By Dave Russell, Sylva Herald

COVID-19, commonly called the coronavirus, has made its first known appearance in Jackson County. COVID-19 is a sometimes-fatal disease identified in late 2019 and declared a pandemic on March 11. 

As of Wednesday morning, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 504 cases and no deaths. Nationwide, cases number 44,183 and deaths 544 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Macon County Public Health was notified of the local case Sunday when the patient was admitted to Highlands-Cashiers Hospital.

“The patient is a resident of Maryland and traveled to their secondary residence in Jackson County, where they became ill, and then went to HCH’s emergency room for care,” MCPH said in a release. The Jackson County Department of Public Health was immediately notified of the positive results.

According to MCPH, the patient has been transported to Mission Hospital in Asheville.

The Jackson County Department of Public Health is working with other health officials to identify people who came in close contact with the patient. The CDC defines close contact as within approximately 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for 10 minutes or longer.

Based on information provided by the patient, health officials said they would reach out to close contacts, assess their risk of exposure and determine if they need to take any additional measures. The household members of the patient are in self-quarantine in Jackson County.

Since the patient is a part-time resident of Jackson County, the case will be identified as a Maryland case, not as a Jackson County case, according to the Macon County Public Health statement.

The number of positive cases in Jackson County will be updated daily by noon on JCDPH’s website at

Jackson County Emergency Management has set up a helpline at 631-HELP.

“Now that we have community transmission in North Carolina, we are in the mitigation phase,” Health Department Director Shelley Carraway said. “As a community, we should be staying home as much as possible to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Carraway said during the investigation stage of this pandemic, testing was of utmost importance. 

Potential patients can be screened and tested at the Health Department and by their primary care physicians.

Mountain Park Urgent Care & Walk-in Clinic in Sylva has administered between 15 and 25 tests for the virus, Contract Administrator John Miller said. The new business, at 90 E. Main Street, offers drive-up testing.

“We’re seeing all patients outside,” he said. “We don’t know, and a lot of people don’t know, what they’ve got. Sinus issues come in and they have the trifecta – the coughing, the shortness of breath and the high fever – and then we have to rule out strep and flu. So out of an abundance of caution to everybody involved, including us, we’re seeing all patients outside.”

Patients are asked to call when they arrive and have a phone assessment.

Harris Regional Hospital has been preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have implemented a few precautionary measures to protect our patients, staff and community including rescheduling elective and non-urgent surgeries and outpatient services for at least 30 days,” said Steve Heatherly, HRH president and CEO. “We continue to enforce our zero-visitor policy. An important element to our preparedness is minimizing the risk of exposure in any way we can as we navigate this rapidly evolving situation and prepare for what the next few weeks may hold.”