The Sylva Herald, written by Dave Russell

Masks, social distancing, hand-washing and sanitizer will continue to be the “new normal” as the COVID-19 pandemic refuses to go away. It’s getting stronger across the United States, North Carolina and Jackson County.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Jackson County Department of Public Health reported 80 cases of full-time residents, and 3,926 tests reported to the agency. The county has had one reported death from COVID-19.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 61 cases of full-time residents and 2,156 tests performed.

The county has 18 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 54,453 cases and 1,251 deaths in the state, with 773,828 tests conducted.

Nationwide, cases number 2,302,288 and deaths 120,333 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The Jackson County Department of Public Health and Jackson County GIS Department on Monday launched the Jackson County COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

The Dashboard, updated each weekday, will show:

• Total positive cases.

• Positive cases by date reported.

• Positive cases in isolation.

• Positive cases by age group.

• Positive cases by race.

• Positive cases by ethnicity.

• Positive cases by gender.

• Total deaths.

• Total tests reported to JCDPH.

New data may be added as it is vetted and as reliable data become available.

“We hope that this additional data will help our community not only learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic in Jackson County in general but also make informed decisions,” Health Director Shelley Carraway said.

Previous data reports shared by JCDPH showed positive cases and deaths in full-time residents, part-time residents and non-residents that were tested at a healthcare provider in Jackson County. The new Dashboard will focus solely on full-time residents.

“While we will continue to collaborate on the investigation of all positive cases of COVID-19 reported to our Health Department, we will refer part-time and non-resident cases to their Health Department of residency for contact tracing and case management,” Nursing Director Gretta Phillips said. “We have and will continue to be fully involved in clusters or outbreaks on worksites, long-term care facilities and more in Jackson County.”

The Jackson County COVID-19 Data Dashboard will replace all previous data reports. It is now available at For questions, call 586-8994.

SCC case reported

Southwestern Community College officials confirmed Saturday that a student had tested positive for COVID-19, the first case involving a student or employee at the college. The student was last on campus Monday, June 15. SCC officials are working with health department officials to locate anyone who may have come into contact with the individual.

All employees and students determined to have come into contact with the student have been notified and urged to get tested.

College administrators were made aware after 5 p.m. Friday of the diagnosis directly by the student and informed all students and employees via texts, calls and emails later that evening.

Due to federal privacy laws, no information about the individual can be released at this time.

SCC officials urge anyone who was on campus on Monday, June 15, and is experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath, etc.) to isolate and contact a healthcare provider immediately.

Friday evening, housekeeping crews thoroughly cleaned and disinfected all locations where the student reported having visited.

Waiting on the governor

Gov. Roy Cooper was expected this week to announce a decision on moving the state into Phase III of his re-opening plan, but had not done so by press time.

The Jackson County Department of Public Health is eagerly awaiting Cooper’s announcement, Deputy Health Director Melissa McKnight said.

“If the governor does decide to move forward, we will continue to remind our community that we are still in the midst of a pandemic,” she said. “It is so very important that we continue to make decisions that are in not only our individual best interest but also in the interest of our community at large.

“While your individual risk of severe illness from COVID-19 may be low, you should consider the risk of those around you and take steps to keep them safe.”

Moving into the next phase would be safer if people were more conscientious, McKnight said.

“Acting conscientiously would mean not going out or to work when you are sick, wearing a cloth face covering, waiting 6 feet apart from others and washing your hands,” she said. “I fully understand that many in our community are frustrated and ready to get back to normal – we need to remember (or realize) that this is and will be our normal for the foreseeable future.

“It’s not about ‘living in fear,’ rather it’s about caring for yourself and those in your community.”

Rumors made the rounds that Cooper would mandate masks, like leaders of municipalities across the country and a number of states, McKnight said.

“We shouldn’t have to be mandated to do this, rather we should do it out of a courtesy to others,” she said.

Warm weather may or may not help flatten the infection curve, she said.

“While some viruses like the flu spread more in the winter, it is still possible to become sick with them in warmer months,” McKnight said. “Right now, we don’t know enough about COVID-19 to say that it will decrease as the weather continues to warm. We all must continue to follow protective measures.”

EBCI records first death

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed announced mandatory mask-wearing for public spaces on the Qualla Boundary beginning 5 p.m. Friday. The tribe has reported its first COVID-19 death.