By Dave Russell


North Carolina recorded its ninth-highest COVID-19 daily case count Aug. 26, with 8,620 new reports. While short of the state’s high of 12,079 reported on Feb. 3, the trajectory of new cases in this Delta wave is increasing more rapidly than the alpha wave.

Schools are canceling sporting events and instituting quarantines, and hospitals are overflowing.

“Our hospital is in crisis mode,” said Anna Lippard of the Jackson County Department of Public Health. “It feels worse this time than it did back in January.”

Wearing a mask is more important than ever, a simple layer of protection that everyone can add, she said.

“We know that COVID-19 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets,” Lippard said. “Masks are a simple barrier to prevent your respiratory droplets from getting to other people. The Delta variant is more transmissible than other variants, and adding the mask as another layer of protection against exposure, especially for those who are too young to be vaccinated.”

Jackson County is still a high transmission area.

“We also know that masks work and that in Jackson County we should all be masking up, especially when indoors, in public settings with people we don’t live with,” Lippard said. “We need unvaccinated people to get vaccinated to reduce more severe outcomes and give our healthcare system a chance to take a breath.”

Some people reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccine but afraid to get the virus are turning to an unapproved treatment using Ivermectin, a drug largely intended for livestock.

“I have had some folks kind of hint at it in the ER,” said Dr. Ben Guiney, who works in the Emergency Room at Harris Regional Hospital. “They’ll say, ‘What about either hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin?’”

They were not necessarily demanding treatment but asked out of curiosity because they had heard rumors, he said.

“I basically explain medicine is science based, evidence based and we base our decisions on whether or not there’s efficacy in the medications, if something’s proven to work, and if there’s harm associated with it,” he said.

He does not recommend self treatment with Ivermectin.

“One, it’s unproven,” he said. “Two, it’s dangerous. The dose levels that you’re going to get from the horse pills are dangerous. They’re meant for horses. Those kind of doses are not meant for people. We are already so busy in the ER; I don’t want to have to sit on somebody for several hours while they get cleared by poison control.”

Fortunately, Guiney has not seen any cases of Ivermectin poisoning in the ER but worries that it is just a matter of time.

“Everybody involved in this pandemic wants there to be some magic cure, some medicine, especially medicine that’s been out for a long time that’s shown to work, and there just isn’t. That’s the take home,” he said.


Vaccines help

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released new data  showing that during the four-week period ending Aug. 21, unvaccinated people were 15.4 times, or 1,540 percent, more likely to die from COVID-19.

This comes as the state hit a pandemic high on Aug. 26 with 912 adults in the ICU with COVID-19. The number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators also reached a record high at 574.

During the week ending Aug. 21 unvaccinated people were 4.4 times, or 440 percent, more likely to catch COVID-19 than vaccinated people. The difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated teens was even greater during the week ending Aug. 21, with unvaccinated people aged 12 to 17 being 6.3 times, or 630 percent, more likely to get COVID-19 than vaccinated people in the same age group.

North Carolina has been experiencing the fastest acceleration in cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic started.


By the numbers

Jackson County Public Schools is limiting visitors inside school buildings to those who provide academic support. Parents can no longer walk their children to classrooms.

School Superintendent Dana Ayers sent a mass phone call to school families Tuesday afternoon announcing the policy.

As of Wednesday morning, JCPS reported six staff and non-staff cases and 64 student cases.

Smoky Mountain High School reported 24 (up from 16 last week); Fairview, 14 (up from four); Cullowhee Valley, 15 (up from one); Blue Ridge School, one; Smokey Mountain Elementary, two; Blue Ridge Early College, three.

Scotts Creek and Jackson County Early College reported no cases.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,632 total cases in Jackson County, up 211 from 4,421 last Tuesday. 

The county has had 1,054.2 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 1,006.2 last week. The county has a testing positivity rate of 19.2 percent, up .3 percent from 18.9 percent last week.

DHHS reports 62 deaths in the county, up from 59 last week. About one in 10 Jackson County residents has been stricken with COVID-19.

Jackson County set a new high for the Delta wave of COVID with 48 cases reported Aug. 30, the county’s highest total since 56 on Jan. 4.

As of Wednesday morning, the DHHS Dashboard shows 22,896 people in Jackson County have been fully vaccinated with 26,028 at least partially vaccinated. That’s 52 and 59 percent respectively.

Since reporting began July 1, 2020, Western Carolina University reports 939 total cases among students, employees and contractors, up from 904 last week.