FILE - COVID-19 vaccine

Haywood County on Thursday announced it has received 12 new reports of COVID-19 deaths this week — pushing the pandemic’s death toll to 127 in the county.

“This is the kind of information no one wants to have to share,” Haywood County Emergency Services spokesperson Allison Richmond said in a news release.

“We’ve written and shared so many of these reports that it’s easy to become numb to what they represent. So perhaps some perspective is in order. One month ago we were all shocked and saddened by the tragic and sudden loss of six members of our community to the floods that swept away so much from us. This week we have the sad news to share that twice that number, 12 from among us, have been lost due to COVID-19,” Richmond continued.

This week, the youngest person was between the ages of 45-50, one was between the ages of 50-55, four were between the ages of 55-60, one between the ages of 60-65, one between the ages of 70-75, one between the ages of 75-80, two between the ages of 80-85, and the oldest was between the ages of 85-90.

County Health Director Sarah Henderson said their are two more COVID deaths sitting on her desk awaiting paperwork to be filled out, and of the dozen deaths, all but two were unvaccinated. The two most elderly were the ones who had been vaccinated, she said.

All of the deaths listed COVID-19 as the immediate or underlying cause of death on the death certificate, according to county officials. Most died at either Haywood Regional Medical Center or Mission Hospital. One died at Autumn Care, and one died at home.

“Privacy laws prevent telling these people’s stories and sharing the details of their lives that make them real to people who might not have known them, but surely each was loved and cherished in their lifetime. The dry details of these releases fail to share the magnitude of the loss of these 127 lives to our community. Each life is valuable. Please consider this when you make choices about your health and COVID-19,” Richmond wrote.

Henderson stressed that COVID-19 is a serious, sometimes deadly illness, asking everyone to consider the pain and loss the virus can bring with it and to do everything possible to help prevent its spread.

Families, Labor Day drive COVID surge

COVID cases in Haywood reached a near high on Thursday with 63 new cases, and by 9 a.m. Friday, another 46 had been logged.

While there was a dip in the numbers last week, Dr. Mark Jaben attributed the latest surge to the Labor Day holiday and family spread.

Henderson agreed.

“We’ve gone to mandatory masks within the schools, and spread is absolutely happening at home,” she said. “We added 60 school-age kids this week and there are lots of siblings on the list. Every kid in a household is positive once one is positive.”

Meanwhile, there is just a trickle of individuals getting vaccinated against the virus at the health department.

County officials continue to worry about the alarming trend where a healthcare system is maxed out due to the volume of COVID patients.

Hospitals across the region are on diversion, meaning those with ambulance patients can’t drop them off. Even Mission, the region’s tertiary hospital, has gone on diversion, leaving those calling 911 for medical help no place to be taken.

Even if individuals got vaccinated this week, it would be four to six weeks before the vaccinations kicked in, thus able to free up capacity in the healthcare system, Jaben said.

On Monday, Haywood County announced that it had received notice of 249 new COVID-19 infections over the previous week — 86.3% of the cases among people not vaccinated, with nearly all the people requiring hospitalization not vaccinated.

Walk-in first and second-dose vaccinations are available at the health department and at grocery stores and pharmacies throughout the county.

Vaccination clinic hours are available Monday through Friday during normal business hours at the Haywood County Health Department. Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available with no appointment necessary.

For more information on this or other vaccination sites visit www.vaccines.gov.

Up to date information on COVID-19 in Haywood County is available online at haywoodcountync.gov/684/Coronavirus-Covid-19-Information or by calling 828-356-2019 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.

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