By Dave Russell
Three more Jackson County residents were diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past week.
As of Tuesday, the Jackson County Department of Public Health reported 25 cases of full-time residents, two cases in part-time residents and 1,212 tests performed. There were 22 positive tests reported among out-of-county residents who were tested here.
The county has had one reported death from COVID-19.
Last week, the health department reported 22 cases of full-time residents, two cases in part-time residents and 1,097 tests performed. There were 20 positive tests reported among out-of-county residents who were tested here. Most of those, are connected with a construction site at Western Carolina University, health officials said.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday reported 19,700 cases and 691 deaths in the state, with 265,008 tests conducted. The virus is present in all 100 North Carolina counties. Avery County announced its first case Tuesday.
Nationwide, cases number 1,504,830 and deaths 90,340 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services zip code map shows 16 cases and one death in 28779 (Sylva), four in 28723 (Cullowhee), one in 28783 (Tuckasegee) and two in 28789 (Whittier).
Other zip codes in the county report no cases.
Phase II of Gov. Roy Cooper’s re-opening plan is tentatively slated to begin at 5 p.m. Friday.
This part of his three-phase plan will:
• Lift the Stay At Home order with strong encouragement for vulnerable populations to continue staying at home to stay safe.
• Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services, and other businesses that can follow safety protocols including the potential need to reduce capacity.
• Allow gathering at places such as houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity.
• An increase in number of people allowed at gatherings.
• Open public playgrounds.
• Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregate care settings.
The measures do not signal an end to the dangers of COVID-19.
“The pandemic is not over,” Jackson County Department of Public Health Deputy Director Melissa McKnight said. “North Carolina is carefully re-opening, following a phased plan. This allows officials to provide guidance on how to re-open safely, promote increased testing, and monitor metrics while understanding that if our situation digresses, we may need to adjust the phased plan.”
Masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing and other measures should still be routine.
“We all need to be taking the safety precautions seriously,” she said. “Just because the state is carefully re-opening does not mean that things are back to ‘normal’ or the way that they were before. COVID-19 is still very real and very serious; our behavior should reflect this.
“We should prepare for a new normal that continues to include social distancing and other safety precautions,” she said. “These precautions won’t always have to be as strict as a Stay at Home Order but will likely be in place in some form or fashion until a vaccine is available.”
A vaccine would help tremendously, McKnight said.
“We also must take into account that this virus is still new and we don’t know if this vaccine will be recommended once with a boosters like tetanus, or seasonally like the flu,” she said. “And of course, there are those who will choose not to be vaccinated.”
Herd immunity – the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination – is the ultimate goal, she said.
“It will take time as well as effort from our community,” McKnight said. “Our community should continue to practice social distancing and other safety precautions until a vaccine is available so that we are able to avoid outbreaks, overwhelming our healthcare systems, and death.”
“Every measure we took prevented COVID-19 from having a terrible effect on our community, but it’s not over,” said Ben Guiney, a Sylva town board member and Harris Regional Hospital ER doctor. “Going forward we have to keep doing the things to keep each other safe. I protect you and you protect me. Masks, hygiene, distancing.”
The state DHHS website lists several testing sites in Sylva. They include:
Department of Public Health, 154 Medical Park Loop; Walmart parking lot, 210 Walmart Plaza; Blue Ridge Health, 293 Hospital Road; Mountain Park Urgent Care, 90 E. East Main St.; Harris Regional Hospital, 68 Hospital Road; and Harris Regional Hospital Urgent Care, 176 Walmart Plaza.