The Sylva Herald, By Dave Russell

Two more cases of COVID-19 in full-time residents of Jackson County have been reported.

As of Tuesday, the Jackson County Department of Public Health reported 27 cases of full-time residents, two cases in part-time residents and 1,292 tests performed. There were 22 positive tests among out-of-county residents who were tested here. 

The county has had one reported death from COVID-19.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 25 cases of full-time residents, two cases in part-time residents and 1,212 tests performed.

The county has six cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 24,140 cases and 766 deaths in the state, with 352,331 tests conducted. The virus is present in all 100 North Carolina counties.

Nationwide, cases number 1,662,414 and deaths 98,261 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Meanwhile, the state is slowly returning to a long-lost sense of normalcy.

Gov. Roy Cooper last week in a news conference announced Phase II of the state re-opening plan, called “Safer At Home,” which began Friday at 5 p.m.

Indoor gatherings remain limited to 10 people, but outdoor gatherings can number 25 at a time.

Restaurants opened with limited capacity.

Still, the governor urged caution. 

“Just because you can go more places doesn’t mean you always should,” Cooper said.

A federal court on May 16 ruled religious worship is exempt from Cooper’s measures to limit gatherings.

“I hope congregations and leaders throughout North Carolina will think twice about what they are doing and look at these recommendations and follow them for the health and the safety of their members,” Cooper said.

Phase II might be the way forward for at least the next month.

“We want to look at this timeline and look at the numbers over five weeks,” he said. “We want very much to be able to start school in August.”

What remains closed in Phase II: 

• Gyms and indoor fitness facilities (cycling, martial arts, yoga, etc.).

• Indoor entertainment venues (movie theaters, bowling alleys, bingo parlors, gaming facilities, etc.).

• Museums.

• Amusement parks.

• Public playgrounds.

• Bars and nightclubs.

“As we move into the next phase of the global pandemic that has touched all of us, it is so important that our shared sacrifices be not in vain,” said Dr. Ben Guiney, a Harris Hospital ER doctor and Sylva town board member. “We have been able to slow the virus, but it remains a smoldering threat.”

This is a time when the community needs everyone working together more than ever, he said.

“We are now at the point where we are able to try to get to a new normal that keeps us all safe while helping our local businesses try to recover,” Guiney said. “In order for us to find the balance between safety and prosperity we have to be safe, we have to protect each other. Preventing people from getting sick is the best treatment by far. This virus spreads even when someone is not sick. Wearing a mask, washing hands and physical distancing are actions that work to prevent viral spread that as a community makes a huge difference in keeping all of us healthy and all of us getting through this together.”

Restrictions are loosening, but that does not mean the danger is over, Jackson County Department of Public Health Deputy Director Melissa McKnight said.

“North Carolina has been mindful in re-opening incrementally, taking precautions to keep our community safe while educating our business owners on how to operate in this new normal,” she said. “Jackson County business owners have been very receptive and have been taking steps to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19.”

She echoed Gov. Cooper’s statement: “We still must be careful and consider ‘Just because I can do something now doesn’t mean I should.’”