First vaccines roll into HCH

  • Highlands Cashiers Hospital staff began the COVID-19 vaccination process on Saturday, Dec. 19.
    Highlands Cashiers Hospital staff began the COVID-19 vaccination process on Saturday, Dec. 19.

With the approval of a second COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, many people are wondering when a dose may be made available to them.

On Thursday night, Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor informed the board of commissioners that he has been kept in the loop regarding Macon County Public Health’s plan to deliver vaccinations to residents.

“The county and our area hospitals  have been preparing to dispense the vaccine for several weeks now pending approval and they have a four-tier plan to do just that,” Taylor said. “During our COVID-19 task force meeting earlier this week we were told that the first tier of people to receive the vaccine will be front-line medical workers such as doctors, nurses, EMS employees, etc. and residents of assisted living facilities.”

Taylor noted that the first tier of vaccinations will also cover adults at high risk, meaning those with preexisting health conditions and/or increased risk of COVID-19 exposure. 

The second tier will be reserved for Macon County residents over the age of 65. The third tier will take into account students and essential industry workers, and the final tier will be the general public under the age of 65.

The timeline to make vaccinations available for the general public is in the late spring, potentially April or May, according to Taylor.

“Locally in Highlands, I have spoken to Tom Neal with Highlands Cashiers Hospital and he informed me that the hospital now has vaccinations on hand for all of its employees as well as the residents of the Eckerd Senior Living Center,” Taylor said. “They plan to begin vaccinating immediately, which is of course good news.”

Highlands Cashiers Hospital began vaccinating staff and residents of the Eckerd Senior Living Center on Saturday. A total of 202 people received the vaccine during the four-hour clinic. That number included 47 residents of Eckerd Living Center, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital’s skilled nursing facility, and 155 frontline healthcare workers from across Mission Health.

“I am excited to begin the vaccination process to allow better care for our patients and the community,” HCH physician Dr. Patti Wheeler said. “I also look forward to getting the second vaccination and have had no side effects at all.”

As of Tuesday, 9 percent of Macon County’s 1,331 confirmed COVID-19 cases were among patients in the Highlands zip code according to MCPH statistics.

“The number of confirmed cases we have had in the Highlands zip code being at 9 percent basically mirrors the population of Highlands when compared to the county as a whole,” Taylor said. “Our numbers have been about average to this point.”

Taylor added that he has had contact with other mayors and employees of nearby municipalities, all wondering how Highlands has been able to reach a high level of compliance with COVID-19 regulations.

“Thus far we have had a vast majority of people wearing their masks in our business district and doing their best to maintain social distancing,” Taylor said. “I think our very clear rules, the prominent signage and the work of not only our law enforcement folks, but also our local business owners, to enforce the rules have all been key.”

Town manager Josh Ward noted that the Highlands Rec Center swimming pool remains closed to a potential COVID-19 exposure at the facility. No timetable was given for when the pool will reopen to the public.


MCPH identifies two clusters

Macon County Public Health officials made the public aware that two COVID-19 clusters have been identified in the past week. 

The first cluster was confirmed at Grandview Manor Care Center in Franklin. According to MCPH officials, eight residents and two staff members tested positive at the assisted living facility.

“All the residents and staff of Grandview Manor have been notified of their exposure and are recommended to be tested for COVID-19 at the direction MCPH’s Medical Director and the facility’s leadership team, and plans are in place to isolate any other individuals, should there be a positive result,” MCPH director Kathy McGaha said in a written statement. “Grandview Manor Care Center and Macon County Public Health have been working together and have verified that both facilities have all the necessary PPE, sanitizing, and monitoring supplies and guidance they need to assure that any spread is minimal.”

Grandview Manor is closed to visitors to slow the risk of spread within the facility and to the community. All residents and staff will be tested every week until there are two consecutive weeks of all negative results. When two consecutive weeks of negative results for all come back, facilities can begin to allow minimal visitation again.

The second COVID-19 cluster was identified at the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, where six staff members tested positive for the virus in the past week. Each of the MCSO employees who tested positive is self-isolating and the health department is in the process of identifying any additional close contacts to determine if any additional COVID-19 testing is required