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Haywood County Sheriff logo

The Haywood County Health and Human Services Agency has identified a COVID-19 cluster among Haywood County Detention Center staff.

The cluster of cases was connected to a detention officer certification training event, held at Haywood Community College from Oct. 5 through Nov. 12, 2020.

Officers from Haywood, Jackson, Swain and Macon counties all attended the class. All of the students and instructors were notified immediately upon identification of a positive case.

The Haywood County Detention Center had 10 officers at the training, and seven of them have tested positive so far. A total of 18 people were involved in the training class.

All have been in quarantine since first notified of possible exposure. The cluster has not affected other staff at the detention center and does not affect incarcerated persons at this time.

“We are taking this very seriously at the Haywood County Detention Center. As soon as we became aware of the situation we acted immediately to have all potentially affected employees quarantined and tested. We are continuing to monitor all of our employees and staff in the detention center as well as incarcerated persons in order to protect them. We will continue to monitor the situation following all state and local health department recommendations,” said Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher.

Christopher later noted that those individuals who tested positive will not be able to return to work until they’re given the “all-clear.”

“We’re working very hard to try to cover these shifts and make sure that everything runs properly at the detention center, and right now we’re doing OK,” he said.

“Upon learning of the first positive result from this class, we immediately contacted all those connected to the class and advised them to quarantine. Following our response procedures, a thorough cleaning of the facility was performed,” said Shelley White, president of HCC. “We reached out to the Haywood County Health Department to work together on the next steps needed to address the situation. Throughout the pandemic, HCC has limited on-campus activities and classes to only those with in-person requirements, with the majority of classes being conducted online. We have maintained a consistent focus on following state and local guidelines to ensure we are operating safely and this is a reminder that we must all remain diligent in our efforts at all times.”

The Haywood County Health and Human Services Agency has been working with the college and the Sheriff’s Office to reinforce recommended policies and public health guidelines. Everyone involved has been cooperating fully to ensure appropriate measures are in place going forward.

“This cluster, where county employees let down their COVID guard, is a key example of why we need to remain vigilant in the face of COVID-19,” said Interim Health Director Garron Bradish. “It’s an important reminder for everyone that COVID-19 spreads quickly if the appropriate precautions aren’t taken. Situations like these are avoidable through consistent masking and social distancing. Practicing the 3W’s anytime we’re around people who don’t live in our household, no matter how well we know them, is the best tool we have to avoid this type of rapid spread in schools, workplaces, churches, families, and the community.”

During a press briefing held the afternoon of Nov. 19, Bradish discussed more specifics about the cluster.

“We’re in the middle of doing contact tracing,” he said Thursday. “The first case came to us on the 16th, second on the 17th and five came in late yesterday.”

During that press briefing, White admitted that the individuals in that class were not wearing masks the whole time. Haywood County Medical Director Mark Jaben also addressed that issue during press briefing and used the situation to emphasize the importance of vigilance.

“This instance certainly illustrates that there are at least two parts to being successful and safe,” he said. “One is policies and procedures and precautions. Here’s an example where they were all in place, but the other part of that didn’t work out, and that’s what resulted in this disruption to the system and risk to people’s health.”

“This is a great example of you don’t know whether the person around you might be pre-symptomatic,” he added. “Infectious, contagious, but not symptomatic.”

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