Jaben and Johnson

HEALTH OFFICIALS — Haywood County Medical Director Mark Jaben, left, and Public Health Director Patrick Johnson were frequently on the Haywood County Board of Commissioners agenda as they provided updates on the county’s COVID-19 response.

With five new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, plus notification of another two positive cases on Monday, it is up to county residents how the coronavirus curve bends in Haywood over the next month, health officials said.

Dr. Mark Jaben, county medical director, compared Haywood’s numbers to those in Gainesville, Georgia, which had 50 cases five weeks ago. The number has now spiked to 2,000 cases. Whether Haywood follows along the same path it yet to be determined, Jaben said.

“The missing link is whether enough of us are willing to reduce the risk to all of us,” Jaben said. “There is no guarantee of success. We just hope all choose life and all commit to lessen the risk and help each other. We don’t have to be right. We just cannot be wrong.”

Patrick Johnson, public health director in Haywood, said health officials continue to be amazed by the stories of how positive cases are spreading in the county.

One involved a child’s birthday party where seven individuals were reported to have attended. One at the party was case number 47 in Haywood, and now two others have tested positive, with other tests results still not in.

“You have a bunch of people crowding around, not wearing masks and singing Happy Birthday,” Johnson said. “The person was asymptomatic, but later in the evening lost the senses of taste and smell.”

The health department started calling the seven individuals attending the party to set up testing, but one went for a test immediately.

When the results came back Saturday, May 30, the individual told their employer about being at a get-together with three other coworkers. The small business owner immediately closed their business, Johnson told the commissioners. One of the individuals at the party lives in Henderson County, which prompted Johnson to get a call from the health director there.

“Now we have two positive cases and a business shut down,” Johnson said of the party’s effect in Haywood. “Get-togethers with close contact and singing without masks are not a harmless activity.”

Another case that potentially exposed medical workers to the virus involved a patient presenting with psychiatric symptoms, Johnson said.

Another was family transmission. It is expected that when a parent becomes sick, their child or children will also get the virus, Johnson said.

“I talked to a parent this weekend,” he said. “Kids are going to get this disease when their parents get it. There is no doubt it will transmit in a house.”

Who is getting sick

The positive COVID-19 cases in Haywood are mostly people in their 40s who present with mild to moderate symptoms, health officials said. The major symptoms are extreme fatigue and a severe cough.

As of Monday, Haywood had 53 cases with the average age being 42. The youngest is a child under age 10, and two were over age 70.

Two people sick with the coronavirus were transported to Mission Hospital in Asheville. One is on a ventilator, Johnson said.

“We’re learning this is a young person’s disease,” Johnson said, noting Haywood County's statistics are comparable to those across the state. “That’s why people are not dying. The group paying close attention is senior citizens. They shop early, wear masks and are being extremely careful.”

Jaben likened the situation in Haywood to a pot of boiling water with a lid on top. The lid is just beginning to jiggle a bit, and whether the pot boils over will depend on how those in the county react.

“We’re in a different place than we were a month ago," Jaben said. "What you do with this reality is up to you."

The number of motor vehicle deaths in the nation is 35,000 annually — a number that’s been greatly reduced because people take actions to lessen the risk such as not driving while impaired and wearing a seat belt.

“We do these things not because we are scared, but we do so to lessen the risk,” he said. “Wearing a mask, washing, waiting — none are perfect. But all lessen the risk. Why would you not lessen your risk to others?”

At least two county commissioners — Kirk Kirkpatrick and Brandon Rogers — stated they were not “mask” people, but were acting responsibly by washing their hands regularly.

Kirkpatrick said that although testing capacity had gone up in Haywood, there still aren’t enough tests for those without symptoms to be tested.

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