Can You Believe It? Penny Smith – April 19

REOPEN NC is a Facebook Group created on April 7. As of the morning of April 18 it had received nearly 3,000 likes and claimed 33,521 members. I first encountered it while reading The Daily Beast online. According to their group description, they: “are residents of North Carolina that stand for The Constitution and demand our officials Reopen NC no later than April 29, 2020 … The shutdown is not warranted, nor sustainable for our area. The vulnerable can be isolated or protected in other ways, without sacrificing our entire state economy. It’s important to note, several other states have not enacted stay at home orders.”

Megan Kendall is the individual who put up the site. To her credit and that of the site’s administrators, there are some ground rules for posting that include: “Be Kind and Courteous;” “No Hate Speech or Bullying;” “No Promotions or Spam;” and “Respect Everyone’s Privacy.” Politeness, however, is not an excuse for promoting actions that may kill someone.

Yesterday they made national news with a Reopen NC Rally in Raleigh, when approximately 100 people gathered to protest stay-at-home orders. At least one protester was arrested after refusing to obey police requests to refrain from assembling for what was deemed a “non-essential activity.”

Apparently the group is going to model the behavior of Moral Monday protests. They plan to show up in Raleigh on Tuesdays to object to the current stay-at-home, social distancing restrictions. They have also incited a number of opponents to found an opposition Facebook page, Stay Home NC, but that’s another story.

I suspect we will begin to see more of these groups around the United States as social distancing guidelines remain in effect and as the economic toll on small businesses increase. Although some of these protests originate with people who are already on the fringe (Ashley Smith of Morganton, one of the site administrators, has used social media to advance her opposition to vaccinations), they bring into play a set of individuals who were outside the Tea Party phenomenon of the Obama era. We all know how badly that movement played out, both for our state and the nation.

One can reasonably argue Tea Party grievances were grounded in xenophobia, racism and/or mounting tensions fueled by growing economic inequality and the inauguration of an African-American President. However, the pandemic economic woes are more immediate, more obvious, and more likely to hit a broader swath of the population. And they don’t have an easy villain to blame, although our President is slowly rolling out a number of options: the World Health Organization; Democrats and Democratic governors; China; immigrants, who brought in the virus and are spreading it; scientists and health experts; and Fake News, who hyped a flu outbreak into a pandemic. So, individuals who were not attracted to the Tea Party might make common cause with something like REOPEN NC when they can’t pay the rent for their shop.

Economies like ours are dependent on small businesses and, to a significant extent, tourism. Closing shops, most of whose owners do not have a comfortable cash reserve nor a bevy of lawyers to ensure they get immediate assistance from government programs, causes palpable pain. And to have them closed and travel-restricted during the coming months of high tourist season means they are unlikely to earn the money necessary to keep them alive in the leaner winter months. Combine that with the loss of the WCU and SCC student populations and we’ve got a real likelihood of local economic disaster.

The popping up of REOPEN NC reaffirms our ideological divisiveness, particularly as it relates to suspicion of government in any form. Yet, if the pandemic has proven anything, it is that there are some situations which require, for quick and effective responses, capable government action. Certainly that is not what the United States got with regard to our current situation and it is reaping the effects of likely millions of undetected coronavirus carriers abroad in the land. Many Americans prefer libertarian individualism, except when they don’t – think Social Security, good roads, clean air, all of which require a collaborative effort. Hyper-individualism does not build bridges, find vaccines, nor favorably regard a desire to promote “the general welfare.”

What that means for us is that we need to be particularly sensitive to the economic toll the pandemic has, is and will take on our local businesses. We need to be prepared to support them when they reopen and to work toward local, state and national remedies that help make them whole. 

We need to persuade voters that if we want to rebuild our country they need to turn to Democrats (note FDR after Hoover and Obama after Bush). There was never a Trump Prosperity, but only an extension of the Obama economy, until, suddenly there wasn’t. And that happened on Trump’s watch, although there is plenty of evidence that he wasn’t doing much serious watching early on. And we need to do that while affirming the wisdom of science. North Carolina’s COVID-19 spread has not been as severe as that of other states precisely because of the swift action of our Governor and the overwhelming positive response of citizens who are practicing social distancing guidelines.

Get the Facts: Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19

Jackson County, NC Last Update: March 25, 2020

How many cases of COVID-19 do we have in Jackson County?

On 3/23/2020, 1 part-time Jackson County resident tested positive for COVID-19.  To read the press release with additional information, click here.  If additional positive cases are identified in Jackson County, JCDPH will share that information here updated daily by 12:00 PM.

How do I know if I’ve been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19?

Part of JCDPH’s communicable disease investigation includes reaching out to the close contacts of persons who tested positive for a disease like COVID-19.  Therefore, if you were exposed, the Health Department will call you, assess your risk of exposure, and share additional measures you need to take (if any). It should be noted that there is evidence of community spread in North Carolina so we all should be staying home as much as possible to help slow or stop the spread of COVID-19.

Why do some county Health Departments seem to be releasing more information than our Health Department?

Jackson County is abiding by medical-privacy regulations as mandated by HIPAA and the communicable-disease law. The Institute of Government (UNC School of Government) released a blog post today discussing privacy concerns. Though written within the context of emergency responders, it contains detailed information about current legal constraints (see:  “Jackson County now has a confirmed case and we have evidence of community spread in North Carolina,” Health Director Shelley Carraway said. “In consideration of those facts, everyone should be staying home as much as possible and social distancing if you must go out anywhere. Knowing exactly where one case lives and has visited could give a false sense of security if you avoid that area alone.  While the risk is low unless you have been less than 6 feet away from the confirmed case for at least 10 minutes, the safest thing is to assume everyone has it and keep your distance.”

What does community spread mean?

Community spread occurs when a patient contracts a disease, like COVID-19, and we don’t kno/w how they contracted it, i.e. the patient did not have a travel history or a known contact with another person with COVID-19.  On March 19, North Carolina had its first case of COVID-19 from community spread.  

How many people are under investigation or monitoring in Jackson County?

To protect the privacy of our patients, we will not release information on any patients under monitoring or under investigation.  We will release information if we receive a positive case.

What should I do if I think I need to get tested for COVID-19?

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or believe that you have been exposed to COVID-19, you may need to seek medical attention. Call JCDPH or your primary care provider. Describe your symptoms and how you may have been exposed to the virus. JCDPH or your primary care provider will tell you what steps to take next. In the event of an emergency, call 911.  It is very important that you CALL FIRST so that you do not accidentally expose others to the virus.

Can I get tested for COVID-19 at JCDPH?

Yes.  We can test patients for COVID-19 if they meet the current criteria and have a doctor’s order (just like any other lab order).  Tell your healthcare provider to call us first so that we can be prepared.  Bring the doctor’s order with you or have your provider fax it to us. 

Where else can I get tested for COVID-19 in Jackson County?

Some commercial labs are now also conducting tests.  JCDPH recommends that primary care providers follow the current criteria to guide decisions on testing but providers are able to order COVID-19 testing for individuals as they see fit.  If you don’t have a primary care provider or don’t know where to go, call JCDPH and we can help you make an informed decision.

How many COVID-19 tests are available in Jackson County?

Since our local healthcare providers can order tests for COVID-19 through commercial labs, the Health Department is unable to track how many tests are being ordered in Jackson County.  Healthcare providers can order COVID-19 testing based on their clinical discretion. The Health Department is notified of the results of all COVID-19 tests ordered and will follow up with positive cases.  To protect the privacy of those who have been tested, the Health Department will not release any information about these patients. The Health Department will share information when we receive information about a positive case.

Do I need to wear a mask?

It is not recommended that healthy people wear masks.  Masks should be worn by those who are sick or healthcare providers caring for those who are sick.

What is social distancing?  Should I be doing it?

Social distancing means keeping as much space between you and other people as possible as well as avoiding gathering in crowded public places to help slow or stop the spread of disease.  Now that we have evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina, everyone should be staying home as much as possible and social distancing if you must go out. 

I’ve heard a lot about taking precautions if at a higher risk for severe illness.  But what about the rest of us? What about children?

Those who are 65+ years, people living in a nursing home or long-term care facility, and people with other high risk conditions should be taking extra precautions because they are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.  However, this does not mean that everyone else is not at risk for illness. The entire community can still contract COVID-19 but their symptoms may not be as severe.  Regardless, we want everyone to stay home as much as possible and socially distance if they must go out to prevent spreading the virus especially to those in our community who may be vulnerable.  

How can we support our local businesses and economy while practicing social distancing?

To slow and stop the spread of COVID-19 as well as not overload our healthcare system, everyone should be staying home as much as possible and social distancing if they must go out.  We know that local businesses may suffer as a result. Here are some ideas you can consider to still support local business while social distancing– consider purchasing from local businesses online, buy gift cards that can be used at a later time, or go through the drive thru or pick up orders at restaurants. 

How should we talk to kids about COVID-19?  It’s confusing enough for adults.

The sheer amount of information available about COVID-19 can be overwhelming for adults, let alone kids.  If you are looking for ways to explain what is going on to your kids, consider the following: 1) share age appropriate facts and correct misinformation, 2) reassure them that they are safe, and 3) emphasize things that you as a family can do to prevent the spread of illness.  Check out this great article from PBS Kids for Parents or this CDC Guide that helps guide difficult conversations like these.

Where can I find information on the Executive Orders from the NC Governor?

All of the Executive Orders can be found here.

Is COVID-19 just like the flu?

While COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms (fever, shortness of breath, and coughing), there are many differences that we should note.  COVID-19 is a new virus so little is known about it. Since it is new to humans, no one has immunity to it and there is no vaccine at this time.  We can’t accurately predict the morbidity or mortality of it and it’s hard to plan for the implications COVID-19 will have on our healthcare system.  On the other hand, the flu is not new and there are decades of research on it. We have a sense of certainty about the seasonality of the flu and are able to make educated predictions on the morbidity and mortality of it.   We all should be social distancing as much as possible to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19. We should be considering those who are more vulnerable to severe complications. And we should be concerned about not stressing our healthcare system so it can continue to care for our community.

Why doesn’t Jackson County close its borders like Graham County and Qualla Boundary?

The current assessment is that the logistics of closing major highways and roads and the subsequent manpower drain would overwhelm current county resources.  Jackson County is a highway/traffic crossroads for the other westernmost counties and Qualla Boundary. Resident pass-through, trucking of supplies and food, all transport must continue to flow. We cannot stop traffic or create traffic bottlenecks that prevent or hinder the abilities of our neighboring counties – and states – to provide for their residents.  Graham County is smaller and more isolated than Jackson. It does not have the same logistical issues. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a sovereign nation, with powers comparable to the federal government. The tribe has blocked secondary roads using concrete barriers. Jackson County cannot legally do the same.

I’m on the road and traveling. Can I drive through Jackson County?


Who decides which businesses must close?

Gov. Roy Cooper ordered certain businesses to close beginning March 25 (see: Jackson County on Monday elected to close additional ones on a local level to add protection (see: and click on State of Emergency at the bottom of the page for a list).  Short-term rentals of less than a month are not allowed starting Wednesday at 5 p.m.; however, the restriction does not apply if you are working in the area, staying for emergency shelter or the housing is for COVID-19 medical-response personnel.

Jackson County leaders fully understand this decision brings further financial hardships to the hard-hit tourism industry, a critical component of the local economy.  “The action was not taken without extensive discussion and deliberation,” acting Jackson County Manager Heather Baker said. “However, we believe this is a critical step in helping to curb continued spread of COVID-19.”

How can I volunteer to help?

We are setting up a system to involve volunteers in the local COVID-19 response. We’ll release details as soon as possible.

What about domestic-violence victims? 

Care for victims of domestic violence will not stop; shelter needs will continue to be met in the same way – shelter has been provided and is not prohibited by these restrictions. 

How can I get WIC benefits right now?

The Jackson County WIC Program is open during this state of emergency. While the office is closed to the public, the WIC staff has the ability to serve families over the telephone so there is not a disruption to benefits. If you are a current WIC family, or you would like to enroll in WIC, please call 828-587-8243 for assistance.