Julie Creason, Scott Fisher, Kimberly Tinklepaugh and Gretta Phillips of the Jackson County Department of Public Health operate the COVID-19 testing station Tuesday at the health department. The clinic is offered each Tuesdays from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., weather permitting. Those being tested will be asked to wear a cloth face covering and stay in their cars for verification, ID check and testing. Appointments are required. To make an appointment or for more information, call 586-8994. For additional testing site options, visit Find My Testing Place at www.ncdhhs.gov/TestingPlace. This website allows people to enter their county or zip code for a list of nearby testing site locations.

The Sylva Herald, By Dave Russell

Jackson County COVID-19 cases rose by 41.3 percent over the last week.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Jackson County Department of Public Health reported 308 cases of full-time residents and 7,416 tests reported to the agency. The county has had three deaths from COVID-19.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 218 cases of full-time residents and 6,628 tests performed.

The county has 68 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 102,861 cases and 1,668 deaths in the state, with 1,458,997 tests conducted.

Nationwide, cases number 3,819,139 and deaths 140,630 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Jackson County currently has 78 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection.

Area businesses impacted

Skyland Care Center announced the retirement home has had nine employees and two residents test positive for COVID-19.

The Jackson County Department of Public Health identified the cases as an outbreak. The N.C. Division of Public Health defines an outbreak in a long-term care setting as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 within two incubation periods (28 days) in the same facility.

All positive employees are following isolation orders, the JCDPH said in a release. The investigation is ongoing. 

JCDPH and other local health departments are working to identify any additional close contacts of the Skyland employees. 

Upon notification of the first positive case, Skyland worked with the health department to determine next steps. When more cases were discovered, Skyland ordered testing for all additional employees and residents. Testing was completed by July 16; results are pending.

Bogart’s Restaurant announced on Facebook Saturday that an employee had tested positive. The employee had not worked in the restaurant since July 10. 

“We have decided to close until all employees have been tested and results return and we have enough staff to open,” the post stated. 

Just up Asheville Highway in the East Sylva Shopping Center, Colima Mexican Restaurant closed Saturday as a precaution.

“As of right now none of our staff has any symptoms or anything of that sort but we have decided to jump the gun and go ahead and test everyone regardless,” they said in a Facebook post. 

The earliest the eatery might open would be Friday. 

Restaurants that closed due to employees testing positive for COVID-19 but that have since reopened include Speedy’s, Ferrara’s and South of Philly.

Eastern Band affected

The health department and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Public Health and Human Services have identified a COVID-19 cluster of employees in the table games section at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. The investigation is ongoing, but the casino remains open. 

Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian Principal Chief Richard Sneed announced Monday that the Qualla Boundary Headstart & Early-Headstart received notification that a student tested positive for COVID-19. The center was closed immediately.

“Out of an abundance of caution and to protect the health of our children, staff and community, members the childcare centers were closed to give the program time to do the proper sanitizing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which cannot be done with children in the building,” he said.

Youth cases increasing

Area restaurants and other businesses have been good about closing voluntarily, but the health department could step in and order a closure, Deputy Health Director Melissa McKnight said.

“If a health director determines that an imminent hazard exists at a business, they may order that the business abate the imminent hazard,” she said. “An imminent hazard means a situation that is likely to cause an immediate threat to human life, an immediate threat of serious physical injury, an immediate threat of serious adverse health effects, or a serious risk of irreparable damage to the environment if no immediate action is taken.”

NCDHHS issued an abatement order requiring ACE Speedway in Elon to immediately close their facility and halt operations because the speedway’s actions constituted an imminent hazard for the spread of COVID-19, she said.

The percentage of younger people contracting COVID-19 is increasing, McKnight said.

The health department’s Data Dashboard shows that 112 out of 308 cases are in those age 25 and 107 of the cases are in those 25-49 years old.

“These age groups are more likely to be working and therefore being exposed to COVID-19, these age groups feel less vulnerable and may not be taking appropriate precautions, or these age groups have employers that are requiring them to get tested, etc.,” McKnight said.

The wave of retail stores requiring customers to wear masks “is wonderful,” she said.

“I truly believe that wearing masks will slow the spread of COVID-19 and help us get back to some sort of normal. Wearing masks, paired with social distancing and handwashing, are our best tools against this virus.”