March: The first case of COVID-19 appeared in Jackson County. The patient was a Maryland resident who had traveled to their secondary home here.

By Dave Russell


Health officials expect COVID-19 cases to rise following the Thanksgiving holiday, as families gathered in spite of warnings against it. It is too early to see just how bad the bump will be, as COVID symptoms generally appear from two to 14 days after exposure, with four or five days the norm.

Cases increased in Jackson County by 6.6 percent since last Monday.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department reported 1,430 total cases among full-time residents, an increase of 89 cases from 1,341 a week earlier.

The county currently has 60 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. There were also 60 last week.

The county has had 321 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 304 last week, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS on Tuesday reported 367,395 statewide cases (up from 339,194 last week) and 5,284 deaths (up from 5,039 last week) in the state.

Nationwide, cases numbered 13,447,627 (up from 12,175,921 last week) and deaths 267,302 (up from 255,958) as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The Jackson County Public Schools dashboard ( tracks positive cases among staff and students. There have been 21 student cases, with one active case at Smokey Mountain Elementary School and one at Fairview Elementary as of Tuesday morning. There is one active staff cases at SMES.

Western Carolina University’s dashboard ( reports five new cases among students and no new employee case as of Nov. 25.

The dashboard showed 14 new student cases for the previous week.

Since July 1 there have been 414 cases among students, 20 among employees and six among sub-contractors.

WCU reports 109 students in self isolation/quarantine, with three on campus. That’s up from 94 last week.

The university is canceling the modified in-person commencement ceremonies scheduled for Dec. 10-13 and shifting to virtual ceremonies.

The rescheduled events will be livestreamed beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12, with the announcement of the names of all members of the 2020 graduating classes.

The Jackson County Department of Public Health hopes community members will take a survey to help them prepare for the upcoming vaccination campaign. 

It can be found at and runs through Dec. 4.

The health department has identified a COVID-19 outbreak at the Hermitage Assisted Living and Memory Care in Dillsboro. 

One employee and three residents at The Hermitage tested positive for COVID-19. All positive individuals are following isolation orders. The health department is working to identify any additional close contacts of these individuals. Upon notification of the first positive case, the Hermitage coordinated with JCDPH to determine next steps.

The Hermitage and JCDPH coordinated testing for close contacts of the second positive case, continued mandatory testing of staff and monitoring residents for symptoms and coordinated testing for all other residents. The investigation is ongoing.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has identified critical populations that should be prioritized for vaccination during early phases when only limited amounts of vaccine are available, McKnight said.

“We know that vaccination will be ongoing and understand that the prioritization process may change based on guidance from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the National Academy of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization,” she said. “Healthcare workers and first responders who are at high risk of exposure based on work duties or who are vital to the initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution and long term care facility staff have been initially prioritized. From there, additional populations have been prioritized into phases; you can find them broken down on pages 61-62 of the N.C. Interim COVID-19 Vaccine Plan.”

The schedule is available by performing a web search on “N.C. Interim COVID-19 Vaccine Plan,” and is subject to change.

Reports surfaced recently questioning the need to disinfect surfaces to protect against COVID-19, which spreads via airborne transmission. 

Not so fast, McKnight said.

“We know that COVID-19 spreads easily from person to person,” she said. “This primarily happens through respiratory droplets. COVID-19 is sometimes spread by airborne transmission especially when people are in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. COVID-19 spreads less commonly through contact with contaminated surfaces. However, hand washing and disinfecting are still very important.”

The combination of these will slow the spread of COVID-19, she said, offering an analogy.

“I like to think of this in terms of the Swiss cheese model,” she said. “Each intervention (distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands, disinfecting and more) is depicted as an imperfect barrier to virus transmission by the holes in the Swiss cheese.

“When multiple effective, but imperfect, interventions are used together and stack on top of each other, some of the holes are covered and virus transmission is decreased and stopped. This explains why you want to use multiple interventions. They provide the best protection when used together.”