As Macon County hit a record number of active COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive week, some good news did emerge regarding the availability of coronavirus vaccinations.
Macon County Public Health officially moved into Phase 1B of its vaccination program on Wednesday.
“This group includes those who are 75 years of age or older, regardless of health status,” MCPH Population Health Section Administrator Tammy Keezer said in a written statement. “Those who are eligible under this phase to receive a vaccination can call 828-349-2517 to schedule an appointment. Vaccine appointments will be at Macon County Public Health located at 1830 Lakeside Drive in Franklin, and will be conducted through a drive-thru clinic.”
Macon County had been in Phase 1A of its vaccination plan since before Christmas. In Phase 1A, COVID-19 vaccines were made available to all frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents.
“Macon County Public Health is also actively looking for ways to expand current vaccine capacity, while also maintaining some scheduling gaps that the organization has blocked for those who will be receiving their second dose,” Keezer said. “All considerations are being weighed to continue to offer an exceptional level of care and dedication to our community. We ask that the community continue to be patient with us as we work through these hurdles and, continue to provide the best service possible in this challenging time.”
Macon County hit a record high 636 active COVID-19 cases on Friday, Jan. 8. As of Tuesday, there were 634 active positive cases. Since the pandemic began, Macon County has reported 2,102 total cases and 12 deaths.
Overwhelmed with calls
On Tuesday, MCPH Director Kathy McGaha said the health department received more than 500 live calls and an additional 300 voicemails related to COVID-19 testing and vaccination in a 24-hour period.
“At the present time, our phone system is being overwhelmed with individuals calling for both COVID-19 testing and vaccination,” McGaha said. “We apologize for the difficulty you may be experiencing with our phone system. Please bear with us as we work as quickly as we can to find a resolution. Macon County IT is working with Frontier to resolve the system capacity in hopes of having the issues resolved today.”
MCPH has received 600 vaccines and continues to receive weekly shipments from the state. As of Jan. 12, the health department has given 162 vaccinations.
MCPH is currently scheduling vaccinations on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Appointments are scheduled every 15 minutes and they have scheduled as many as 100 vaccinations per day.
Vaccinations are conducted through a drive-thru clinic at the health department’s 1830 Lakeside Drive location in Franklin.
“We are planning to add additional vaccination times beginning next week,” said Keezer. “When we start administering second doses we will be scheduling 200 vaccinations per day.”
The current vaccination schedule is posted on the health department’s web site (maconnc.org) under the COVID-19/Coronavirus tab.
Clusters no longer reported
On Monday, MCPH officials announced that the organization will no longer be announcing publicly when a cluster of COVID-19 cases is identified.
The move prompted response from Franklin Mayor Bob Scott and Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor, who both objected to the decision.
“With due respect, I feel it is important to continue issuing cluster information,” Scott said via email. “The reason is, how can a person know if they have been in a cluster situation if that info is not issued, and therefore they are at increased risk? We have seen the effects of some local groups and individuals who refuse to take this pandemic and masking serious. Please reconsider this and continue to issue cluster information.”
Taylor echoed Scott’s call to continue making cluster information public in a follow-up email.
According to information provided by MCPH, the decision to stop releasing cluster information came after acknowledging the high rate of community spread in the county and offers more resources to the vaccination rollout process.
“Macon County is seeing a continued surge of COVID-19 positive individuals as a result of holiday gathering,” McGaha said in a written statement. “This surge is affecting the entire community, including businesses, churches, agencies, etc. We need the community to do everything they can to slow the surge of COVID-19 by wearing their mask, avoid in-person social gatherings, and when it is your turn, get vaccinated.”
The Franklin Press Publisher Rachel Hoskins contributed to this report.