Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
As of Tuesday evening, the number of Macon County residents diagnosed with COVID 19 was 95 cases. With two clusters of positive cases in the county, Macon County Public Health (MCPH) held a press conference on Friday to provide information to the community.
Macon County Public Health Director Kathy McGaha began the press conference with some numbers.
“Over the last 48 hours, we have had a total of 42 positive cases identified in Macon County. We had 27 Thursday and we’ve had 15 more today (Friday). We are very confident that the Coronavirus is spreading through the community. We are now have community spread in Macon County, as is most of the state and country.”
According to North Carolina General Statute regarding information released surrounding communicable diseases, a place of employment or organization can be identified for the public in the event that a “cluster” is identified. A cluster is defined as five or more individuals – which is why MCPH was able to identify a local church, which has resulted in several dozen positive cases. Members of the church worked at Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, and because more than five (a total of six at last count) were positive, a second cluster was identified at Old Edwards Inn.
Additionally, MCPH confirmed on Friday that three employees at Walmart had tested positive for COVID19, leading the store to take additional safety precautions.
As of Tuesday evening, the total number of positive cases in Macon County was 95, 82 of which are currently active with 12 individuals having recovered and one death. The health department has conducted a total of 1,062 tests, however the total number of tests completed for Macon County is 1,395, which includes tests by area health facilities, hospitals, and private practices, with 253 cases pending.
The majority of the positive cases currently identified in Macon County have been found through contract tracing, which means that individuals being tested had come in contact with someone else who was found to be positive. While the majority of cases are due to contract cases, a handful of confirmed cases have no known origin, which is why McGaha confirmed Community Spread in Macon County on Friday.
Compared to the other 100 counties in North Carolina, Macon County is in the middle in terms of case count. According to the Department of Health and Human Services website – 74 cases and 1 death are reported for the Franklin zip code, nine for the Highlands zip code, and one for Otto.
Macon County Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe spoke during Friday’s press conference and assured the community that the county is prepared for the increase in numbers.
“Obviously, it’s a little surprising for folks to see that increase in numbers this week, but it’s not necessarily surprising to us. We had an extremely low positive case count for a long time and we knew that when the amount of tests started going up, we would see those numbers go up,” said Cabe. “So, it’s not unexpected to some degree, it’s a little surprising that it happened so quickly, but it’s not necessarily unexpected. So we are prepared to deal with the circumstances, and we do have some processes in place to manage this situation.”
Persons who think they may have been exposed to the Coronavirus from either of the clusters, call the Macon County Health Department at (828)349-2517 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
MCPH’s most frequently asked questions
When does Macon County Public Health release the name of a workplace, educational, and other community settings?
Macon County Public Health will publicly report and name all clusters of COVID-19 cases identified at a workplace, educational, and community setting in Macon County to protect the public’s health. NC DHHS defines clusters of COVID-19 cases in workplace, educational, and other community settings as:
• A minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period AND
• Plausible linkage between cases; where cases were present in the same setting during the same time-period (e.g., same shift, same classroom, same physical work area); that the timing fits with likely timing of exposure; and that there is no other more likely source of exposure for identified cases (e.g., household or close contact to a confirmed case in another setting).
What constitutes a workplace, educational, or community setting?
Occupational settings are as followed:
• Food processing plants
• Production facilities
• Distribution facilities
• Construction sites
• Retail settings
• Office buildings
Educational settings are as followed:
• Childcare facilities
• Colleges or universities
Other Community settings are as followed:
• Religious gatherings
• Other large gathering/events
Does MCPH have antibody tests?
No. At this time MCPH does not offer this service due to questionable reliability of currently available tests. The FDA states the antibody tests may not detect COVID-19 if it is in the early stages. Studies are still being conducted to better understand antibody tests. To learn more about the effectiveness of antibody tests, visit: https://www.fda.gov.
Question 4 – How will I know if I have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19?
Macon County Public Health is actively contact tracing all contacts of known COVID-19 cases. If Macon County Public Health believes that a person has likely been exposed with COVID-19, they will be contacted by the Communicable Disease staff to set up an appointment to get tested for the virus. In the event MCPH is not confident that all close contacts can be reached, a public announcement will be made.
Question 5 – How can I prevent getting COVID-19?
Practice the 3 W’s WEAR, WASH, WAIT. WEAR a face mask, WASH your hands or use hand sanitizer, and WAIT 6-feet apart.