The Sylva Herald, by Dave Russell

Western Carolina University reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 over the last week. The bump contributed to a 7.6 percent increase in Jackson County from last week. The county currently has 66 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection. That’s up from 50 last week.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department reported 779 cases among full-time residents, with 15,957 tests reported to the agency.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 720 cases of full-time residents and 15,175 tests performed.

The county has had 177 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 234,481 cases and 3,816 deaths in the state, with 3,437,598 tests conducted.

Nationwide, cases numbered 7,787,548 and deaths 214,446 as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Western Carolina University’s dashboard (wcu.edu/coronavirus/reporting.aspx) reports 30 new cases – 28 students and two employees – the week of Oct. 5-Oct. 11.

The WCU dashboard showed 11 new student cases the previous week.

Since July 1 there have been 163 cases among students, seven among employees and five among sub-contractors.

WCU reports 93 students in self isolation/quarantine, including 12 on campus. The total is down one from 94 last week.

The Jackson County Public Schools dashboard (jcpsnc.org/covid), tracks positive cases among staff and students. There have been six student cases, with two active as of Wednesday morning. Four of the cases have been among Smoky Mountain High School students, with one active case. There is also an active case at Smokey Mountain Elementary School. The other case was a Fairview Elementary School student.

School staffer infected

Jackson County Public Schools on Tuesday reported its first staff case.

“It was a part-time instructor who lives outside the county,” Assistant Superintendent Jake Buchanan said.

Three students – two at Smoky Mountain High School and one at Jackson County Early College – are in isolation due to contact with the staff member, he said.

“I think that brings our total to six students and one and a half employees, and neither of them have been full-time employees for us, so we are happy and satisfied with the low numbers, but we know we have to continue to monitor it,” acting Superintendent Tony Tipton said.

“Everyone is taking it seriously,” Buchanan said. “We didn’t expect it to go this well, knock on wood.”

Restaurant closed 

Kostas Express Restaurant in Dillsboro announced Sunday that COVID had affected the eatery.

“We have decided to close Kostas for a week,” owner Dean Christopoulos wrote on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “We have had three employees test positive for the virus while not being here at work. We have advised all employees to get tested this upcoming week although not one person has showed any symptoms. During this down time we will sanitize the establishment very intensively as we have been since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We are and have been striving to do everything we can during this time to keep our employees and customers safe. Thank you for your understanding and be safe and wear your masks and avoid contact.”

Phase III

“We have seen an uptick in our cases of COVID-19 in the past week,” said Melissa McKnight, deputy director of the Jackson County Department of Public Health. “I worry that, as we are eight-plus months into our response, that many in our community are tired of the preventative measures that we have been working so hard to implement. They miss seeing their friends, family members and loved ones, and they miss doing the things they used to enjoy.”

Moving the state into Phase III does not make COVID-19 any less real or present in our community, she said.

“Anytime you attend gatherings where you are around others, the potential for exposure exists,” McKnight said. “We are seeing more and more cases that occur among those who attended gatherings with family and friends. I try to reiterate to people that, just because you are allowed to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. We all need to assess our personal risk as well as make sure we still take protective measures if we choose to participate in activities where we could be exposed to COVID-19.”

The state moved into Phase III on Oct. 2.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines, recommending that churches:

• Limit in-person worship when possible and provide an option for virtual services.

• Conduct the worship service outside, if possible.

• Limit occupancy to 100 people per room or 30 percent of stated fire capacity, whichever is less (If there is not a fire capacity number for the room, limit occupancy to 100 people, or 7 people per 1,000 square feet, whichever is less.)

• Ensure sufficient social distancing with at least 6-foot separation between groups other than those in their household.

“I have worked with some places of worship,” McKnight said. “We sent the toolkit as well as a summary graphic to some local church leaders so that they could be equipped to keep their congregations safer during this pandemic. We have also shared the graphic on our social media in hopes that it reaches other religious organizations that we may not have connected with directly.”