Coronavirus hits Macon

  • COVID-19

A man now in isolation in Macon County has tested positive for the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus as local health officials ramp up testing and put more precautions in place.

Gov. Roy Cooper and members of the Coronavirus Task Force were expected to hold a media briefing at 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 17 to announce a new executive order in response to COVID-19 that closes restaurants and bars for dine-in customers but allows them to continue takeout and delivery orders. 

The executive order will also include an expansion of unemployment insurance to help North Carolina workers affected by COVID-19. The order was expected to be effective by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17.

The patient now in isolation in Macon is a resident of New York, traveled to Asheville and was tested at an urgent care facility. 

“When we talked to the patient, our understanding is that they traveled from the facility where they were tested and went directly to Macon County, where they are isolated,” said Emily Ritter, health educator at Macon County Public Health.”

Health officials are in the process of determining if the patient had any close contacts in Macon County.

“We’ll determine who those close contacts are, if any, and we will contact them,” she said.

Ritter declined to say how many coronavirus tests the health department has conducted.

“We have received four negative results,” she said. “The public health staff here is working really hard to test people who are symptomatic. We do testing for flu first. If that flu test comes back negative, we test for COVID, then send them to LabCorps or to the N.C. lab if it’s a state test.”

Ritter said that private physicians are also conducting tests.

“I encourage the people of Macon County not to panic,” she said. “The health department has been working really hard to prepare for this situation. We feel we are able to handle whatever comes out of this.

“This is a really stressful time for a lot of people,” Ritter said. “They’re worried about family members and the community. We encourage people to reach out to one another online or by phone.”

The health department has set up a call center dedicated to COVID-19. The center is staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hotline is 828-349-2517

Karen Gorby, president and CEO of Angel Medical Center, said the hospital is prepared to deal with coronavirus patients.

“Angel Medical Center has protocols in place to care for patients with infectious diseases, and we are working diligently to help ensure we’re prepared for potential issues related to COVID-19,” Gorby said in an email. 

Gorby said that visitor restrictions have been implemented in patient care areas. Visitors and patients are being directed to use specific entrances where they are being screened. 

“Supplies are positioned at the points of entry so that any potential symptomatic patient who arrives can be properly masked and immediately isolated to protect our colleagues and other patients,” Gorby said. 

Use of the hospital’s cafeteria has been limited staff and patient families.

Gorby said the hospital has been seen any confirmed or presumptive cases.

Coronavirus tests are being performed at Angel, she said.

“We are following guidance from the local health department and CDC to determine which patients meet the criteria for testing,” she said. “When AMC tests patients, the information regarding the patient is sent to the local health department.”

Gorby recommends that patients with symptoms call their physician to alert them and ask for guidance.

“People should stay home except to get medical care,” she said. “If they are experiencing a medical emergency, they should call 911 and alert dispatch that they have symptoms of COVID-19.”

Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva has also restricted visitation.

“We are screening patients in our emergency department, inpatient units and outpatient clinics based on CDC guidance,” the hospital said in a statement. “We are asking the community to voluntarily restrict visitation with family members or friends currently in the hospital.”