By Dave Russell

The Delta variant is showing no mercy as cases of COVID-19 continue to shoot up and Jackson County’s death toll increased by at least one – and possibly two – on Tuesday.

Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority Director Daniel Manring informed the TWSA board of two more deaths at the agency’s meeting Tuesday evening. The Sylva Herald has been able to confirm one of those cases.

Previously the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services had reported 56 deaths in the county, the last one on April 20.

Details of the case are incomplete at this time, but The Herald has confirmed the known death to be a male in his late 60s to early 70s.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells the story. On June 21, 8,574 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States. On Aug. 12, just 56 days later, 149,627 cases were reported.


Cases in schools

Jackson County Public Schools  reports 14 student cases – seven at Fairview, one at Jackson Community School, and three each at Scotts Creek and Smoky Mountain High School.

There are also five staff cases, but the school system did not provide those  locations.

The JCPS COVID Dashboard is offline currently, but will return to the web later this week, the school system said.

Sylva Town Board Member Ben Guiney presented a dire outlook on the COVID situation to town leaders last Thursday. Guiney is an emergency room doctor at Harris Regional Hospital.

“Currently we are experiencing an overwhelming increase in the number of infections, emergency room visits and hospital admissions, consistent with what we saw in January,” he said. “The cases, hospitalizations and suffering we’re seeing are limited to the unvaccinated. This, for the unvaccinated, this is your pandemic. It’s not for the vaccinated folks. Our local health care system is being pushed to the breaking point.”

Patients wait in the ER until a bed opens up for them. 

“Sometimes these patients are in the ER for days,” he said. “They are pushing ER staff members well beyond normal duties, and quite frankly to their breaking point. COVID-positive inpatient census at Harris is ranging from 9 to 17 and has been as high as 21, with 90 percent of COVID admissions unvaccinated people.”

Guiney compared the 2019-20 strain of COVID to the Delta variant currently sweeping the world. 

Last year’s COVID had a R0 (pronounced R-naught) rating of two, meaning each person infected would most likely infect two other people. The Delta variant has a rating of seven.

“That means one person infected infects seven others,” Guiney said. “They, in turn, infect seven others.

Cases of COVID in kids is “vastly under-reported,” he said. 

“The good news about kids getting infected is that they don’t have the respiratory issues just because of their physiology, but they are still getting some of the long-COVID issues,” he said.

“My message is that it is not over,” he said. “If you’re unvaccinated, you should be really worried about the Delta variant and get vaccinated. The vaccines are safe, the Delta variant is not.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended pregnant women to  vaccinate against COVID-19.

“COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people aged 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future,” the agency said.


By the numbers

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,111 total cases in Jackson County, up 79 from 3,932 last Tuesday. 

The county has had 935.6 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 895 last week. The county has a testing positivity rate of 14.1 percent, up from 12.1 percent last week.

As of Wednesday, about one in 10.6 Jackson County residents has been stricken with COVID-19. The county recorded 34 new cases on Aug. 9, its highest since 44 on Jan. 11.

As of Wednesday morning, the NCDHHS Dashboard shows 24,765 people in Jackson County have been fully vaccinated (up from 21,634 last week), with 24,765 partially vaccinated (up from 24,316). 

About 56 percent of residents have had at least one shot, according to DHHS.

Since reporting began July 1, 2020, Western Carolina University reports 834 total cases among students, employees and contractors.

The National Park Service issued a directive requiring visitors, employees and contractors to wear masks inside NPS buildings and in “crowded outdoor spaces,” regardless of vaccination status.