By Dave Russell
Six more Jackson County residents died from COVID-19 since last Tuesday, bringing the county’s total to 17.
All six cases were related to outbreaks in Sylva’s four long-term care facilities. Five of the victims were over 75 years old, and the other was between 65-74 years old. All had underlying health conditions, Jackson County Department of Public Health Deputy Director Melissa McKnight said. The other 11 county deaths are not related to the long-term care facilities outbreaks, she said.
Cases among county residents have increased 44.6 percent during December, up from 1,430 on Dec. 1 to 2,068 as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Holiday gatherings around Thanksgiving drive the increase in cases across the county, state and nation, McKnight said.
“We know the temptation to gather during the holiday season is great but we strongly advise against traditional holiday gatherings,” she said. “We do expect another post-holiday increase in cases if families and loved ones choose to gather as they normally would. We strongly urge our community to re-think their holiday plans, if they haven’t already. Choose to gather in a safer manner to protect the ones that you love this holiday.”
Cases increased in Jackson County by 11.8 percent since last Tuesday, when there were 1,849 cases.
The county currently has 299 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. That’s down from 318 last week.
The county has had 470 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 417 last week according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
According to the DHHS dashboard Wednesday morning, Jackson County has a testing positivity rate of 16.7 percent, the third highest in the state.
DHHS on Tuesday reported 488,902 statewide cases (up from 446,601 last week) and 6,291 total deaths (up from 5,881 last week) in the state.
Nationwide, cases numbered 17,974,303 (up from 16,317,892 last week) and deaths 318,569 (up from 300,032 ) as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
The Jackson County Public Schools dashboard (jcpsnc.org/covid) tracks positive cases among staff and students. There have been 41 student cases, with seven active as of Wednesday morning. The active cases are at Cullowhee Valley Elementary School (two), Scotts Creek Elementary School (two) and Smoky Mountain High School (three). There are four active staff cases. Two at SMHS, one at Jackson County Early College and one at CVES, and 20 total staff cases since the pandemic began.
Outbreaks at Sylva’s long-term care facilities makes up a large part of the recent increase in cases, and those numbers continue to climb.
McKnight could update resident numbers, but staff cases are harder because cases are reported to the victim’s county of residence and some staff live outside of Jackson, she said.
As of Friday, Skyland Care Center had reported 44 resident cases, up from 24 reported Tuesday, Dec. 8. The Hermitage reported 57 resident cases, up from 46. Vero Health and Rehab reported 19 resident cases, up from 14, and Morningstar held steady at 26.
An arrival date for the COVID-19 vaccine is “the question of the hour,” McKnight said.
“As of Friday, Dec. 18, the health department has not received shipping confirmation of COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “We are eagerly awaiting its arrival and expect to have vaccine by the end of the month at the latest. As you can imagine, much is still up in the air but when we have more clear information, we intend to share it on our website at health.jacksonnc.org/covid19, our Facebook page and with our local media contacts.
Supplies would be limited at first, she said.
“Vaccination will start first with those at most risk, which are our healthcare workers at high risk of exposure, those critical to vaccine administration and long-term care facility staff and residents,” she said. “As supply increases, we will be able to move through Phases 1b, 2, 3 and 4.”
Early on, appointments would be required for the shots, she said.
“As supply increases and phases progress (and the weather warms up), we may transition to a drive through model,” she said. “Soon, other healthcare providers, pharmacies, etc. can opt into being a COVID-19 Vaccine Provider, thus increasing access points across our community.”