This brief is to help keep Smoky Mountain Times readers up to date on the COVID-19 public health crisis.
No cases in the county
There are currently no cases of COVID-19 in Swain County, as of noon on Friday. There are 34 pending tests for the virus between Swain Community Hospital, Swain Family Care, Smoky Mountain Urgent Care and Cherokee Indian Hospital.
One positive test that was reported Monday and appeared in the paper last week was from an out-of-state resident who was on the Qualla Boundary but has since returned to their home state and the case is reported there, not in North Carolina.
Predictions from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services anticipate the virus to continue spreading in the state with a peak not arriving until late April or May.
The health department advises residents to take the following precautions to prevent the spread of the contagious respiratory illness:
- Practice social distancing. This is the Number One Enemy of COVID-19. To prevent community spread we need everyone to take social distancing seriously!
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and running water for 20 seconds
- Regularly sanitize frequently-touched surfaces
- Avoid touching your face
- Cover coughs and sneezes, preferably with your elbow to avoid transferring germs to your hands
- Stay home if you are sick – Call your physician if you feel you need to be seen
Dogwood Health Trust to help expand testing
On Friday, Dogwood health Trust announced is partnering with rural health departments in WNC to increase access to COVID-19 testing specifically to support contact tracing efforts.
Public health and Dogwood officials both caution that testing efforts like this one are just one of many kinds of testing needed to slow the spread.
WCU delays decision for rescheduling spring commencement
Western Carolina University said the decision has yet to be made on when to reschedule the spring commencement ceremonies that were originally set for May 8 and May 9 but have been postponed due to the public health crisis of coronavirus.
“To students and their families, we want you to know that we are absolutely committed to hosting in-person commencement ceremonies so that we can celebrate this important milestone together,” said WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown in a message to campus. “We fully understand that you are anxious to know when we will hold these on-campus events, but the fluid nature of this global health crisis means that we simply are not in a position to make a decision today with any degree of certainty. Indeed, it may be a number of weeks before we can definitely set a new date.”
A decision on the rescheduling dates could come by the end of April, with dates as early as August or as late as December depending on the virus.
On Thursday, Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos announced the closures at both the casinos in Cherokee and Murphy would be extended through the end of the month.
Employees will continue to be paid through April 15 but due to the extended closure beginning on April 16 the majority of employees will be placed on furlough, the company announced. Those employees would continue to receive medical benefits provided and paid for the company through reopening or June 30.
Nantahala Outdoor Center announced it has created an Employee Relief fund to help those with immediate needs due because of the novel coronavirus. The relief fund receives support from Coca-Cola as well as NOC and the initial funding includes at total of $25,000 for employee support.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad also announced last week it is expanding its suspension of passenger trains until May 1 or until further notice.
Mission Healthcare workers will wear masks
Mission Health announced Thursday that all staff and providers in all patient care areas will now wear masks, expanding their use beyond suspected or positive COVID cases.
Masks will be optional only for staff in non-patient care areas who can consistently maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet aside from brief interactions with colleagues.
“Our top priority is protecting our patients, clinicians, nurses, and colleagues so we can best serve our communities through the duration of this pandemic,” said William Hathaway, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Mission Health/HCA North Carolina Division. “These new guidelines apply to all areas of our patient care facilities, not just those where suspected COVID or COVID-positive patients are being treated.”
On March 31, the healthcare system announced it would be moving forward with standing up tents at its hospitals to create additional capacity for triaging patients outside of emergency departments if a COVID-19 outbreak evolves.
Swain county orders still in place
Swain County is still under a State of Emergency due to social distancing precautions to stop the potential spread of coronavirus in the county. Most recently, the commissioners adopted a 14-day quarantine for people who are entering the county from outside of North Carolina and the United States. The order requires that those individuals also come prepared, doing their shopping elsewhere before entering the county.
The county and state’s stay at home orders are also still in place, advising people to stay home unless going out for essential services like grocery shopping or performing essential jobs.
Mid-week, Swain County Sheriffs deputies were at a couple of locations in the county distributing flyers that included frequently asked questions.
To learn more, visit the county website swaincountync.gov.