The Sylva Herald, By Dave Russell

Jackson County COVID-19 cases rose by 9.6 percent over the last week. That’s down from an almost 40 percent jump a month ago but up from a 3 percent increase last week.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Jackson County Department of Public Health reported 525 cases of full-time residents, with 10,532 tests reported to the agency.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 479 cases of full-time residents and 9,965 tests performed.

Jackson County currently has 45 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. That’s up from 18 last week.

The county has 109 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 157,741 cases and 2,570 deaths in the state, with 2,102,359 tests conducted.

Nationwide, cases numbered 5,715,567 and deaths 176,617 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Jackson County Public Schools has set up a dashboard to relay information about COVID-19 in the school system. Available at www.jcpsnc.org/covid, it tracks positive cases among staff (currently zero) and students (currently one). The student cases are broken down by school. The only case is at Smoky Mountain High School as of Tuesday afternoon. 

That student is in isolation, Assistant School Superintendent Jake Buchanan said. 

“We’re following all the CDC and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for when students test positive, which is essentially 14 days isolation and they have to meet other criteria to be able to return,” he said 

The student was tested outside of school, and the case was immediately reported to the health department, which did contact tracing. 

The student was on campus for just a part of Monday, Aug. 17, and did not attend school for the rest of the week, Buchanan said. 

“At this time the health department has made no recommendations for other quarantines related to this case,” he said.

Families of SMHS students who had close contact with the positive case have been notified, according to Human Resources Director Kevin Bailey.

Western Carolina University has updated its online COVID-19 dashboard to include additional information about testing, positivity rates, isolation and quarantine.

In addition to a daily count for new positive cases and a cumulative count of cases going back to July 1, the updated dashboard includes a weekly count of new confirmed positive cases, information about the number of tests administered and a weekly positivity rate. The revamped dashboard includes cases involving subcontractors (in addition to employees and students). The site also has a section providing information about the number of isolation or quarantine spaces in use.

The dashboard, found at www.wcu.edu/coronavirus/reporting.aspx, reports 58 student cases since July 1. The count jumped 10 cases from Monday to Tuesday of this week, and three more were added Wednesday morning.

Of 55 beds on campus reserved for isolation/quarantine, 21 are in use. An additional 85 students are in self-isolation/quarantine off campus bringing the total to 106.

Chancellor Kelli Brown sent an email to the WCU community admonishing students to adhere to the requirements of the Catamounts Care campaign, specifically large gatherings such as parties. 

“While I have observed many of you doing a good job adhering to our community standards of wearing face coverings and washing or sanitizing your hands while on campus, it is on this last point – avoiding large gatherings and parties – where I am concerned,” she wrote. 

“You already are well aware of what I mean. Our neighbors across Jackson County and beyond are expressing their worries about behavior that may lead to further spread of COVID-19.”

Jackson County Department of Public Health Deputy Director Melissa McKnight expects cases to continue to climb.

“We do anticipate an increase in cases as more people come into our community,” McKnight said. 

Parties and other gatherings are part of the problem, she said.

“When we congregate in groups, in close proximity to one another, the virus is more likely to spread,” McKnight said. “We can slow (and potentially even stop) the spread of the virus if we continue to physically distance ourselves from one another.” 

The Jackson County Department of Public Health COVID-19 Dashboard can be found by going to http://health.jacksonnc.org/ and clicking on the COVID response button.