Schools close

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With the coronavirus expected to spread in Western North Carolina, Macon County has seen a rash of event cancellations and closings, including public schools.

On Saturday, March 13, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order forbidding public gatherings of more than 100 people. That includes sporting events, concerts, government meetings and schools, which have been specifically forbidden to hold physical classes for at least two weeks. 

Macon County Schools has made arrangements for remote learning through take-home packets and online modules in the event of an extended hiatus.

“We had some learning materials ready to go after meeting on Friday,” superintendent Chris Baldwin said. “We did not anticipate this specifically. We did not expect that schools would be closed by Monday, but we did expect that long-term cancellations could become a problem.”

Schools were open on Monday, March 16 for students to come and get things they may have left at school, as well as to pick up instructional packets from their teachers. Instructors are working with the school system’s IT department to make sure students have access to lessons from a distance for as long as necessary. 

The child nutrition department will run food distribution sites at Franklin High School, Mountain View Intermediate School, South Macon Elementary School, Highlands School and Nantahala School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and will have buses running their regular routes to deliver meals to those who can’t pick them up.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can right now to support Macon County families,” Baldwin said. “It’s about instruction, but it’s also about keeping them safe and healthy.”

All school field trips have also been cancelled, including Future Farmers of America trip to Denmark.

The shutdowns aren’t limited to schools. Macon Program for Progress (MPP) has suspended its Heard Start program and daycare services.

MPP will work alongside the school system to get food distributed to families who benefit from its Head Start pre-K program. MPP director Chuck Sutton said the program is not able to provide food to their children outside of the program themselves but will lend their assistance to Macon County Schools in any way they can.

“We believe that the efforts of the Macon County public schools to prepare and deliver meals is the best way to reach children with much-needed nutrition,” Sutton said. “MPP has pledged our support to Dr. Baldwin and the team at Macon County public schools to assist in any way we can in this program. It is important that no child go hungry during this national health crisis.”

Cultural centers are also taking a hit to their calendars, including the Carpenter Community Building, Cowee School and the Macon County Public Library, all of which have suspended all activities. Librarian Karen Wallace says that all late fees at the library will be waived while the facility is closed, something she says is a small price to pay to maintain isolation.

“In evaluating information that indicates that aggressive early social distancing can stop the coronavirus from exponentially spreading, library leadership is making this difficult decision,” Wallace said. “Currently, we plan to reopen on April 1, but we’ll be continually assessing the situation to determine if this date will be extended.”

Many churches have cancelled regular services are a precaution.

The Crawford Senior Center has also called off all of its upcoming gatherings. Seniors are particularly at risk, and senior living facilities are taking precautions. 

Tiffany Fields of Affinity Living Group, parent company of Franklin House, said the nursing facility is temporarily barring visits and is offering temporary lodging to employees to socially isolate its people as much as possible.

Now that a case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Macon County in a traveller from New York, it could be a while before local events are safe. However, local health officials stress that social distancing is a critical weapon in the fight against the pandemic and that minimizing large gatherings is for the best in the long term.

“This is one of those areas where [the Center for Disease Control] wants us to recommend that those folks in high-risk areas avoid large groups of people,” interim public health director Carmine Rocco said. “I know that’s difficult, but for the short term, these are the types of recommendations that may help to reduce and limit the number of people exposed and therefore the number of people who are affected in this area.”

For more information, go online to cdc.gov/coronavirus.