The Sylva Herald, by Dave Russell

Nine more cases of COVID-19 in full-time residents of Jackson County have been reported over the last week.

As of Tuesday, the Jackson County Department of Public Health reported 36 cases of full-time residents, two cases in part-time residents and 1,504 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 27 cases of full-time residents, two cases in part-time residents and 1,292 tests performed.

The county has eight cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 29,889 cases and 921 deaths in the state, with 434,921 tests conducted. The virus is present in all 100 North Carolina counties.

Nationwide, cases number 1,802,470 and deaths 105,157 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

When a positive case is reported to the Jackson County Department of Public Health, staff spring into action to track down where the patient has been, Deputy Director Melissa McKnight said.

“Thorough and sensitive contact tracing takes trained and experienced staff,” she said. “With that in mind, contract tracing is led by our communicable disease nurse, nursing director and other public health nursing staff. We may train other public health staff to assist when needed.”

Contract tracing is based on identifying people who may have been around the positive case.

“We focus on finding these close contacts who have been within 6 feet of a positive case for greater than 10 minutes during the positive case’s infectious period (48 hours before onset of symptoms until isolation),” McKnight said. “Our nurses work with the positive case to identify the close contacts and reach out to them individually. If, during our investigation, the positive case is unable to name all of their close contacts either at their workplace, a restaurant they went to, or other business that they frequented, we would work with that business to recommend testing on a larger scale.”

This is similar to what occurred during a WCU construction site cluster at the Tom Apodaca Sciences building in late April-early May.

“Our recommendations are based on a positive case coming into close contact (6 feet) with others for an extended period of time (greater than 10 minutes)” McKnight said. “Simply walking by someone in the grocery store does not necessarily increase your chances of contracting COVID-19, especially when both of you are wearing cloth face coverings and maintaining 6 feet from each other.”

McKnight can’t stress enough that businesses continue to follow rigorous cleaning and disinfecting guidance. Paired with other recommendations like screening employees, frequent handwashing, encouraging the use of cloth face masks, promoting social distancing, and more will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the community, she said.

“And, as individuals, we too have a responsibility to be following public health recommendations,” McKnight said. “The three Ws – wash your hands, wait 6 feet, and wear a cloth face covering – remain our best tools at preventing this virus at this time.”