Macon County reported just three positive cases of COVID-19 for 12 weeks. On Friday, Macon County Public Health has announced 42 positive cases have been confirmed in the last 48 hours. This brought the total case count up to 63.
Of the 42 new cases announced in Macon County on Friday, the health department identified six at Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands. The inn has six lodging locations along with a golf course, restaurants and a wine garden - making it one of the biggest employers in the county with about 450 workers. Here’s Macon County health department medical Director Dr. Donald Dewhurst:
“We had a question about the cluster at Old Edwards Inn and what they have to do for their employees. That information is out there in the form of guidelines from the state and the CDC,” says Dewhurst. “That includes wearing masks while you are at work, distancing, washing hands, disinfecting surfaces. The employers are the ones who really have to drive that.”
The inn closed its doors on March 17. The hotel has since reopened with limited occupancy as North Carolina entered Phase 1 regulations and lodging restrictions were rolled back by Macon County Commissioners.
Last week, the Inn’s restaurants (Madison's Restaurant, The Wine Garden and Four65 Woodfire Bistro + Bar) reopened at 50 percent capacity as North Carolina moved into Phase 2 which allowed restaurants to open limited dine in services.
The health department identified 6 cases at Old Edwards but explained some of previously reported cases at the Ebekenezer Congregation in Franklin were also linked to Old Edwards. Three cases were also confirmed to be at Walmart in Franklin.
“We are very confident that the virus is in the community, that there is community spread in the county, as there is in most of the state and most of the country,” says Macon County Public Health Director Kathy McGaha.
Dewhurst explains that some of the people who have tested positive are from the Latinx community. Macon County has a COVID-19 helpline in Spanish and translators but Dewhurst says, “It's difficult to get clear understandable messages across.”
Many staffers who work at Old Edwards live in staff housing near the property.
“I think that the employers do have some responsibility, as the rest of us do, to make sure that the employees in that housing have the information that they need to stay safe,” says Dewhurst.
The health department explained many of the 42 new cases announced Friday were found through contract tracing.
McGaha says that so far five people in the county have been hospitalized for COVID-19.
Here’s Emergency Manager Warren Cabe’s advice to the community:
“Please try and abide by the rules, regulations and recommendations that are out there. They are for your good. They are for your neighbor’s good and they will help us get to the end of this.”
Testing has increased dramatically in recent weeks at the health department, with over a hundred tests being performed per day.
On Sunday, there were 85 positive cases of COVID-19 in the county, according to the local health department.