For three months we have been taking measures with the hope of stopping the COVID-19 virus from coming to the Highlands Plateau. It has been spreading all that time across the nation and is now well into Western Carolina, Macon County and yes, in Highlands.
We shouldn’t point fingers at one another concerning who caused the spread. Several factors contributed to the situation that we are facing.
While much of our economy was shutdown, other parts, such as construction, service providers, commuters, tourism to some extent have all played roles in spreading the coronavirus. Now we have to work together to contain the spread.
The three Ws are more important than ever. Wait and socially distance, wash hands frequently, and wear a face covering. Out of respect for other people we can all do these three procedures.
The Highlands Chamber of Commerce has put out more signs throughout the business district asking our visitors to follow these procedures.
The Chamber is also deploying hand sanitizer stations in the business district. I visited with several merchants on Saturday morning, and they were all following the three Ws, especially for their employees.
I want to also discuss the cluster of cases that were reported at OEI. They are not the only business that have had cases, but because there were 6 cases reported in a single department of OEI, the Macon County Public Health Department was required to identify them. There have been other large essential businesses in the county with clusters that were less than five, so those companies were not identified.
From the start of their reopening, OEI has followed rigorous protocols for preventing the spread of the virus. They have been a model. I have talked with OEI and county officials concerning the situation. All agree that the outbreak came from people in one department who commuted to work from another location in the county.
The virus did not come from within company operations. Also, the county official I talked with believes OEI was able to quickly identify the cluster and contain the spread to only one small area of operation of the company. With COVID 19 there can be no absolute certainty, but this is the best assessment at this time.
I know OEI has a rigorous employee testing and assessment program including temperature checks for all workers going on duty. There is a screening procedure for their guests also. We have adopted similar procedures at Town Hall. OEI leadership assures me they will continue the same measures and adopt further procedures.
Macon County will be conducting a test program today for folks who have COVID symptoms, or for those who have been exposed to people with the virus. The public testing is being done at The Farm on Arnold Road.
The country is now struggling with the tragic and senseless killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman. Our law enforcement system has to be reformed to where people in police custody are safe and protected, not brutalized and killed.
I have joined a host of North Carolina mayors in signing a statement that denounces what happened to George Floyd.
People of color need assurances that they will be treated fairly in the criminal justice system. Putting a knee on the neck of man until he suffocates, while his hands are handcuffed behind his back cannot happen again.
I know many are frustrated with the lawless looting that has occurred in many cities, but we as a nation have to address the source that ignites such out of control responses.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor