By Dave Russell

COVID cases are slowly inching up in the U.S., North Carolina and Jackson County, as the highly contagious BA.2 variant takes over as top dog in the COVID-19 pandemic.

BA.2 is responsible for 91 percent of the COVID infections in North Carolina, dwarfing the three other strains present, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Health officials contend the strain is not as dangerous as previous variants.

Following a low of 24,983 on April 4, the seven-day average for U.S. cases had risen to 57,020 as of last Tuesday morning and up to 73,056 this Tuesday. Statewide, the seven-day average fell to 175 on April 11 and had risen to 1,657 on May 1 and up to 2002 on May 9.

In Jackson County, new case reports fell to five for the week ending April 2. Since then, weekly cases have numbered 16, 11, 19 and now 30 for the week ending April 30.

Case numbers are increasing but patients requiring hospitalization remain low, local ER Dr. Ben Guiney said.

Guiney will not stop beating the vaccination drum, he said.

“Vaccinations and boosters have and continue to save lives,” Guiney said. “Even if you don’t get sick and end up in the hospital, long COVID has shown it can affect anyone who contracts COVID.”

Long COVID is a name for physical conditions that linger following recovery from the acute phase of the illness.

Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems that can last weeks, months or years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Long COVID conditions are found more often in people who had severe COVID-19 illness, but anyone who has been infected with the virus can experience post-COVID conditions, even people who had mild illness or no symptoms from COVID-19.

Symptoms can include chest pain, fatigue, headaches, depression or anxiety, a change in smell or taste, and more.

Guiney recommends KN-95 or N-95 masks in large crowds.

Jackson County Public Schools report four cases. Three are among staff. The lone student case was reported at Smokey Mountain Elementary, which also reported one last week.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports 9,679 cases and 96 deaths in the county since March 2020.

The NCDHHS has launched the Spring into Summer initiative to keep North Carolinians safer, healthy, active and social, the state health department said in a release.

“It’s a fun, flexible, community-centered approach to help every organization and individual stop the spread of COVID-19 by spreading the word about COVID-19 vaccines for adults, vaccinations for teens and kids, boosters to help everyone 12 and older stay up-to-date on their vaccinations, wellness checklists to make sure those health visits that might have been delayed don’t get forgotten and tools to help keep people informed about staying healthy during and beyond the pandemic.”

Participants will receive a detailed guide for ways to participate and an introductory toolkit with easy-to-use materials – from flyers to giveaways – to help Spring into Summer, the agency said.