The Sylva Herald, by Dave Russell

Total Jackson County COVID-19 cases rose by 28 over the last week. The county currently has 21 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. That’s down from 30 last week.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department reported 669 cases among full-time residents, with 14,090 tests reported to the agency.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 641 cases of full-time residents and 12,902 tests performed.

The county has had 152 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 209,137 cases and 3,494 deaths in the state, with 3,014,780 tests conducted.

Nationwide, cases numbered 7,129,313 and deaths 204,598 as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The Jackson County Public Schools dashboard (jcpsnc.org/covid), tracks positive cases among staff and students. There are two active cases connected with Smoky Mountain High School. One is a student, and the other is a non-staff member associated with the athletic department.

Four total students cases have been reported – three at SMHS and one at Fairview Elementary School.

Western Carolina University’s dashboard (wcu.edu/coronavirus/reporting.aspx) reports eight new cases, all among students, the week of Sept. 21-27.

Last week the WCU dashboard showed four new student cases. Since July 1 there have been 122 cases among students, five among employees and five among sub-contractors.

WCU reports 72 students in self isolation/quarantine, including four on campus. The total is up from 31 last week.

Eyebrows were raised Friday when the Jackson County Department of Public Health COVID-19 Dashboard showed a doubling in deaths, from seven to 14.

The department acknowledged an error in a Facebook post on Sunday:

“We want to take a moment to provide some clarification about our most recent COVID-19 Data Dashboard update from Friday (Sept. 25). We erroneously updated the Dashboard to show that we have 14 total deaths related to COVID-19 in our community. It should read that we have seven total deaths as we thankfully have not had a new death related to COVID-19 in over a month. We made a mistake and apologize for any confusion that it has caused.”

Health officials at all levels are warning of a second wave of COVID-19 cases as the holidays see families gathering, people gathering at churches and parties, and holiday shopping.

Jackson County would not be immune.

“We may see a second surge on par with the summer or a ‘second wave,’” said Melissa McKnight, the county’s deputy health director. “This second wave could be worse than the first as it would occur during the fall/winter when people spend more time indoors therefore increasing the risk of transmission.

“We begin to see ‘waves’ or ‘spikes’ of COVID-19 after communities begin to re-open or after prevention measures are lessened. The intention behind re-opening is, while we encourage folks to resume some regular activities for a variety of reasons, we stress the importance of doing them safely while following the 3Ws. If these prevention activities are relaxed in addition to re-opening measures, COVID-19 infections will rise.”

Jackson County cases have shown the biggest increases following a holiday or other event, but in general cases have decreased since mid-summer, she said.

Case numbers are dependent on human behavior.

“If folks relax their prevention efforts, cases will increase,” McKnight said. “COVID-19 trends follow prevention measures – if we wash our hands, maintain social distance and wear face coverings in addition to following stay-at-home guidelines, infections will decrease.”

Decisions on re-opening are not easy ones to make, she said.

“We provide guidance to our leaders from a public health perspective and they use this, combined with guidance from other experts, to make re-opening decisions,” she said. “I appreciate the time and effort that our local leaders have taken to take cautious and measured steps.”

The Jackson County Department of Public Health is part of a regional communications campaign asking the community to share their reasons for practicing the 3Ws (for example, to protect their grandmother, to keep their customers safe, etc). Anyone who would like to submit a photo and quote is welcomed to do so at https://tinyurl.com/MyReasonJacksonCounty. 

Gov. Roy Cooper at a press conference last week said North Carolina would take another step toward Phase 3 in October if coronavirus cases remain stable. He also said outdoor venues seating over 10,000 could open at 7 percent capacity beginning Oct. 2. 

A news briefing was set for Wednesday afternoon to address the issue.