By Dave Russell
The rate of COVID-19 infection in Jackson County continues its downward trajectory, increasing only 5.8 percent since last Tuesday.
That’s the good news. The bad news? The state has slowed vaccine allocation, leaving the Jackson County Department of Public Health with only 100 vaccines to distribute this week.
It makes planning difficult, Deputy Health Director Melissa McKnight said.
“Knowing vaccine supply would be limited, we had planned to give 500 first doses this week,” she said Monday. “We found out late Friday night that we would only be receiving 100 first doses. We will have to modify our plans and can only administer what we are allocated. All 100 first doses will be given this week. We don’t know what our supply will be until we are informed by N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.”
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, DHHS reported 2,927 total cases and 22 deaths among county residents, an increase of 160 cases from 2,767 a week earlier.
The county has had 666 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 630 last week. According to the DHHS dashboard, Jackson County has a testing positivity rate of 13.4 percent. That’s right at the state rate of 13.3 percent.
DHHS on Tuesday reported 727,423 statewide cases (up from 684,497 last week) and 8,776 total deaths (up from 8,139 last week) in the state.
Nationwide, cases numbered 25,152,433 (up from 23,839,868 last week) and 419,827 deaths (up from 396,442) 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 95 student cases, with 21 active, including 10 at Cullowhee Valley Elementary School, as of Wednesday morning. The other active cases are at Smoky Mountain High School (three), Blue Ridge Early College (three), Fairview Elementary School (two), Jackson Community School (two) and Blue Ridge School (one).
There are eight active staff cases, including three each at CVS and FES. Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountain Elementary School both have one.
Cullowhee Valley resumed its full schedule of classes Friday after shifting to remote-only instruction due to a spike in COVID-19 cases among staff members.
The Catamount School, located on the SMHS campus, remains remote-only through Feb. 12.
With the health department inoculating people in Groups 1 and 2, 350 Jackson County Public Schools staff, part of Group 3, were vaccinated at Harris Regional Hospital on Friday.
“On Wednesday of last week we received a phone call from Mr. Steve Heatherly, the president and CEO of Harris Regional Hospital, informing us that they had 350 vaccines available and needed to get them out in a mass vaccination as soon as possible,” Interim Superintendent Tony Tipton said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
All employees were eligible for the vaccine, and 313 received their first dose.
Since reporting began July 1, Western Carolina University reports 554 total cases among students, employees and contractors.
Since Jan. 1, there have been 49 student cases, 28 employee cases and three contractor cases, a total of 80, up from 61 last week.
The campus has 95 quarantine beds, with none in use currently. Off campus, 38 students are in quarantine/isolation.
A Wednesday morning press release from Jackson County stated the county has temporarily depleted its inventory of COVID-19 vaccines.
“We have 6,000-plus on the waiting list and we are currently receiving anywhere from 0-300 first dose vaccines a week,” McKnight said. “We deplete all of our first doses weekly.”
“We are working with all of the communities in WNC to get as many people vaccinated as soon as supplies allow,” JCDPH Director Shelley Carraway said. “This vaccination plan will take months – not weeks – to roll out. We’re asking for patience from our friends, families and neighbors...if you are disappointed that you haven’t been able to get your vaccine yet, please know that you will not be left behind. We’re offering limited appointments each week, and will add more appointments as we get more supply.”
According to the DHHS dashboard, 2,319 first doses of the vaccine have been given in Jackson County. Another 81 people have received both doses.
Legislators taking action
State Senator Kevin Corbin (R-Macon), who represents Jackson County, last Friday posted on Facebook about COVID-19 vaccinations.
N.C. gets a weekly shipment of 120,000 first dose vaccines from the federal government. ... We believe due to recent negative press coverage and a desire to move N.C. up in the vaccine distribution rankings DHHS is holding two mass vaccination events: this week at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and next week at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Next week, of NC’s 120,000 first dose shipment, 40,000 doses are being diverted to the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The result? Every vaccine site will receive fewer doses, including the high-throughput sites, and many locations will receive zero doses next week – and likely the following week too.
Specific example: My home county of Macon is scheduled to get 2,250 doses of vaccine for this coming week. They have 2,250 people scheduled and were just told they are only getting 200 doses. The other 2,050 doses have been diverted to Mecklenburg County. That is unacceptable.
Decisions about the vaccine have been made entirely by DHHS without input from the legislature. This week we will express our desire for more equitable distribution to our rural areas.