the virus back with them.
Coos County has concerns about the same thing, according to Eric Gleason, assistant director of Coos Health & Wellness. At least six cases have come to the county from a Douglas County Halloween party.
"I think its ultimately every individual that currently inhabits this earth has to try to take the proper precautions, no matter where they live and where they visit," Gleason said Thursday. "We hope their travel is necessary versus unnecessary and you're not coming for a party of some kind."