By Dave Russell


News of a potential COVID-19 vaccine was welcomed around the world. Two pharmaceutical giants – Moderna and Pfizer – announced vaccines that have proven effective in clinical trials.

A vaccine will make it to Jackson County, but it could be a while.

“We have signed up to be a COVID-19 Vaccine Program Provider,” Jackson County Department of Public Health Deputy Director Melissa McKnight said. “This means we will receive and administer the COVID-19 vaccine once it is available in our community. I am unsure of the timeline at this time.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has promised to fast-track approval of the drugs.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases increased in Jackson County by 5.2 percent since last Tuesday.

The county currently has 70 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. That’s down from 94 last week.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department reported 1,289 cases among full-time residents, an increase of 64 cases from 1,225 a week earlier.

There have been eight deaths in Jackson County attributed to COVID-19.

The county has had 292 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 275 last week, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS on Tuesday reported 317,495 statewide cases (up from 297,442 last week) and 4,852 deaths (up from 4,660 last week) in the state.

The state number jumped from 200,000 to over 300,000 in just over two months.

Nationwide, cases numbered 11,136,253 (up from 10,036,463 last week) and deaths 246,232 (up from 237,731) as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Western Carolina University’s dashboard ( reports 36 new cases among students and two new employee case for the week of Nov. 9-15.

The dashboard showed 48 new student cases for the previous week.

Since July 1 there have been 397 cases among students, 13 among employees and five among sub-contractors.

WCU reports 127 students in self isolation/quarantine, including 12 on campus. That’s down from 195 last week.

The Jackson County Public Schools dashboard ( tracks positive cases among staff and students. There have been 19 student cases, with the only active case at Smokey Mountain Elementary School as of Wednesday morning.

Healthcare professionals at all levels have expressed concern about the upcoming holiday season.

“Anytime people get together, like they may choose to do during Thanksgiving and other holidays, poses a risk for COVID-19 transmission,” McKnight said. “To help our community make wise decisions, NCDHHS has put together guidance on ways to decrease risk during the holidays.”

The Sylva Herald published a health column on page 7A of this week’s paper by Dr. Andy Halberg of Harris Regional Hospital on the same topic.

“Additionally, we are moving into cooler, dryer months when folks tend to stay indoors more. All of these factors could cause a spike in cases,” McKnight said.

The health department carries on with its regular workload in addition to the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has absolutely put a strain on our resources (especially our staff) at the Health Department and on the medical community at large,” McKnight said. “Our staff spend countless hours on this pandemic – testing; case investigation; contact tracing; assisting businesses, child care centers, schools, colleges, and universities; answering questions and providing education; adjusting to changing recommendations and guidelines; preparing for the COVID-19 vaccine once available and much more.

“We add these activities on top of the other Health Department services that we continue to provide to our community, in a new and safer way given the pandemic,” she said. “We are honored to serve our community and will continue to do so. We will get through this together, united as a community.”