The Macon County Public Health Department identified a cluster of COVID-19 cases connected to the Macon County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 1.
A cluster is defined as a group of five or more cases associated with one specific location, event or organization. On Tuesday, sheriff Robert Holland noted that all of the COVID-19 positive employees are recovering.
“We had several cases and those patients ranged from no symptoms at all, to fairly severe flu-like symptoms,” Holland said. “Based on when each employee tested positive, some of them have been cleared to return to work and the others will be cleared to return in the next few days.”
Sending employees home to self-isolate created a staffing shortage within the department and led to service delays for civilians seeking finger printing, firearms permits and other administrative services.
“There is a backup person for every position within our department, but when a person gets sick and then their backup gets sick too, it creates a staffing issue,” Holland said. “Couple that with the fact that we have gotten a record number of requests for finger printing, firearms permits and conceal and carry permits this year, and it did create a backlog.”
Holland added that anyone needing to be finger printed or wishing to apply for a firearms permit should call 828-349-2263 and schedule a time to do so. He also noted that there was no interruption to patrol duties as deputies covered shifts to accommodate COVID-19 positive coworkers.
Contact tracing MCSO deputies, detention center employees and staff members was no small challenge, according to Holland. The MCSO deals with hundreds of civilians in a variety of capacities every single day.
“We are following the CDC guidelines in regards to hand washing, wearing a mask in public and socially distancing, but there are times in law enforcement where those measures are almost impossible,” Holland said. “Physical altercations and close contacts occur on the job, and at the end of the day our staff go home to their families. They are in close contact with their spouses, children, etc… I don’t know if there is a public organization in Macon County that deals with more people on a daily basis than we do.”
According to Holland, the sheriff’s office will continue to work with Macon County Public Health to ensure that the department is following the proper protocols related to COVID-19.
NC moves to “Phase 3”
As of Friday, Oct. 2, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper transitioned the state into “Phase 3” of his plan to reopen the state’s economy.
Under Phase 3, large outdoor venues (more than 10,000 seats) and arenas can operate at seven percent capacity. Small outdoor venues (less than 10,000 seats) can operate at 30 percent capacity or 100 total people, whichever is less.
Bars may reopen outdoor spaces at 30 percent capacity with an 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales. Movie theaters may reopen indoors at 30 percent capacity and amusement parks can reopen attractions at 30 percent capacity.
Cooper previously announced that students in grades K-5 could return to “Plan A” in-person instruction with limited social distancing on Oct. 2. Highlands School is continuing to operate under “Plan B” with students attending in-person Monday through Thursday with a virtual learning day on Friday.
“Our top priority remains getting children back to in-person learning. This month marks a major shift for many families now and in the coming months as schools open their doors, some for the first time since the pandemic,” Cooper said. “The virus continues to spread, so we must take the next steps methodically and responsibly.”
By the numbers
According to Macon County Public Health statistics there have been 662 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Macon County since the start of the pandemic in February. Of those, 32 were considered active cases as of Wednesday. There have been 623 patients who have recovered and seven deaths in the county as a result of the virus.
Statewide there have been 219,754 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 3,647 deaths reported as a result. Nationwide there have been more than 7.4 million confirmed cases and 209,938 deaths.