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‘We Have To Protect Our Elders,’ Says First COVID-19 Case In Graham County

Lilly Knoepp
The Graham County Health Department is also testing for COVID-19.

Graham County is one of the most rural counties in North Carolina, with just around 9,000 residents.  It’s isolation led county leaders to put in place some of the most restrictive measures in the state in hopes of keeping the Coronavirus away - but it still came anyway.

BPR spoke with Graham County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case about the responsibility she felt when she learned the news: 

Graham County doesn’t have a hospital. That’s the main reason county commissioners decided to close off Graham County’s borders when COVID-19 began spreading across North Carolina. The borders remained closed until April 20. That weekend the Cherokee Indian Hospital confirmed the first COVID-19 case in the county. 

“Oh God, it could be my cousin Jim or it's my sister-in-law... ” 

That’s Jade Teesateskie of Robbinsville. To stop the rumors, she posted on Facebook just a few days later to confirm that she was the positive case.  

“The Facebook post was basically me taking responsibility for being around people and just letting everyone know that I'd been around  - or possibly been around that I didn't know - that they needed to go get tested,” says Teesateskie.

Teesateskie is part of the Snowbird community. Because she is a member of the Eastern Band she was tested by the Cherokee Indian Hospital, which serves tribal members. She is an essential employee and volunteered to be tested for work.  Teesateskie recalls telling her mother about her test results: 

“I broke down in tears. My mom was like, ‘What's wrong?’ And I told her, ‘I just don't want any of the family members or friends that I've been around to get it from me cause I would feel terrible.’ But luckily everybody that has been around me has come back negative,” says Teesateskie. 

She says the community has been supportive and she’s glad that the Eastern Band has been so proactive about testing. 

“We need to protect our elders because they're the ones that carry our language and our culture. And we have unfortunately so many younger people, including myself, who, don't really know a lot about our culture and our language. And, you know, without that, we're not a tribe. We have no identity without those things essentially,” says Teesateskie.


As of Friday there are two positive cases of COVID-19 in Graham County with 13 people waiting on test results, according to the local health department.


Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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