The number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb as the health department identified a third cluster in Macon County.
On June 12, Macon County Public Health (MCPH) reported that a third cluster of six cases was identified at Franklin-based Wind River Construction.
The N.C. Department of Health defines a cluster as a minimum of five cases testing positive within a 14-day period, with plausible linkage among the cases.
The six employees of Wind River have been issued isolation orders, according to the health department.
“All additional employees are aware of their exposure, and are currently being contacted for testing,” the health department said in a release. “All employees who are awaiting test results have also been given instructions to quarantine until they receive a negative test result; those who test positive will be given isolation orders for 14 days or until they receive two negative COVID-19 tests within a 24-48-hour period.”
As of Monday, June 15, Macon County Public Health reported 230 total cases, including 18 recovered and one death. There were 211 active positive cases.
A total of 2,466 COVID-19 tests have been reported to the health department. Macon Public Health has conducted 2,034 tests.
As of June 15, no COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at Angel Medical Center or Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, according to Nancy Lindell, a spokeswoman for Mission Health.
AMC has discharged a total 12 COVID patients during the pandemic, Lindell said. Those patients were not necessarily admitted to the hospital, but were “discharged from care,” meaning they could have been isolating at home on the orders of their private physician.
AMC listed one person in the hospital as a “person under investigation,” someone who is awaiting test results.
Macon has the highest infection rate in far-western North Carolina, with 65 cases per 10,000 people tested, according to the state health department. Swain County is second with 27, followed by Jackson with 13, Cherokee with 11, Haywood with 10, Clay with eight and Graham with seven.
“Macon County is uniquely situated, being close to the Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina borders,” said Macon Public Health director Kathy McGaha. “With restrictions easing in all of these states and regular tourism and businesses getting back to work, there is some spread to be expected.”
Of the tests conducted at Angel, 6.1 percent have come back positive. Across the Mission system, 3.1 percent have been positive, according to Lindell.
Of the 2,034 tests conducted by MCPH, 10.9 percent have returned positive results, according to the health department. For all 2,466 tests in the county reported to MCPH, 9 percent have come back positive.
McGaha said that despite the spread, Macon County is prepared to respond with more testing and faster results.
“Many … rural areas are starting to see increased COVID-19 numbers as states and the country re-open,” McGaha said. “By shutting down our economy temporarily, it gave our state and county the opportunity to prepare for when we did get hit with community spread of the virus.”
COVID-19 remains a threat that needs to be taken seriously, McGaha warned.
“Community spread of COVID-19 exists in Macon County,” she said. “COVID-19 is still an active public health crisis, and we are still serving our community to make sure that we slow the spread. For those who are returning to work and going out, we recommend that they practice the 3W’s: Wear a mask, Wash your Hands and Wait 6 feet apart. For those at higher risk due to their age and/or chronic conditions, we recommend they stay at home except for essential activities.”