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WNC moves into new phase of COVID

As the number of new cases begins to stabilize in Western North Carolina, medical directors urge people to keep doing what they’re doing to prevent another spike. 

It’s easy for people to let their guard down when they hear that cases are steadily decreasing, but with more people traveling over Labor Day weekend and more businesses opening under the state’s Phase 2.5, Haywood County Medical Director Dr. Mark Jaben warns of another possible spike. 

Jaben told Haywood County commissioners Tuesday morning that Haywood County currently has one of the lowest rates of cases in the country right now and he hopes it stays that way. The county did experience a spike in positive cases in July and early August — half of those cases could be attributed to the outbreak at Silver Bluff Village in Canton but the other half was community spread. 

While cases are now at a plateau, Jaben said it’s still not as low as it was before the first big spike and that’s where he’d like it to be. As people’s current behaviors will be reflected in the next two or three weeks, Jaben said cases could rise again as a result of Phase 2.5 and Labor Day festivities. 

“I’d like to see the plateau level back where we were before the spike, but what the current numbers are showing us is that enough people are taking the needed precautions,” he said. “And if we want the economy completely reopened and if we want schools to be open to in-person instruction and want them to remain open and we want to live less under the shadow of this virus, we know what it takes.” 

Haywood County has had a total of 521 positive COVID-19 cases, but only 42 people are currently in isolation or under quarantine. Since Aug. 28, the health department has reported 25 new cases and 31 deaths (most of which have been linked to the Silver Bluff outbreak).

“As case numbers level out, we have an opportunity now to keep numbers low. As always, it remains important to stay vigilant, continue to practice social distancing, wear face coverings, and isolate if sick,” said Public Health Services Director Patrick Johnson.

Part of entering Phase 2.5 includes gyms being able to open at 30 percent capacity. Waynesville Recreation Center and the Old Armory officially reopened Sept. 8 and will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Masks will be required for entry to each facility and in common areas such as the lobby at check in; masks are optional during exercising. Age 5 and below will not have to wear a mask. Individuals should observe social distancing when possible.

Haywood Regional Health & Fitness Center will begin a phased reopening plan to best navigate the health and safety of patients and guests. 

“We are very excited that Governor Cooper is allowing gyms to reopen at 30% capacity,” shared HRHFC Director Scotty Setser. “We’ve been preparing, and we hope the public will have patience with us as we finalize details over the next couple of weeks.” 

The Fitness Center has already undergone important planning to reopen safely, including tagging machines to maintain social distancing and heightened cleaning protocols. Currently, the second floor air system is being completely replaced, a solution the Fitness Center has had in the plans for some time. It’s estimated the air improvements will be finalized mid-month. The Fitness Center will continue to waive member fees until the gym is reopened. Updates to the Fitness Center’s reopening will be shared publicly through press releases and on the HRMC website and social media channels. 

As of Sept. 3, Swain County had a total of 133 cases, but only four active cases and 38 tests pending. 

Macon County had a total of 556 cases, but only 12 were active and 106 tests pending. The county has had a total of seven deaths. 

Jackson County has had a total of 591 cases, but only 45 people are currently in isolation or quarantine. The county has had seven deaths as well. 

Public school systems began their re-entry plans in late August, but some schools had to shut back down and move to remote learning a little longer as cases began popping up and creating staffing issues. Jackson County is currently remote learning through Sept. 11, but students will return to school for in-person instruction beginning Sept. 14. When the district moves to Phase 2, students who return to school in-person will receive free breakfast and lunch from their school cafeteria. Students who choose to continue remote instruction in Phase 2 can have meals picked up by parents and guardians at the six school locations weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. excluding holidays.

Haywood County Schools previously announced a goal for returning to in-person learning as early as Sept. 21. Schools will begin communicating with families to determine their intent to have a rotation of in-person and remote learning, or remote learning only. The in-person schedule cannot be established until the actual number of in-person students is determined. The collected intent information will impact instructional schedules, staffing needs and bus accommodations. Student and parent participation in providing their intent information is critical for effective planning by the schools.

Identifying each family’s intent is scheduled to be completed by Friday, Sept. 11. School administrators will sort the collected intent data for the system’s approximately 7,000 students. A report will be made to the Board of Education on Sept. 14 and an announcement about large-scale in-person learning will be made no later than Wednesday, Sept. 16.

“There are many factors to consider in making a decision about the timing of in-person learning,” said Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte. “In addition to health and safety, two additional key factors are the actual number of students who plan to attend in-person and staffing for both in-person learning and remote only learning.”

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