By Dave Russell
COVID-19 shows no signs of going away. Numbers are up across the board. Cases are up, quarantine numbers are climbing and three local deaths have been reported over the past few weeks. The state’s two-week average is shooting up faster now than with the original COVID wave. In spite of vaccinations, the high transmissibility of the Delta variant is pushing the toll up rapidly, especially for the unvaccinated.
But there is a little good news.
“Vaccine rates continue to increase,” Jackson County Department of Public Health spokeswoman Anna Lippard said. “COVID-19 vaccines continue to be remarkably effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant.”
The health department has not received any official reports of deaths since last week, she said.
Booster shots might soon be available for everyone, Lippard said.
“We anticipate and have already started planning to offer COVID-19 boosters to the general public this fall, pending full review and recommendations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Lippard said. “We are offering third doses now to those that are immunocompromised. Boosters can provide continued protection, especially against the Delta variant.”
Lippard urged the vaccine-hesitant to help the cause.
“Our hospital system is overwhelmed,” she said. “Layer your protection, get vaccinated, wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance. Do it for the people working in our healthcare system.”
Patients may experience longer wait times in the Harris Regional Hospital Emergency Department because of the influx of COVID-19 patients being treated, spokeswoman Laura Selby said.
“We are averaging 15-20 COVID inpatients on any given day,” she said. “Our ICU is full, mostly with COVID patients, on any given day. Our Emergency Department is generally full because we are holding 5-10 ICU-level patients at any given moment with nowhere for them to go. The overwhelming majority of the COVID patients are unvaccinated.”
Harris staff continue to urge everyone who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as most of the COVID admissions are avoidable, she said.
County revisits policy
Jackson County on May 17 lifted a mandatory mask policy for people entering county government buildings. The county reversed field on that last week.
“As set forth in the Governor’s Executive Orders and in accordance with guidance from the Jackson County Health Director it is ordered that anyone entering the interior public space of a facility housing Jackson County operations must wear a Face Covering when they are or may be within six feet of another person,” the order stated. “This includes but is not limited to public spaces such as lobbies, hallways, and waiting areas where members of the public may be present.
The mask order contains a few exceptions – face coverings do not need to be worn by a person with a medical or behavioral condition or disability, who is under two years of age, actively eating, drinking or strenuously exercising, and other factors.
To read the full “August 27, 2021 State of Emergency Amendment,” visit www.jacksonnc.org/emergency-notifications.
By the numbers
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, the school system reported 10 staff and non-staff cases and 31 student cases.
Smoky Mountain High School reported 16; Fairview, four; Cullowhee Valley School, one; Scotts Creek, four; Blue Ridge School, two; Jackson County Early College, one; Smokey Mountain Elementary; one; Blue Ridge Early College, two.
Only Jackson Community School reported no cases.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,421 total cases in Jackson County, up 154 from 4,267 last Tuesday.
The county has had 1,006.2 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 971.1 last week. The county has a testing positivity rate of 18.9 percent, up .02 from 18.7 percent last week.
As of Wednesday, 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 46 cases reported Aug. 24. That was the county’s highest total since 56 on Jan. 4.
As of Wednesday morning, the DHHS Dashboard shows 22,562 people in Jackson County have been fully vaccinated with 25,714 partially vaccinated. That’s 51 and 59 percent respectively.
Since reporting began July 1, 2020, Western Carolina University reports 904 total cases among students, employees and contractors, up from 866 last week.