The Sylva Herald, By Dave Russell

The Jackson County Department of Public Health reported Monday the death of a fourth county resident related to COVID-19.

The individual was between the ages of 65-74 with underlying health conditions. The health department investigated the death and confirmed that COVID-19 was a contributing factor.

Jackson County COVID-19 cases rose by 13 percent over the last week. That’s down from 22 percent a week ago and around 40 percent the previous two weeks.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department reported 425  cases of full-time residents and 8,678 tests reported to the agency.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 376 cases of full-time residents and 8,203 tests performed.

The county has 94 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 128,161 cases and 2010 deaths in the state, with 1,854,026 tests conducted.

Nationwide, cases number 4,698,818 and deaths 155,204 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Jackson County currently has 36 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. Last week there were 71 in isolation.

Misinformation about COVID-19 abounds, said Melissa McKnight, deputy health director at JCDPH.

“We are inundated with information from so many sources who are touting themselves to be reputable, accurate and timely,” McKnight said. “The World Health Organization director (Tedros Ghebreyesu) put it best when he said ‘We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an infodemic.’”

Relying on science and experts such as the CDC and WHO is more important than ever in guiding decision-making, she said. 

Hydroxychloroquine, touted in some corners, including President Donald Trump, as effective in fighting COVID-19, has made headlines lately. It has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as effective for the treatment of COVID-19. 

“I have not seen any scientific proof that hydroxychloroquine works as a treatment or prevention for COVID-19,” McKnight said. “The FDA revoked the emergency use authorization to use this drug to treat COVID-19 on June 15, based on the results from a large, randomized clinical trial in hospitalized patients that found that this medicine showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery.” 

Fighting COVID-19 should have galvanized the country to fight it, but instead has become political, McKnight said.

“I am saddened when a public health crisis such as this becomes political,” she said. “I truly believe that many in our community, state and nation are working day and night on this pandemic. People are working to prevent those from getting COVID-19, identify those who have COVID-19, toward a treatment and trying to find a vaccine. It’s hard and often thankless work. I know many are working their hardest because they care about their patients, they want to save lives, and they want to get back to normal.”

Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week that restaurants had to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m., a move McKnight applauds.

“I am supportive of anything right now that builds an environment that supports positive behaviors and wise decision-making,” she said. “If (stopping alcohol sales) early means fewer people will be congregating – or even congregating for a shorter period of time – and fewer people will be making decisions that may not be in their best interest, I am all for it.”

McKnight reiterated what she has said all along about controlling the virus.

“It’s those basic public health tools of washing your hands, waiting 6 feet apart and wearing a cloth face covering,” she said. “We’ve been talking about this for months now. We all just need to keep doing it no matter how hard it may seem. And we need to build a community that supports these behaviors.”