By Dave Russell
“A hockey stick on every graph” sums up the COVID-19 outlook this week. Pretty much every visual representation of cases shows a vertical leap in cases across the globe, nation and state.
Jackson County’s increase as of Monday morning was more of a steep uphill slope than a cliff. The western counties lagged behind other regions during the Alpha and Delta waves and Omicron is no different. But health officials are pretty sure it’s here.
The Jackson County Department of Public Health snapshot of Friday, Dec. 31, reported “COVID-19 cases are rising in Jackson County, largely due to the Omicron variant.”
“We don’t have official confirmation that Omicron is in Jackson County, because the state is doing the sequencing and our wastewater reports are not sequencing for Omicron yet, but we feel confident that it is indeed here,” said Anna Lippard, spokeswoman for the JCDPH.
Over the last seven days, 103 cases have been reported, an increase of 58.46 percent over the week before.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show the seven-day average for cases nationwide increased from 118,141 on Dec. 14 to 405,470 on Jan. 2.
Cherokee Indian Hospital posted a Monday morning COVID update to Facebook.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented demand for COVID testing due to the large increase of disease prevalence in our community,” it read. “As WNC faces a critical bed shortage, it is imperative that we preserve the ER for those who are critically ill or in need of urgent medical care.
“Please do not use the ER if you are only mildly ill or need a test to travel or for work as the ER no longer administers rapid tests. If you are in need of a COVID test we ask that you please call the testing site at 497-3743 to schedule an appointment.”
The hospital’s COVID testing team is experiencing staffing limitations, forcing to deploy staff from other departments to assist the testing team.
Cherokee Central Schools announced schools will not reopen after the holiday break until Monday.
Six deaths, 10 days
While Jackson County’s death toll remains at 79, neighboring Haywood County reported six deaths in 10 as of Dec. 31. They ranged in age from late 60s to early 80s, according to the Haywood County Health & Human Services Agency.
Vaccines and boosters are the best line of defense against the pandemic and still available through the health department, Lippard said.
“We have plenty of availability through the vaccination clinics we offer here on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays,” she said. “We have two National Guard medics here helping with COVID vaccines so we’ve been able to significantly increase the amount of appointments available each week.”
To make an appointment visit the CDC’s Find COVID-19 Vaccines website, www.vaccines.gov, and select “Find COVID-19 Vaccines and Boosters.”
Search for the JCDPH by typing in 28779 and select which type of COVID-19 vaccine preferred.
Select “Check Appointment Availability” and follow the instructions. Those needing assistance should call 587-8289 for English and 587-8227 for Spanish.
For testing, Find My Testing Place (covid19.ncdhhs.gov/about-covid-19/testing/find-my-testing-place) allows folks to enter their zip code to find the nearest provider.
The JCDPH offers drive-thru COVID-19 testing Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Appointments are required by calling 587-8289.
A no-cost OptumServe community COVID-19 testing site is available at 154 Medical Park Loop (the old Meridian Building). It is open to everyone, with or without insurance or other credentials. Register www.lhi.care/covidtesting. Walk-ins are welcome. Hours are Mondays 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
At least four churches have changed schedules due to COVID.
Old Savannah Baptist and Jarrett Memorial Baptist moved services to online only last Sunday. Scotts Creek Baptist canceled services for the week. East Sylva Baptist canceled Sunday School for three weeks but is continuing with in-person worship services.
By the numbers
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports 6,459 total cases in the county through Jan. 2, up 123 from 6,236 reported on Dec. 25.
The county has had 1,470 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 1,419.3 last week.
As of Wednesday morning, the CDC reports 30,642 people in Jackson County at least partially vaccinated and 22,997 fully vaccinated. Only 5,234 have received the booster dose.