The entirety of Graham County is in my parish. It’s THE bugout place to which one runs from big cities. And city slickers bring us disease. Lots of disease. And it’s not welcome anymore. Here are some of the communications of the Commissioners of Graham County in WNC to the citizens of Graham County NC, and to anyone who would be so very, very foolish as to attempt to come here. You will be turned away. Need food and gas and shelter and medical attention. Not here, buddy. Ain’t gonna happen. Take note:
The Graham County Board of Commissioners has authorized a county wide state of emergency declaration. The details of the declaration will take several days to implement. Starting today Friday, March 20, 2020 a curfew will be put in place. The curfew will start at 10:00 pm and extend till 6:00am and wlll be for an indefinite period. Persons that are going to and from work will be exempt from the curfew. We are considering some road closures and travel restrictions that will be annouced in the coming days. We are awaiting a decision from NC DOT about possible road closures and road restrictions. We do not take this matter lightly but if we are expecting our citizens to change their lives and limit their travel we must expect the same from those persons who are not residents of our county. We are taking a better safe than sorry approach to deal with the safety of our citizens. Should road closures be implemented or road restrictions implemented persons travelling to work outside the county or travelling to doctors visits will not be impeded. Necessary commercial traffic will be allowed as well. We know these decisions will impact many people but the safety and health of our citizens must come first. We expect our EMS services and our Sheriff’s Department employees to be extremely busy and the more we can to reduce traffic in and out of the county the less we’ll take them away from the emergencies that they have to deal with. This is a situation with a lot of unkowns and the response required by the state is changing almost by the hour. We urge everyone who can to just stay home and avoid person to person contact wherever possible. Persons who are not full time residents but own property here should prepare to show proof of property ownership. Should actual road closures take effect only persons with a Graham County address will be allowed into Graham County unless they can show that they have property in Graham County. We ask for your patience and your prayers as we try to manage the impact of Covid-19 on our county.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – March 20, 2020
Three Cherokee County Residents and an Illinois resident Test Positive for COVID-19, Currently Isolated in Cherokee County
Two Cherokee County residents that tested positive for COVID – 19 are being monitored and following isolation orders in Cherokee County. The patients are household contacts of the case from New York that tested positive in Cherokee County earlier this week. Both the index case (patient from New York) and the residents from Cherokee County have been isolated since testing was initiated on the patient from New York.
A third Cherokee County resident has tested positive for COVID – 19 and is currently isolated in their home since testing was initiated. This patient attended the contra dance on March 10th at the John C. Campbell Folk School which the New York patient had also attended. The patient is at home on isolation. Cherokee County Health Department will continue necessary contact tracing on this patient in identifying close contacts.
A resident of Illinois that tested positive for COVID – 19 is being monitored and following isolation orders in Cherokee County. The patient had traveled from Illinois and was staying in the home with the index case (patient from New York) that tested positive in Cherokee County earlier this week. Since cases are reported under the state of residency, this case will be identified as an Illinois case, not a North Carolina case. Therefore, this case will not show up on the North Carolina maps as a Cherokee County case. Both the index case from New York and the resident from Illinois are isolated since testing was initiated on the patient from New York.
Both of the Cherokee County individuals and the Illinois case have been on isolation since before becoming symptomatic. For this reason, contact tracing on these three cases will not be necessary. We can say with great certainty that these cases were isolated during the symptomatic phase of the illness and therefore had little to no opportunity to spread the virus.
It is now advised that anyone who becomes ill with a respiratory type illness should isolate until the following criteria are met:
• 7 days have passed since the onset of symptoms; AND
• At least 72 hours without a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and respiratory symptoms are improving
Because COVID-19 is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, individuals should take the same measures that health care providers recommend to prevent the spread of the flu and other viruses, including washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, staying home if you are sick and covering coughs and sneezes with your elbow.
It is important to make sure the information you are getting about COVID-19 is coming directly from reliable sources like Cherokee County Health Department, CDC, and NCDHHS. For more information, please visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus and NCDHHS’ website at www.ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus, which will also include future positive COVID-19 test results in North Carolina.
Cherokee County Health Department regularly updates our Facebook page with accurate and current information regarding COVID-19, we encourage the public to check our Facebook page for up-to-date information.
Symptoms for COVID-19 are fever, cough, and other lower respiratory illness (shortness of breath). If you are having a mild respiratory illness, isolate yourself from others until the criteria above is met. If your illness becomes severe requiring urgent or emergent health care, call and inform your health care provider or emergency services of your symptoms prior to arrival. If you have questions, you may call the Health Department at 828-837-7486 during regular office hours which are Monday-Friday 8AM-5PM.
As a result of the countywide declaration of emergency Graham County Government has established an Emergency Mangement Committee. This committee has met this morning and the following decisions have been made and will be put into play over the coming days.
A) Effective Monday, March 23,2020 all accomodation businesses shall close for business at 12:00 noon. Accomodations defined are hotels, motels, cabins, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, or any public rental facility that typically rents for less than one month.
B) By Friday, March 27, 2020 the following highways will be closed or have restricted access. 1) Cherohala Skyway will be closed to all traffic 2) Highways US 129 and NC 28 at Deals Gap will be restricted to local resident traffic and commercial traffic 3) US 129 at Topton will be restricted to pass through detour traffic, commercial traffic, and local resident traffic only. Once the US 74 detour is ended then US 129 will be restricted to local traffic and commercial traffic only. 4) NC Highway 28 going east from Stecoah will be restricted to local and detour traffic only and commercial traffic. Once the detour is ended NC 28 will be restricted to local and commercial traffic only. Persons travelling these highways should be prepared to show a Graham County address or proof of property ownership for non-residents to be able to enter Graham County.
We understand that this decision will impact a lot of people. It wlll cause people to be temporarily laid off from work. We will post information on how to file for unemployment benefits on the Graham County website. We accept that these are drastic steps to some degree but we have to do what is necessary to keep people safe. The President of the United States has asked everyone to stay home and eliminate unneccessary travel. We support that decision.
I want to try and put this emergency declaration in perspective to some of you. Again, we may look like idiots and fools when this is over and no one gets sick. I’m OK with that if it happens. We have 8900 or so full time residents. We have NO MEDICAL FACILITIES THAT CAN TREAT YOU FOR CORONAVIRUS. “0”. We have 2 ambulances. About a third of our EMS paramedics live in other counties and are employed by those counties. Those paramedics from other counties will be kept in their home county if there’s an outbreak in the home county. Should that happen, we’re down to a few paramedics and EMT’s.There is a serious shortage of paramedics across the region. IF, BIG IF, those paramedics start getting sick there will be no one to bring the ambulance to get you and take you to a hospital. Graham County citizens will be competing for a hospital bed with every county in western NC. There’s a hospital in Murphy; one in Franklin; one in Sylva; one in Waynesville; and Mission in Asheville. Mission serves all the western counties from Graham to the TN state line in Madison County. There are few empty beds at any of those hospitals on a normal day. Imagine how fast they’ll fill up with and outbreak in Buncombe or Haywood counties. Every county we border in NC has at least twice our population except Swain which has around one and a half times our population. Swain Hospital to my knowledge is not equipped or staffed to handle a pandemic outbreak. Their citizens will be taken to Harris in Sylva. If we have 1000 people across the region infected the available hospital beds are all of sudden gone. Where will the people from Graham County go? We would have to wait for the National Guard or other military personnel to come in and set up a hospital. Think of how many people are hospitalized on a normal day. Heart attack patients, cancer patients and all the normal emergencies that occour on a normal day. When I think about the worst case scenarios that causes me to be very concerned about the health and well being of the people of Graham County. I do not take this matter lightly. Some people following this news have called us communists (they have no idea what a communist is) and worse. They say we’re taking away their constitutional rights. Not true. You can’t run into a crowded theater and yell fire even if you’re joking. No one has the right constitutional or otherwise to put another persons life at risk. No one knows how to deal with a disease like this coronavirus. Our state and federal governments tell us minimize the risk. Reduce person to person contact. That is what we are trying to do and are trying not to disrupt anyone’s life more than we have to. ECBI Chief Richard Sneed announced yesterday that all non-essential businesses in the Qualla Boundary will close effective noon March 23. Graham County will be planning for the same type of closures in the next few days. We would hope that people would just voluntarilly close and stay home. Those businesses that will do that voluntarilly please do. This is serious not something to joke about. One sick person can lead to potentially hundreds of sick people. The isolation that we love about Graham County is also part of our worst nightmare to. We need food, shelter, and medical care. We have food and shelter. The medical care requires us to be taken to another county. Take steps today to reduce contact with other people. STAY HOME!