There have been five additional COVID-19-related deaths reported in Haywood this week, and increased cases traced to a hot tub party and schools.
Since testing began, a total of 668 individuals in Haywood have tested positive for the virus, and 36 have died. Those numbers are up from 638 cases and 31 deaths last week.
However, the death numbers are a bit deceiving, said Haywood County Public Health Director Patrick Johnson.
Two were September deaths at Mission Hospital where the paperwork didn’t arrive until this week, while the others were earlier deaths that hadn’t been entered into the system yet.
“This has been a rough year,” said Johnson. “Everyone is tired. We know the virus is everywhere and wants to spread.”
Johnson said public health officials are heartened by the dramatic decline in cases following a significant spike in July. But heading into fall, cases are again climbing.
The positives that are helping Haywood County at this point, Johnson said, is that a) infrastructure is in place to manage COVID cases and contact tracing and b) Haywood County residents know how to tamp down the virus and cut the chains of transmission through mask-wearing, social distancing and hand washing.
The public health department has what is called a COVID working number that includes those in isolation and quarantine who are monitored for symptoms and contacts.
That number has been steadily climbing all week, Johnson said, going from 85 on Monday to 118 by Thursday.
A birthday party where a hot tub was in use became a hotbed for this week’s virus outbreak. The individual who was the index case for the event was asymptomatic when attending the party, Johnson said, but developed symptoms the next day. Of the 15 individuals at the party, none were wearing masks nor social distancing, Johnson said. At this time, there are seven cases directly associated with the 15 individuals at the party and numerous contacts from those cases are awaiting test results, Johnson said.
Another case where an individual is hospitalized came from the Haywood resident being exposed out of county at his work by his boss who “refuses to wear a mask anywhere,” he told health officials. The boss tested positive and transmitted the virus to the employee.
As of Friday morning, five individuals in Haywood County Schools have had positive test results — one each at Jonathan Valley Elementary, Junaluska Elementary, Meadowbrook Elementary, Tuscola High School and Waynesville Middle School.
The school system has started a quick link to its COVID dashboard on the website. Johnson said there is no relationship between any of the five school-related cases.