By Dave Russell
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Dashboard shows a slowing of COVID-19 spread in Jackson County as the post-holiday surge wanes.
Cases increased in Jackson County by 4.5 percent since last Tuesday.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, DHHS reported 2,767 total cases among county residents, an increase of 119 cases from 2,648 a week earlier.
The county has had 630 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 603 last week. According to the DHHS dashboard, Jackson County has a testing positivity rate of 14.9 percent.
DHHS on Tuesday reported 684,497 statewide cases (up from 635,975 last week) and 8,139 total deaths (up from 7,638 last week) in the state.
Nationwide, cases numbered 23,839,868 (up from 22,522,749 last week) and deaths 396,442 (up from 375,124) as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Two schools go remote
The Jackson County Public Schools dashboard (jcpsnc.org/covid) tracks positive cases among staff and students. There have been 75 student cases, with nine active as of Wednesday morning. The active cases are at Fairview Elementary School (one), Smoky Mountain High School (three), Cullowhee Valley Elementary School (three) and Smokey Mountain Elementary School (one). There are 13 active staff cases. Most are at CVS (six) and FES (five).
Classes at Cullowhee Valley last Friday transitioned to remote-only instruction due to a spike in COVID-19 cases among staff members. Remote-only instruction continues at least through this Friday, when administrators will assess the situation and determine if it is prudent to reopen the school.
Free meals will be available in front of the school from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. for anyone age 18 or under while classes remain remote-only. No sign-up is necessary.
The Catamount School, located on the SMHS campus, follows suit Friday, going remote-only through Feb. 12.
“Please know this is a precautionary measure, and we do not have any cases of COVID-19 at TCS,” the Catamount School said in a Facebook post.
Despite an increase in positive cases, especially among staff, Jackson County Public Schools maintain a lower rate of infection than the surrounding area.
WCU adjusts calendar
Since reporting began July 1, Western Carolina University reports 535 total cases among students, employees and contractors.
Since Jan. 1, there have been 38 student cases, 21 employee cases and two contractor cases, a total of 61.
The campus has 95 quarantine beds, with two in use currently. Off campus, 24 students are quarantining.
Citing a record number of COVID-19 cases and a projected peak in cases in Western North Carolina within the next two to three weeks, WCU officials adjusted the spring semester.
Classes begin Monday, Jan. 25, as scheduled, but all classes will be delivered via remote instruction through Feb. 12.
On Feb. 15, classes are to resume as originally scheduled through in-person or hybrid instruction.
“The decision came after senior campus leaders reviewed state and regional COVID-19 activity with University of North Carolina System leadership, public health officials, and local hospital representatives in anticipation of the beginning of the spring semester,” the university said in a release.
The return of students to campus residence halls will be delayed. Move-in will begin Feb. 6.
Additional information on spring operations, including a FAQ about changes to the beginning of the spring semester, can be found at info.wcu.edu/campusupdate.
COVID hits elderly hard
DHHS has updated numbers at long-term care facilities in Jackson County:
• Skyland Care Center – 30 staff and 76 resident cases, 15 deaths.
• Vero Health and Rehab – seven staff and 24 residents, six deaths.
• Morningstar Assisted Living – 12 staff and 33 residents, one death.
• The Hermitage – seven staff and 59 residents, six deaths.
All deaths were among residents, with none among staff.
Frontline workers vaccinated
Jackson County’s first responders and front line emergency services staff on Friday received the first of two COVID-19 vaccinations at a clinic at the Rec Center in Cullowhee.
The event, spearheaded by the JCDPH, included 200 county firefighters, law enforcement, rescue squads and other first responders. Choosing to receive the vaccination was voluntary. Both paid and volunteer first responders received the vaccine.
The event was made possible due to a partnership between Jackson County Emergency Management, Harris Regional EMS, Glenville-Cashiers EMS, the JCDPH and the Rec Center in Cullowhee.
The first responders will follow health recommendations for the vaccine protocol and receive their second COVID-19 vaccination shot in approximately 28 days. The time, date and location will be announced at a later date.
New vaccine plan
The JCDPH released a modified COVID-19 vaccination plan last week, following advisement from DHHS.
The JCDPH is currently offering vaccines to people in two groups.
Group 1: Healthcare workers fighting COVID-19 and long-term care staff and residents
Group 2: Adults 65 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation.
The health department now offers COVID-19 drive-thru vaccination clinics. The clinics are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Department on Aging (100 County Services Park).
Pre-registration and appointments are required for the clinics.
Additional dates will be added and/or modified as more vaccine supply becomes available or as needed.
“We want our community to know that we are working as quickly as we can to schedule appointments for those who have pre-registered,” Deputy Health Director Melissa McKnight said. “We currently have over 1,900 community members who have pre-registered and expect many more now that NCDHHS has opened eligibility to those who are 65 years and older. We ask for our community to help us by waiting to pre-register until their group is announced. We are working with an extremely limited supply of vaccine at the moment, and we are not informed of our weekly supply of vaccine until days prior to receiving it. We continue to work to streamline services and address capacity issues.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the DHHS dashboard shows 923 people in Jackson County have received their first vaccination shot, with 53 receiving both doses.
JCDPH has developed a Frequently Asked Question document, available at https://tinyurl.com/COVID19VaxFAQJacksonCounty.
For more information, visit JCDPH’s website at http://health.jacksonnc.org/covid19 or call the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center at 631-HELP.