The arrival of vaccines marks a major milestone in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, but the crisis is far from over as health officials warily look for another post-holiday surge.
Macon County Public Health reported two COVID clusters on Dec. 17-18.
Eight residents and two staff members tested positive at Grandview Manor Care Center.
“All patients who have tested positive are doing well and isolated from others,” the health department said in a news release. “Staff who have tested positive will not return to work until they are no longer infectious. All the residents and staff of Grandview Manor Care Center have been notified of their exposure and are recommended to be tested for COVID-19.”
The facility will be closed to visitors to slow the risk of spread within the facility and to the community.
“All residents and staff of both facilities have been tested and are awaiting results,” according to the health department. “All residents and staff will be tested every week until there are two consecutive weeks of all negative results. When two consecutive weeks of negative results for all come back, then facilities can begin to allow minimal visitation again.”
A second cluster was reported at the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, where six staff members have tested positive.
“All personnel are aware of their exposure and are currently being contacted for testing,” according to the health department.
As of Monday, Dec. 21, Macon County Public Health reported 257 active COVID cases from a total of 1,287 total cases since the pandemic began. There have been nine deaths, along with 1,021 patients who have recovered.
As of 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 21, there are 131 lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 patients hospitalized across the Mission Health system – four at Angel Medical Center, 113 at Mission Hospital, five at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine and four at Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard.
Dr. Gus Wilde has also seen the number of cases rise in recent weeks.
“Our numbers are going up just like it was predicted this summer,” Wilde said. “We’re definitely seeing a lot of spread within families and within homes. That’s been very common. We are using our parking lot as a waiting room, so we screen everybody ahead of time.”
Wilde estimates that his practice has seen about 30 patients who tested positive.
“Fortunately none of them have ended up in the hospital,” he said. “That’s a key factor. I hope that continues.”
Diagnosing the coronavirus is complicated by the fact that the flu, colds and even allergies cause many of the same symptoms.’’
“Anybody who calls with any symptoms that might be COVID, we go out and do our parking lot test,” Wilde said. “It’s a rapid test and gives results in 15 minutes. That has been real helpful.”
Wilde and other health professionals are concerned about the impact of Christmas get-togethers.
“In spite of encouraging people not to gather [at Thanksgiving], enough people did that we’re seeing that spike,” Wilde said. “We anticipate a similar thing in January. But I’ve spoken with a lot of patients who are have cancelled family plans [for Christmas]. That’s kind of encouraging.”
Also encouraging is the arrival of vaccines. Macon County Public Health was expecting a shipment of Moderna vaccine the week of Dec. 21.
Mission Health received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 17 and began vaccinating employees the next day in accordance with the CDC tiering system, according to Karen Gorby, CEO at Angel Medical Center.
“Vaccinations are continuing, and we have been told to expect doses of the Moderna vaccine and more of Pfizer vaccine within the next week, but we don’t have firm dates at this time,” she said.
Vaccines are a huge step forward in defeating the virus, but there’s still a long, hard road ahead.
“The biggest concern I have is people’s reluctance to get the vaccine,” he said. “They tested the Pfizer vaccine in 45,000 people, and Moderna trials were 30,000. The results were excellent. The vaccines are safe. My daughter was in a trial for Moderna a couple months ago in Atlanta.”
Even with the promise of vaccines, this is not the time for Macon residents to let their guard down, Wilde said.
“I’m hopeful that next Thanksgiving will be kind of a normal one,” he said. “I don’t see it much before that.”
ONE COUPLE’S ORDEAL
Kathy Peek and her husband Terry have battled COVID, and Kathy urged her Macon neighbors to take the disease seriously. The ordeal for them began on Friday, Dec. 4.
“We just started with sniffles, then it quickly progressed to [severe] very nausea and chills,” she said. “We were in bed all day Dec. 4-6 and were very, very sick that weekend.”
The couple drove to Swain County to Smoky Mountain Urgent Care in Swain County for same-day tests. They got there 15 minutes early but the line in the parking lot was so long that it took them three hours to get tested.
“By the time we got done there, we were really sick,” Peek said. “It was just a horrible, horrible thing. I can’t explain how horrible it is. You just hurt all over your body. You can’t hold your head up, freezing one minute and burning up the next minute.”
Both Kathy and Terry ended up in the ICU at Angel Medical Center. Kathy, 62, and her husband, 67, both developed COVID pneumonia. Terry also developed blood clots in both lungs.
Their 16-year-old grandson also tested positive.
“But he does not have all these serious symptoms, just a stuffy nose and bellyaches, and he’s just really tired and sleeps a lot,” Kathy said.
Kathy Peek works as a safety assistant on a Macon County Schools bus, but he doesn’t think she contracted COVID on the job.
“We do not have any idea where we got it. My husband is an amputee. He does not leave the house very often at all except for doctor’s appointments. We thought he had a bladder infection, and I took him to the ER in Sylva. Based on the time line, we suspect he picked it up there.”
Where she picked up the virus, Peek warns her neighbors to take COVID-19 seriously.
“I’ve had some bad cases of the flu but never in my life had the flu that was anything like this,” she said. “It just keeps on keeping on. I’m still having bad days.
“I know not everybody has the same experience, but this is nothing to play around with,” Peek said. “People need to wear masks, to sanitize their hands, and they need to be more careful about social distancing.”