Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
As North Carolina begins phase two of reopening, Macon County sees first real outbreak of COVID19. Late last week, the Macon County Health Department announced two situations of cases in Macon County where multiple people tested positive for COVID19.
On May 21, the health department released the following statement, “Macon County Public Health has identified two additional positive cases of COVID-19. One individual acquired the virus unrelated to other identified positive cases. The other individual is believed to have acquired the virus via a positive case that had previously been identified by MCPH. This individual is an essential employee at a local business. We are working with the business and their staff to test all employees for the COVID-19 virus. Due to the nature of their work, these essential employees are unable to perform social distancing measures to the degree necessary to prevent exposure to COVID-19.”
The public immediately had questions around what business the individual worked at, which has not been confirmed as of press time.
“At this time, MCPH does not believe that the general public who may have been at the store needs to be tested, as they are more likely to have been practicing the necessary social distancing required to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing a mask, washing your hands, and remaining 6 feet apart from others,” said the health department. “COVID-19 is not believed to spread to individuals by just passing one another, so long as no aerosolized products (like sneezing or coughing) are exchanged.”
On Sunday, the health department released another statement regarding a “cluster” outbreak at a local church. Macon County Public Health has identified a COVID-19 cluster of positive cases in an area church located in Franklin.
Seven members of Evangelical Ebenezer’s congregation have tested positive; all members of the congregation are aware of their exposure, and are currently being contacted for testing. According to the health department, all members have also been given instructions to quarantine until they receive a negative test result; those who test positive will be given isolation orders for 14 days. In addition, church leadership has been provided disinfection guidance
NC DPH defines clusters of COVID-19 in workplace, educational, and other community settings as:
A minimum of 5 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).
Because a cluster was identified, North Carolina statute allows the location of the outbreak to be identified. The health department clarified via social media, that in the event that more than five individuals are found to be positive at the local business mentioned previously, the name of the business would be confirmed.
Macon County Public Health Director Kathy McGaha reported to Macon County News that information as to whether or not the church had been meeting prior to Sunday, which is when religious groups were allowed to resume in person meetings, would not be released. However, TV News station WLOS reported that McGaha confirmed to them that according to the church, they had in fact been meeting in-person during the pandemic.
With Sunday’s confirmation followed by additional positive cases being reported Monday and Tuesday, Macon County currently has a total of 18 positive cases: 15 active, 2 recovered, and 1 death.
Friday was the first day of Phase 2 of the Governor’s reopening plan Phase 2 lifts the Stay At Home order moving into a Safer At Home recommendation, especially for people at high risk for serious illness. Teleworking is also urged when possible.
Mass gathering limits in Phase 2 will be no more than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors in most circumstances. These limits apply to the following: event venues; conference centers; stadiums and sports arenas; amphitheaters; and groups at parks or beaches.
Some businesses will remain closed in Phase 2 including: bars; night clubs; gyms and indoor fitness facilities; indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters, and bowling alleys.
Certain businesses will be open at limited capacity with other requirements and recommendations including: restaurants at 50% dine-in capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements; personal care businesses, including salons and barbers, at 50% capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements; pools at 50% capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements. Employees of personal care businesses will be required to wear face coverings.
Childcare facilities, day camps and overnight camps will be open with enhanced cleaning and screening requirements. Retail businesses allowed to open in Phase 1 at 50% capacity will continue at that level.
After a federal ruling regarding churches in North Carolina, Churches were permitted to hold in-person services beginning Sunday. Public health recommendations are provided for worship services to practice enhanced social distancing and other cleaning and hygiene practices.
North Carolina’s Phase 2 is expected to run through at least June 26.