For those who have descended on Highlands from other states in the past two weeks, I implore you to please follow the town, county and governor’s states of emergency orders. Returning part time residents must voluntarily quarantine for 14 days.
For that matter, all residents should follow the governor’s emergency order by staying at home, limiting travel and avoiding social contact. Failure to do so is potentially a matter of life and death.
The town board and I have virtually shut the town down. We have instituted police road checks to reach out to as many incoming part time residents as possible to tell them to self-quarantine. The town website has links to critical COVID-19 information.
Please do not call me, or send me long emails, detailing how you and your family are special exceptions. If you enter our town limits you will be expected to shelter in place and avoid unnecessary social contact. Leaving a residence for exercise and to purchase essential supplies is permissible. Dinner parties and socialization as usual are not. While outside, everyone should set an example and maintain a six foot social distance.
I am also frustrated.
Other surrounding states, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee have failed or been slow to take action to stop the spread of COVID-19. There has been an exodus of residents from these states to Western North Carolina. Here on the Highlands Plateau with the influx from these states an intensified spread of COVID-19 is possible. An increase in population to the levels seen during the July 4 holiday could exponentially increase the probability of becoming an infection hotspot like as in Albany, Georgia.
Albany/Doughtery County has a population of about 160,000 residents. They have had a serious outbreak, and Phoebe Putney Hospital has struggled to increase their ICU capacity which is critical to ventilating COVID-19 victims. If the Highlands Cashiers Hospital has a surge of coronavirus patients, medical staff could be challenged to meet the demand. Victims requiring extended ICU support would have to be transported to a larger HCA facility.
Our hospital and HCA are offering a virtual clinic by visiting the Highlands Cashiers Hospital website. At the top of the homepage there is a red bar that reads Coronavirus 2019. Click on it and updated information on the coronavirus will appear. Scroll down to Mission Virtual Clinic. There is a connecting link to an online doctor visit. This virtual clinic option is a great way for established patients to access basic medical services without actually going to the hospital.
I have been very concerned that we have vulnerable residents that need community support. The Highlands Chamber of Commerce has created the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program. Twenty volunteers have already signed up to provide help to those who will need assistance in basic needs like obtaining food and picking up prescriptions. For some elderly folks living alone, just a routine phone call to make sure they are ok will be important. The chamber will coordinate with other nonprofits and churches to insure delivery of this support. If you need help, or want to volunteer, please call the chamber at 828-526-2112, or visit their website where all the specific information is available.
While I am very concerned about what lies ahead, I am also uplifted by the community organizations and volunteers that have, and will continue to meet this challenge. One group that are heroes already are the medical professionals throughout the nation who are treating victims. About a month ago I put on my schedule a luncheon honoring doctors on National Doctors Day which as this past Monday. Of course the luncheon was cancelled. The town proclamation that I planned reading at the luncheon is still on my desk. Nevertheless, let me proclaim on behalf of the Town of Highlands, our gratitude and appreciation for the doctors that serve so faithfully, as well as the nurses, CNAs and medical support staff.
Please listen to my daily updates on WHLC Radio for the latest COVID-19 information.