North Carolina could see 110 people testing positive or presumptive positive for coronavirus by the end of the week, with cases reaching 4,000 by April 2, an epidemiologist at UNC-Chapel Hill said Monday.
On Tuesday, there were 40 cases in the state across 16 counties, 1,100 tests given and 1,000 samples collected.
NC Governor Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency and through an executive order banned mass gatherings to no more than 100 people, directed K-12 public schools across North Carolina to close for students for at least two weeks and on Tuesday he also ordered all restaurants and bars shuttered for dine-in service and to limit operations to delivery or curbside pickup only.
Due the potential spread of COVID-19, Macon County and the towns of Highlands and Franklin have also declared a state of emergency. Declaring a state of emergency gives entities the authority to impose curfews, order traffic off the street, mandate quarantines and be eligible for federal or state funding. Dare County has used its authority to close its borders to all except residents.
Particulars concerning various entities follows:
During its emergency meeting Tuesday, the MC Board of Commission enacted a state of emergency.
Macon County Commissioners approved $150,000 from the fund balance to be moved to a disaster relief fund in case any department needs emergency funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All county recreational facilities – parks, bathrooms, buildings – veterans services, senior services (with the exception of adult daycare and meal deliveries), are closed and will re-open no earlier than Wednesday, April 1.
The Macon County Sheriff’s Office will temporarily suspend the issuing of concealed carry gun permits due to person-to-person interaction of fingerprinting.
Offices such as the Register of Deeds and Clerks office will remain open, but the county asks people to limit in-person interaction.
Regular scheduling practices regarding congregate meals remain in place. Please call the Macon County Senior Center for details.
Town of Highlands
At an emergency meeting Tuesday, the town declared a state of emergency.
Mayor Pat Taylor said the town will react its Facebook page to keep the public up-to-date about how COVID-19 is affecting the town.
Staff and commissioners will encourage employees to stay home if they, their spouse or children are sick.
Also, the town will be looking at the next utility cycle and will be considering making the billing process more flexible.
In addition, Town Hall is closed to the public until further notice. All residents can make utility payments with the town utilizing its online feature at www.highlandsnc.org, then select Bill Pay or they can deposit payments in the Town Hall utilities payment drop box located outside Town Hall or in Highlands Plaza.
All residents are encouraged to conduct other business with the town, by calling the Town offices at 828. 526.2118 during normal business hours Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
At an emergency meeting Monday, staff and commissioners decided to close all town recreation facilities until at least Monday, March 30. That includes the Rec Park, the Civic Center, the pool, and the Community Building. Full-time employees are encouraged to go to work as usual to help, sanitize and clean the town facilities while the public is away.
The Town Board of Commissioners meeting scheduled for Thursday night, March 19, along with all other town boards and committee meetings are canceled until further notice.
The Community Coffee with the mayor at Hudson Library scheduled for Friday, March 27, has been cancelled.
Macon County Public Health
At the county’s emergency meeting Tuesday, the Health Dept. reported that 32 people have been tested for the virus; five tests came back negative and they are waiting on results for the others. Those 25 waiting for results are self-quarantined with their families.
Furthermore, though the Health Dept. has a handful of tests, they are waiting on more. They said some private physicians and emergency facilities in Macon County have their own test kits.
With the ongoing concerns over COVID-19, Macon County Public Health will be limiting non-essential services until further notice. This action is to allow staff to focus more time on the COVID-19 response.
MCPH will be providing the following services: Maternal Health, including pregnancy testing and prenatal services; Symptomatic STD; Communicable Disease and TB; Family Planning, problem visits only; Primary Care, sick visits only; Vaccinations; all children vaccinations will be provided; adult, flu and pneumonia only; no Travel Immunizations; Dental – Adult Dental, Normal Services, Child Dental Emergency Care Only; WIC; Lab, by appointment only, and the NC State WIC Program has waived the physical presence requirement to ensure no interruptions in benefits.
Highlands-Cashiers Hospital has protocols in place to care for patients with infectious diseases and are preparing for the surge of COVID-19. However, during the commissioner emergency meeting Tuesday, H-C CEO Tom Neal said over speaker phone that HC Hospital doesn’t have ICU capacity, so those with serious cases such as COVID-19 would be transferred to Mission.
In addition to the restrictions already in place, all Mission Health hospitals are limiting visitation at all its facilities. Until further notice, only one adult (age 18 or older) visitor at a time per patient during the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Exceptions to this will be Pediatrics, NICU, Laboring
Advocates, Pre- and post-surgery and end of life services. In these cases only, one person may remain overnight. Preparedness efforts include reinforcing appropriate infection prevention protocols and guidance from the CDC, ensuring there are necessary supplies and equipment, and emergency planning.
In addition, as during heavy influenza outbreaks, visitor restrictions have been instituted in patient care areas. Starting last week, visitors and patients are being directed to use specific entrances to allow visitors to be screened. Supplies are at points of entry, so that any potential symptomatic patient who arrives can be properly masked and immediately isolated to protect hospital staff and other patients.
Visitors are not allowed at the Eckerd Living Center.
H-C Hospital is working with Macon County and the North Carolina Health Department and the CDC and will provide updates to the hospital and medical staff as necessary.
Local Restaurants are still cooking
Gov. Cooper shuttered all restaurants and bars, but most restaurants in Highlands are still open for take-out and curbside business. Menus are on their websites.
Due to the health concerns going around, Highlands-Cashiers Players and the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center have postponed scheduled events like HCP’s dinner theatre, and PAC’s Live via Satellite showings until further notice. On Tuesday, Highlands Playhouse announced it would be closed until further notice.
Highlands Festivals, Inc., is working closely with local officials to monitor the circumstances as it relates to its Spring Event – an evening with Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors with Special Guests, currently scheduled for May 9.
Currently, the event is still happening as announced and tickets remain on sale at HighlandsFestivals.com. In the event of a date-change due to COVID-19, Highlands Festivals, Inc. will honor all ticket purchases upon rescheduling the event.
Macon County Schools
All public school districts across the state are closed to students through Monday, March 30.
School food distribution sites have been set up for those who would like a meal each day. The sites are Franklin High School, Mountain View Intermediate School, South Macon Elementary School, Highlands School and Nantahala School.
Parents and students may pick up food from 11 am to 1 pm Monday through Friday while schools are closed. In addition, buses will be running regular routes during the hours of 11 am to 1 pm to deliver meals to those who cannot pick them up. These meals will be free of charge.
A total of 4,282 meals were served Tuesday – the first at-home learning day.
Highlands School Principal Brian Jetter said people don’t need to let the school know if they want a meal.
“They can just come pick them up, however, they cannot eat at the school. It’s pick-up only; they are made up in advance and ready to go,” he said.
Highlands School served 30 breakfasts and 30 lunches the first day, Tuesday.
At-Home Learning has begun for students with details available from the principal or school office. In Highlands call 526-2147 and information regarding your At-Home Learning experience will be explained. Do not hesitate to contact your teacher or your principal if you have questions.
On Monday, teachers had school work ready for the 2-week at-home period and they are communicating with their classes via email and UTube.
In addition, wireless access at all Macon County Schools locations will be available for students. District-provided student devices will automatically connect when in range. If you have questions or need assistance with technology during your At-Home Learning, Macon County Schools Tech Support can be reached at 828.524.3314 ext. 1044 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
According to Jetter, there are no changes in the calendar at this time. Spring Break is still on as scheduled.
School & County Sports
Due to the threat from COVID-19, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors suspended interscholastic athletics through April 6.
The NCHSAA Board of Directors will assess this situation regularly over the next few weeks. This includes all workouts, skill development, practices, and contests.
The NCHSAA has also made the decision to postpone the 2020 Men’s and Women’s Basketball State Championships indefinitely.
In addition, all county league sports practices and games have also been cancelled until further notice.
All Fontana Regional Library locations in Macon, Jackson, and Swain counties – including Hudson Library in Highlands and Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library in Cashiers – will be closed to the public through March 31, although phone calls will be answered.
The library website and Facebook page feature information links to COVID-19 resources and detailed instructions on how to access electronic resources.
There will be curbside pickup of materials that have been placed on hold. For more information and details, please call your local branch. You can reach Hudson Library at 828-526-3031.
With word of coronavirus becoming more pervasive in the U.S., Old Edwards Hospitality Group has been taking strong preventive measures to help protect the health of employees and guests against the threat of Covid-19.
The entire company has an action and training plan that exceeds the recommendations of the CDC. OEI is in ongoing conversations with its purveyors and vendors, ensuring the strictest deliveries precautions in writing.
However, given the state of emergency mandated by the governor, the county and the town of Highlands, OEI management has decided to shut down for a minimum of five days.
“All facilities will be shut down and employees will be sent home with full pay beginning Wednesday at noon,” said CEO Richard Delany.
Guests have been notified and were given a breakfast to go when they checked out in the Wednesday morning.
“We will be conducting a rolling evaluation as this proceeds,” he said.
Though the other restaurants in town opted to participate in the Take-Out and Curbside scenario for their customers, Delany said OEI will not be doing that.
“All OEI facilities will be temporarily closed,” he said. “For the safety of our guests, employees, members and community, we have closed all Old Edwards Hospitality Group businesses until further notice, including hotels, spa, restaurants and retail.”
Reservations are being automatically canceled on a rolling one-week-out basis with full refund of deposit, and affected guests will receive a cancelation notice via email.
“We are currently accepting reservations beginning April 1 and will continue to evaluate that,” said Delany.
He said this decision basically comes down to family.
“We think of employees and guests like family, and we had to ask ourselves, what is the right thing to do to protect them – and do our part to protect the community and society at large. There’s no roadmap here, and our colleagues in the industry said they were pondering the same decisions. In the end, we just did what felt right,” he said.
Chambers Realty & Vacation Rentals
According to co-owner Jeannie Chambers, they haven’t had any renters yet because of COVID-19.
However, one owner cancelled Highlands plans due to their compromised health concerns, and other owners are opening their homes earlier than normal because they or guests will be using their Highlands home, she said.
“We have available homes, and welcome renters,” she said. “We’ve notified our rental owners that Chambers Realty & Vacation Rentals will give full refunds to anyone that needs to cancel due to the Corona virus. This obviously includes renters that can’t get here due to travel bans.”
In addition, Chambers said they are doing everything they can to ensure their homes remain clean and cleaning crews take preventative measures to be sure they are protected.
By now everyone knows that area stores – Dollar Stores, Walmart, food stores – have been running low or are out of hand sanitizer and paper products.
At Bryson’s Food Store, Manager Terry Watson said they are experiencing what everyone else is experiencing across the country – a run on certain items and the inability to readily restock shelves.
He said they can’t keep paper products like toilet paper and paper towels on the shelves and orders for hand sanitizer come in only partially filled.
He said he has signs up limiting amounts and will do that with other items if necessary.
Many churches in the area have suspended public worship services and activities. Some are offering virtual services. Call your church for more information.
To get up-to-date information about COVID-19 from reliable sources like Macon County Public Health, CDC, and NCDHHS.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper