Haywood County is in its third week of escalating COVID-19 cases, with more than 64 new cases in the last week, and 133 new cases over the past two weeks.
Public health authorities say the places of likely infection are the same general ones that have always been the case in the county — travelers, people working together in the same office and family members not living in the same household gathering.
The new numbers bring the total number of individuals in Haywood testing positive for COVID-19 to 847. Of that number, 37 have died.
Several recent cases were traced back to Halloween parties, noted Garron Bradish, the county’s public health director.
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, Bradish called for increased vigilance when it comes to masking, social distancing and hand-washing. For instance, at extended family gatherings, it would be wise to wear a mask at all times except when eating.
Dr. Mark Jaben, the Haywood County medical director, said the tripled caseload now has 63 individuals in isolation because they have tested positive, and another 125 in quarantine who were identified as close contacts of those testing positive or are awaiting COVID-19 test results.
“We have three times the number of cases that we had three weeks ago, so there’s something going on,” Jaben said. “I think about the town of Waynesville public hearing, festivals, houses of worship that are now considering going back inside. Then, of course, Thanksgiving is coming up. This isn’t going away, and despite promising news on vaccines and treatment, we’re a long, long way from having any benefits from those.”
College testing, re
duced indoor limits
One piece of good news, Bradish said, is that N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced this week he is providing rapid antigen tests to universities across the state so students can be tested before heading home for a long break that, in most cases, will last until the end of the year.
“Getting COVID-19 tests to college campuses is one way we can prevent more viral spread across the state as students go home,” Cooper said. “However, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance continue to be our strongest weapons against this virus as we approach the winter holidays.”
In response to rapidly escalating virus infections, Cooper also reduced the indoor gathering limits from 25 to 10. The limits don’t apply to commerce/retail shopping events, or other situations such as worship, religious, spiritual gatherings, wedding ceremonies, funeral services, gatherings for work or for receiving governmental services.
The outdoor gathering of 50 is still in place, as are the previous occupancy limits at other venues such as museums, movie theaters, arenas or gyms.
“Honestly, it comes down to some things we’ve been talking about all along,” Jaben said. “We can’t enforce our way through this. People have got to see it is in their benefit to follow precautions, not just for themselves, but for those around us.”
It is in the interest of everyone to not force government into going into further lockdowns, he added.
“Honestly, we wouldn’t need lockdowns if people are willing to adjust the way they do things for the greater good,” Jaben said, noting gatherings can still occur safely by following the rules.
For instance, even though there have been a number of outdoor concerts in Haywood, health officials aren’t aware of any cases stemming from the gatherings.
“We can get out from under the shadow of this virus,” Jaben said. “It is in the people’s hands really to determine where we go from here.”