ackson County has passed a grim milestone with the first reported death of a local resident due to COVID-19.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of this individual,” said Jackson County Health Director Shelley Carraway. “We also want to reiterate the importance of staying home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Everyone, whether you are a full-time resident, part-time resident, or otherwise, should be staying home as much as possible and continuing to practice social distancing when you must go out.”

The Herald extends its sympathies to the family as well.

And we second Carraway’s cautionary statement.

These are strange days in America.

We are seeing the best of ourselves in many ways. The people delivering meals, the people sitting at home making masks for first responders and others, the wonderful plan dreamed up and executed to honor the 2020 seniors of Smoky Mountain High School (see today’s Act of Kindness and story on Page 1A of today’s Herald).

While we’re on the topic of schools, let us say we stand in awe of the job being pulled off by administration, staff and students. There’s really nothing to compare what dealing with this pandemic is like, outside of fanciful movies of an alien invasion. Education could have come to a full stop. Instead, everyone involved seems to have assessed the situation, put their heads down and moved forward.

That said, this “invasion’’ is far from over. That’s why the move to reopen the economy seems rushed.

North Carolina’s numbers from early afternoon on Monday showed 12,256 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (up more than 400 from Sunday) and 452 deaths (22 more than Sunday). The number of people tested is on the rise, which is encouraging.

But the numbers haven’t been encouraging enough to back up the happy talk of reopening and getting back to normal that we’re hearing in some corners.

From 1,000 to 3,000 Americans dying daily of a disease with no treatment is not normal.

Yet, North Carolina does have a plan. In phase 1, starting Friday, non-essential stores and retail stores can re-open, though social distancing guidelines would still apply. There are requirements that business owners clean stores regularly and screen employees for symptoms. Parks and trails would be allowed to open.

Gatherings of more than 10 people still wouldn’t be allowed, and dining rooms would stay shuttered.

Under phase 2, playgrounds would open and gatherings at entertainment venues and churches could be allowed, with reduced capacity.

Phase 2 is contingent on the spread of COVID-19 slowing during a couple of weeks of phase 1.

Right now, the numbers don’t appear to be in favor of any sort of rapid reopening. The horrific outbreaks in New York City appear to be under control, but it looks like the rural heartland may be next in line.

The Herald wants the economy open, our vibrant community again ringing with music and the laughter of crowds. But we urge extreme caution on the part of state leaders. If we open too early, we’re back to square one – weeks of trying to contain the pandemic in hopes of starting phase 1 all over again.

We’ve lost too many weeks already.

Speaking to Bloomberg News, Brian Castrucci, president and chief executive officer of the de Beaumont Foundation in Bethesda, Maryland, an outfit that focuses on public health, offered up a statement that crystalizes the situation:

“I don’t think we know yet what’s coming. Don’t go back into a burning building.”

State leaders, take heed.