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Case counts drop as families mourn COVID deaths

Case counts drop as families mourn COVID deaths

COVID-19 cases are dropping precipitously both locally and statewide, with hospitalizations now hovering just above the 3,000 mark after hitting a peak of 5,206 on Jan. 26. 

While the Omicron surge has proven less deadly in both absolute numbers and percentages than previous surges, it has nevertheless claimed many lives. In the past month, Haywood County Emergency Services reported Feb. 15, COVID-19 has claimed 17 lives in the county, with the virus listed as the cause of death or underlying cause of death on each death certificate. Those who passed away ranged in age from their early forties to their mid-nineties. 

In a Feb. 2 analysis of cases and deaths during the Omicron wave, The Smoky Mountain News reported that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recorded 15 COVID-19 deaths in the four-county coverage area — Haywood, Jackson, Swain and Macon counties — during the four-week period Dec. 25 to Jan. 20. Since then, additional deaths have been added to the database, which now shows a total of 25 deaths in the counties during that timeframe. 

A four-week period during the Delta wave, Aug. 25 to Sept. 20, had about half the number of cases but far more deaths, 48 for the four-county area. 

At the height of North Carolina’s Omicron surge in mid-January, daily case counts were spiking past 30,000 but have been falling dramatically, sitting reliably in the four-digit range with only 2,888 cases reported Feb. 15. While cases peaked in Western North Carolina later than in the rest of the state, the mountain region is now on the downswing as well, with Haywood County receiving notice of 321 new cases in the past week — down significantly from the 883 new cases announced in the county’s Jan. 18 weekly report. 

“The test positivity rate remains high at 26.9%, but the continued downward trend is good news,” said the county’s Feb. 15 press release. “Last week’s reported two-week positivity rate was 34.5%. The preferred positivity rate is anything less than 5%.”

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Haywood County currently has the highest test positivity rate of the four counties. As of Feb. 13, the state database put the two-week positivity rate in Jackson County at 18.1%. Macon’s was 19.7% and Swain’s was 23.4%. The database listed Haywood’s most recent positivity rate at 25.7%. Those figures are all higher than the statewide positive rate of 17.8%.

In the 18-county mountain region, 163 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Feb. 14. Of those, 26 were in the ICU. Hospitals in the region reported 116 ICU beds in use and 75 that were empty with sufficient staffing, while 1,006 inpatient beds were occupied with 529 empty with sufficient staffing. Another 56 ICU beds and 444 inpatient beds were unstaffed or unreported.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all COVID-19 cases in the nation currently are caused by the Omicron variant.

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