By Dave Russell
Jackson County on Monday saw its biggest increase in reported COVID-19 case since the pandemic began, with 95 cases reported to the health department. The previous highest spike was 47 on Oct. 26. On Tuesday, 49 more cases were reported to the agency.
“The cases are related to three outbreaks at long-term care facilities or assisted living facilities, family and social gatherings around the holiday, and general community spread,” said Melissa McKnight, deputy director of the Jackson County Department of Public Health.
Three of the four long-term care facilities in the Sylva area have now reported COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Jackson County Department of Public Health on Monday reported an outbreak at Vero Health and Rehab, a 106-bed skilled nursing center in Webster.
As of Tuesday, Vero reported four positive cases among staff and 14 residents. Skyland Care Center reported 15 staff and 24 resident cases. The Hermitage reported 14 staff cases and 46 resident cases.
Morningstar Assisted Living stands as the lone holdout.
The N.C. Division of Public Health (NCDPH) defines an outbreak in a long-term care setting, like a skilled nursing facility, as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 within two incubation periods (28 days) in the same facility.
All the positive individuals at Vero are following isolation orders as appropriate, the health department said.
“The positive cases at Skyland and The Hermitage are as well,” McKnight said. “We are working with the administrators at all facilities on almost a daily basis to discuss cases, scenarios and troubleshoot with their staff and residents’ best interest in mind.”
Once the first positive cases were identified, Vero coordinated with JCDPH to determine next steps. Positive cases were immediately isolated, in-person visitation was halted, mandatory testing of staff continued and all residents were tested. Residents will continue to be monitored for symptoms and re-tested as appropriate. JCDPH is working to identify any additional close contacts of the victims.
Cases increased in Jackson County by 12.8 percent since last Tuesday.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department reported 1,613 total cases among full-time residents, an increase of 183 cases from 1,430 a week earlier.
The county currently has 174 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. There were 60 last week.
The county has had 358 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 321 last week, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
DHHS on Tuesday reported 404,032 statewide cases (up from 367,395 last week) and 5,605 deaths (up from 5,284 last week) in the state.
Nationwide, cases numbered 14,823,129 (up from 13,447,627 last week) and deaths 282,785 (up from 267,302) 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 32 student cases, with 11 active as of Wednesday morning. The active cases are at Cullowhee Valley Elementary School (three), Scotts Creek Elementary School (three), Fairview Elementary School (two), Smoky Mountain High School (two) and Jackson County Early College (one). There is one active staff cases at the central office.
The health department ran a survey from Nov. 17 through Dec. 4 to gauge community interest in the COVID-19 vaccines. The survey garnered 1,266 responses, and the results will be used in vaccination planning.
Asked when they might get a COVID vaccine, 46.86 of respondents said as soon as it is available. Others want to wait – 14 percent within six months and 6.75 percent said 6-12 months after availability. 9.21 percent are not interested in getting a vaccine.
Of those not interested, 38.44 percent say it is because of safety concerns about the vaccine.
FDA approval would make 72.3 percent of respondents more comfortable with it; hearing from national public health leaders like Dr. Anthony Fauci, would help 56.2 percent. Hearing from local health officials and doctors would make about 47 percent more comfortable, and more information and trials would reassure 56.53 percent.
For the most part, respondents already have their flu vaccine, with 81.34 either having already rolled up their sleeve or planning to soon. Some 3.49 percent have concerns about the safety of the flu vaccine.
Almost half the respondents were from Sylva or Cullowhee, and 67.46 percent identify as female. Asked if they believed COVID-19 is a serious virus, 76.26 percent strongly agreed, while about 1 percent strongly disagreed.
Mask wearing met with strong approval from 73.95 percent.
Faith in the federal government providing a safe and effective vaccine was shaky. Strongly agreeing were 23.01 percent, agreeing were 35.43 percent and neither agreeing nor disagreeing were 23.35 percent. About 5 percent of respondents strongly disagreed.