By Dave Russell
COVID-19 cases and deaths locally and across the globe continue to rise as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads.
There was some good news on the COVID front this week when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine, like the other two available in the U.S. – Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – was granted emergency use authorization, meaning it could be used only during the public health emergency.
The approval is expected to increase vaccination and lead to more vaccine mandates.
Moderna applied for approval in June. Johnson & Johnson has yet to do so.
Jackson County Department of Public Health officials reported they were “very happy to hear the good news about Pfizer being fully FDA approved.”
“We have Pfizer available here at the health department,” spokeswoman Anna Lippard said. “I am optimistic that since Pfizer is fully FDA approved more people will choose to get vaccinated.”
County death toll at 59
The Sylva Herald confirmed three COVID-19 deaths in the county in the last two weeks, bringing the total to 59. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday reported 58 deaths. The county had held at 56 since April 20.
The health department received two death reports last week, Lippard said.
“When we receive death reports, our staff must enter that into the state system, NC COVID,” she said. “I’m not sure how long it will take to reflect that on the state’s dashboard. We have entered those on our end.”
Third dose vaccinations
The Jackson County Department of Public Health offers third dose vaccines for the immunocompromised on Tuesday mornings by appointment only.
Individuals who received the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and are moderately to severely immunocompromised may now be eligible to receive an additional dose.
The FDA updated the Emergency Use Authorization for both vaccines to allow for the use of an additional dose in some immunocompromised people. More specific information on the immunocompromised conditions can be found on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In order to increase the body’s immune response, it is recommended that the additional dose be administered at least 28 days after the initial vaccine and be the same brand as the initial two-dose series.
At this time, it is not recommended that immunocompromised people who were originally vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine get an additional dose.
To schedule an appointment for a third dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, call 587-8289 or visit www.myspot.nc.gov to find another vaccine provider.
JCPS dashboard on web
The Jackson County Public Schools COVID Dashboard (www.jcpsnc.org/covid) is back online. It tracks cases among students and staff.
As of Wednesday morning, there were eight cases among staff and 38 students.
Smoky Mountain High School reported 16; Fairview, 11; Cullowhee Valley School and Scotts Creek, three; Blue Ridge School, Jackson County Early College and Smokey Mountain Elementary one each; Jackson Community School, two.
JCPS is not tracking quarantined students in a common database, so those numbers are not available, Superintendent Dana Ayers said.
“At this moment, our quarantine numbers are not super high and I attribute this to the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit we are following, which says that students who are exposed while wearing a proper fitting mask are not required to quarantine,” Ayers said “Southwestern Community College is following a more strict protocol for exposure and that impacts our Jackson County Early College students.”
Ayers does not anticipate having to close schools to in-person learning and going back to online-only as the system did in 2020.
“Our cases are peppered across schools and do not currently seem to be affecting single classes,” she said. “My primary goal is to keep schools open safely. If a closure would need to occur, it would likely be a result of staff cases/quarantine.”
Should a return to virtual learning occur, Ayers feels the schools would pivot easily.
By the numbers
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,267 total cases in Jackson County, up 156 from 4,111 last Tuesday.
The county has had 971.1 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 935.6 last week. The county has a testing positivity rate of 18.7 percent, up from 14.1 percent last week.
As of Wednesday, about one in 10.3 Jackson County residents has been stricken with COVID-19. Cases have slowed down since 34 new cases were reported on Aug. 9, the highest since 44 on Jan. 11. DHHS reports only five cases on Aug. 21.
As of Wednesday morning, the DHHS Dashboard shows 22,180 people in Jackson County have been fully vaccinated with 25,187 partially vaccinated.
That’s 57 and 50 percent respectively.
About 57 percent of residents have had at least one shot, according to DHHS.
Since reporting began July 1, 2020, Western Carolina University reports 866 total cases among students, employees and contractors.