Despite Western North Carolina remaining clear so far of cases of COVID-19, an acute respiratory virus, Swain County residents are feeling the disruption of plans. Government agencies and other organizations have cancelled and postponed public activities to help quell the spread of the contagious virus.
As of Friday morning, there were 15 cases of the virus in the state. In the United States, there were 1,215 with 36 deaths, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services.
NC Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, with recommendations including at risk populations to avoid large groups and imposed visitor restrictions to congregate facilities. On Thursday, the Governor held another press conference advising postponing or cancelling all events of 100 people or more. His office also recommended employers and companies to allow people to work from home if possible and for sick people to stay home and to monitor themselves for symptom.
For many in Swain County, the biggest impact is that all youth sports are being put on hold. Announced Thursday, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association made the decision to suspend all high school sports throughout he state beginning Friday, March 13 at noon due to the threat from COVID-19. For student athletes and parents, this impact is big: all workouts, skill development practices and games are on hold until April 6 when the organization will reassess.
Similarly, the Swain Youth Soccer Association announced Thursday it was following the state’s soccer association’s lead by suspending all activities until April 1, at which time they will decide about the remainder of the season.
Other sporting events in town were also cancelled including the Smoky Mountain Roller Girls double header that was scheduled to take place Saturday, March 14 at the Swain Rec Center.
National sports fans will feel the impact, too, following cancellations of the NBA games and the NCAA.
Wildwater World Champs
The sporting event with the greatest potential economic impact for Swain County, the 2020 International Canoe Federation Wildwater World Championships, that was scheduled to take place in Nantahala April 26-30 were announced as cancelled on Thursday morning.
The event that would have brought an estimated 150 wildwater athletes from around the world, their support staff, family and fans to the event hosted by the Nantahala Outdoor Center was anticipated to bring visitors to Swain County for about 2 weeks.
In a press release, organizers stated the following:
“The ongoing concern over the spread of the novel coronavirus, together with new international travel restrictions to the US announced on Wednesday, March 11, have left organizers with no option but to cancel the competitions.
“While everyone involved deeply regrets the inconvenience the cancellation will cause, the health and well being of everyone involved in the World Championships must remain the priority.
The CIF World Cups May 3-8 were also cancelled. Planning for the huge events take an estimated 5 years and will not be rescheduled, according to the organizers.
So far, K-12 public schools across North Carolina are being left to decide locally about keeping their doors open. Swain County Public Schools remain open to students.
The primary thing I need for you all to know is there are no plans at this point to close any schools. We don’t believe that’s the best approach for a lot of different reasons,” said Swain Superintendent Mark Sale before the Swain County Board of Commissioners on Thursday night, March 12.
The school system has increased its sanitation efforts on campuses and is disinfecting the school buses daily, he said.
He added the system is also asking parents and staff to notify them of any travel plans that could put them at higher risk and is making plans about how best to serve those who are at higher risk.
For college students, the scenario is different. On Wednesday evening, faculty, staff and student, who are currently on spring break received notification from Western Carolina University Chancellor Dr. Kelli Brown that spring break would be extended by 1 week, and classes would transition to online, in line with other UNC schools.
“This additional week will help enable faculty members to take the steps necessary to make the transition from in-person classes to delivery of their course materials online or via other distance methods that do not require face-to-face classes,” Brown stated.
She added campus would remain open, but events of 100 or more would not be held.
Southwestern Community College announced Friday Morning that with guidance from the NC Community College System, it too would be extending spring break by a week for in-person classes.
“Our priority is the health and wellbeing of our campus community. That’s why we are joining other institutions of higher education in North Carolina and across the nation in transitioning spring semester seat-based classes to online and alternate formats until further notice. While SCC remains open, we will practice social distancing to minimize the potential exposure of our faculty, staff, and students during the coronavirus pandemic,” the school posted on its website, southwesterncc.edu.
Some locations including hospitals, and congregate living facilities like nursing homes and senior living facilities have restricted visitation as a precaution. In a statement Wednesday, Swain Community and Harris Regional Hospital confirmed visitation restrictions that were adopted for flu season have continued in light of COVID-19 and are being strictly enforced.
Swain County Health Director Alison Cochran told county commissioners Thursday night that her agency is in contact with community partners, among them the nursing homes and even county transit. The department has posted flyers throughout the county providing information to residents. Along with County Emergency Manager David Breedlove, they have been in contact with the County Manager Kevin King on how best to protect the county employees.
“Information is changing daily,” she told the board Thursday night.
The commissioners said they would continue to rely on her department heavily to take the lead and their goal was to provide a responsible response and not be reactive or take actions that would cause panic among the county residents.
Swain County Board of Education scheduled an emergency meeting for 5:30 p.m. tonight (Friday, March 13) to further discuss guidelines for decision making related to COVID-19. The meeting will be held in room 223, 50 Main Street (former federal building).