By Dave Russell


Locally, news on the COVID-19 front is pretty good.

North Carolina’s 14-day average had fallen 10 percent as of Monday. Jackson County’s 14-day average fell 2 percent.

Jackson County Public Schools report only six cases.

As of Monday, Harris Regional hospital reports fewer than five COVID-19 patients hospitalized total, including in the ICU, spokeswoman Chelsea Burrell said. 

“This is a decrease from previous weeks,” she said. “We are continuing to see COVID-19 patients in our Emergency Room as well, though the volume has dropped in recent weeks. Flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are circulating, so we urge our community to get vaccinated for both flu and COVID-19, stay home and away from others if you are not feeling well, wear masks when appropriate and wash your hands frequently for good health.”


Possible threat looms

Further afield, the news is not so good.

Last Friday the World Health Organization identified a “variant of concern” and named it Omicron.

The variant has several mutations that might have an impact on how it behaves, the agency said in a statement. Omicron is currently spreading in South Africa, and a host of nations, including the United States, have banned travelers from that country and others in the region.

The news led to a major tumble in the stock market on Friday. The S&P 500 fell 2.27 percent, the DOW 2.53 percent.

Many questions remain.

It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta. Positive cases have increased in the nation on the southern tip of the continent, but so far it has not been determined if Omicron is the key factor.

It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants. Preliminary data suggests there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but it has not yet been determined if the surge is related to Omicron.

It is not yet known if symptoms associated with Omicron are different from other variants, how the vaccine might work against it or if new testing methods might be required.

Preliminary evidence suggests people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron.

President Joe Biden on Monday said the variant was a “cause for concern” but not panic. He said health officials would release more guidance to fight the spread of COVID-19 this winter, but promised it wouldn’t include lockdowns.

The Jackson County Department of Public Health has not received any information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention nor the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services about Omicron, according to spokeswoman Anna Lippard.


Threat is not over

The 2021 COVID-19 death toll on Saturday surpassed 2020 figures according to federal data and Johns Hopkins University. As of Dec. 31, 2020, 377,883 Americans had succumbed to COVID-19, according to the CDC. With four weeks to go, the 2021 death toll stood at 398,187, for a total of 776,070, as of last Friday.


JCDPH expands clinic calendar

The Jackson County Department of Public Health offers shots for residents 5 and older.

The clinics provide first, second and booster doses. Registration is not required, walk-ins are accepted. Pediatric Pfizer and Adult Pfizer are offered”

The schedule is as follows:

• Dec. 4, First United Methodist Church gymnasium from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

• Dec. 6, 7 and 8, Smoky Mountain High School front lobby, 4-7 p.m.

• Dec. 9, Blue Ridge School library, 4-7 p.m.

• Dec. 11, Sylva First United Methodist Church gymnasium, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

• Dec. 12 and 13, Cullowhee Rec Center meetings rooms, 4-7 p.m.

For more information, call 586-8994.


Vaccines, Santa all in one evening

Harris Regional Hospital offers COVID-19 vaccinations and Santa from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16, at Harris Medical Park, 98 Doctors Drive.

The New Generations Birthing Center at Harris hosts a drive-thru Christmas celebration with seasonal goodies, food, gifts and photos with Santa. Masks required. 

An optional free COVID-19 vaccine clinic will be available for both adults and children. The clinic will be separate from the drive-thru Christmas celebration.


By the numbers

As of Wednesday morning, Jackson County Public Schools reported no staff and non-staff cases. 

JCPS reports six student cases, two at Fairview Elementary (same as last week), two at Smokey Mountain Elementary (down from four) and two at Smoky Mountain High School (up from zero).

There are 17 students in quarantine throughout the system; 10 at SMES.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports 5,910 total cases in the county through Nov. 27, up 76 from 5,834 reported last week.

The county has had 1,345.3 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 1,328 last week. DHHS reports 72 deaths in the county, the same as last week.

As of Wednesday, the DHHS Dashboard shows 22,054 people in Jackson County have been fully vaccinated with 24,289 at least partially vaccinated.