By Dave Russell
Jackson County’s reported COVID-19 jumped a record high 47 cases Monday, and another 34 Tuesday pushing the total past 1,000, according to the health department. The previous high was 40 reported cases on Oct. 16.
The county currently has 136 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. That’s up from 108 last week.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department reported 1,055 cases among full-time residents. That’s an increase of 16.2 percent from 908 cases a week earlier.
There have been 19,201 tests reported to the health department. The county has had 236 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 263,883 cases (up from 248,750 last week) and 4,211 deaths (up from 3,992 last week) in the state.
Nationwide, cases numbered 8,680,611 and deaths 225,084 as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Western Carolina University’s dashboard (wcu.edu/coronavirus/reporting.aspx) reports 67 new cases among students and one employee case the week of Oct. 19-Oct. 25.
The dashboard showed 45 new student cases the previous week.
Since July 1 there have been 281 cases among students, nine among employees and five among sub-contractors.
WCU reports 269 students in self isolation/quarantine, including 29 on campus. That’s up from 186 last week.
The Jackson County Public Schools dashboard (jcpsnc.org/covid) tracks positive cases among staff and students. There have been 14 student cases, with six active as of Wednesday morning. Seven of the eight staff cases are active.
Smokey Mountain Elementary has been closed almost two weeks due to COVID.
“It does appear we will be able to reopen Smokey Mountain Elementary on Monday,” interim Superintendent Tony Tipton told the Jackson County Board of Education at the Tuesday meeting.
A decision is expected Friday morning.
“It was not a high number of COVID-19 cases that forced the school closure,” he said. “It was because the school was unable to operate with the staff members (four) who were out. We could not find subs to fill the positions.”
Of four student cases at SMES, only one remains active. Smoky Mountain High School has reported nine student cases, with five active.
The health department on Monday identified a COVID-19 cluster associated with a gathering of WCU students.
“The Jackson County Department of Public Health informed university officials on Monday about a COVID-19 cluster associated with an off-campus social gathering,” WCU spokesman Bill Studenc said. “We are redoubling our reminders to all members of the campus community of the importance of adhering to the expectations and requirements of our Catamounts Care campaign.”
That investigation is ongoing. All positive individuals are following isolation orders, and JCDPH is working to identify close contacts of those individuals, the health department said in a release.
In the past two weeks, North Carolina has seen an increase in COVID-19 clusters from social gatherings such as parties, family gatherings, weddings and funerals. Jackson County is seeing a similar trend, Deputy Health Director Melissa McKnight said.
To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at private social gatherings, DHHS has released new guidance at https://files.nc.gov/covid/documents/guidance/NCDHHS-Interim-Guidance-for-Private-Social-Gatherings.pdf.
“We know that our community wants and often needs to come together,” McKnight said. “We also know our community does not want to spread COVID-19 to the ones that they love. If you choose to gather, please make smart choices. Wear a mask, maintain distance, limit your gatherings to a small number of people, gather outside as much as possible and wash your hands.”
Harris Regional Hospital is still implementing visitor restrictions, spokeswoman Sara Crawford said.
“Patients are limited to one well visitor per day, including the companion for ambulatory appointments or one support person for obstetric patients,” she said.
Visitors must be 12 years of age or older, screened upon entry and wear a mask and armband/sticker at all times while in the facility.
Visitors are not allowed for high-risk, isolation, immunocompromised or respiratory patients who are under observation or test positive for COVID-19, she said.
“Although we are allowing visitors for inpatients and companions for outpatient appointments, our Emergency Department does not allow visitors,” she said.
In regards to capacity, Harris is well prepared and available to care for the needs of the community, Crawford said. The hospital long ago established a COVID area and put in strict safety measures.
Patients needing medical attention or procedures should not put it off due to COVID-19 fears, she said.
“We encourage folks to seek medical attention, especially during this time, so that they don’t wait and increase their chances of needing emergency help,” Crawford said.
Patients can request a telehealth visit by calling their provider’s office, just as they would for an in-person visit.