The Sylva Herald, By Dave Russell

Jackson County COVID-19 cases rose by 44 percent over the over the last week, bringing the county’s total to 115 since two cases were reported April 12.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Jackson County Department of Public Health reported 115 cases of full-time residents, and 5,017 tests reported to the agency. The county has had one reported death from COVID-19.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 80 cases of full-time residents and 3,926 tests performed.

While COVID-19 is often thought of as a disease that mainly impacts older people, the Jackson County Health Department’s website paints a different picture. Of the 115 positive tests, 72.2 percent are in people age 49 or younger. Ten local cases have been among those 17 and younger.

The county has 26 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 64,670 cases and 1,343 deaths in the state, with 910,033 tests conducted.

Nationwide, cases number 2,581,229 and deaths 126,739 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Jackson County’s cases have not originated in a cluster, such as a major outbreak in a retirement home, Deputy Health Director Melissa McKnight said.

“Most of our cases have come from general community spread as well as close contacts of those who tested positive,” McKnight said. “It is still very good advice to act like everyone has it and act accordingly – you truly just don’t know right now. Another good reason we all must wear cloth face coverings for additional protection.”

The importance of wearing masks is backed by research, she said.

McKnight pointed to three peer-reviewed studies concluding wearing masks can protect people from COVID and prevent the spread to others.

A study from a group based at the University of Cambridge in England concludes “These analyses may explain why some countries, where adoption of facemask use by the public is around 100 percent, have experienced significantly lower rates of COVID-19 spread and associated deaths.”

Backlash about wearing masks – or in some instances, claims they are actually harmful – does not come from medical professionals or other experts, McKnight said.

“I don’t know of any reputable agencies that discredit mask wearing,” she said

Gov. Roy Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen last Wednesday announced face coverings must be worn in public places where physical distancing of 6 feet is not possible.

They said North Carolina will remain in Phase II of the state re-opening plan, known as “Safer at Home,” until July 17.

COVID cases and deaths are moving in the wrong direction, causing officials to implement the pause in Phase II.

Jackson County officials are following the state’s lead.

“All persons (both employees and the general public) must wear a face covering when entering public areas in facilities housing county operations,” County Manager Don Adams said in a memo. “These requirements apply only to public spaces such as lobbies, hallways and waiting areas where members of the public may have access to and be present, but does not apply to private work spaces that are not open to the public without permission to enter.”