Graham County started off COVID-19 by shuttering its borders. Months later, the county is experiencing an outbreak at a nursing home.
Graham County didn’t experience COVID-19 community spread until August unlike many surrounding counties which spiked much earlier.
“Graham County for their flu season typically runs about 6 weeks behind the state.”
That’s Beth Booth, director of Graham County Health Department.
“So when the state started spiking at the middle of July-ish timeframe, we sort of put a clock on it that Graham County was going to spike at the end of August. And that’s exactly what it’s done,” says Booth.
Booth says that the county closing its borders will always be controversial, but that it gave them necessary time to set up the infrastructure to deal with the pandemic.
“You know we’re not Buncombe County, we’re not even Jackson County. So it takes time for us to pull things together that it doesn’t take for other folks,” explains Booth. She says that twenty people work at the Graham County Health Department including 5 who specifically work at the dental clinic.
Because of that time, Booth says that the health department along with the county’s two clinics, Smoky Mountain Urgent Care and Tallulah Community Health Center, have been able to provide testing for the community. She says there hasn’t been any issues with testing supplies but…
“Access to care will always be an issue here. Obviously, our closest hospital is 45 minutes away at best," says Booth.
As of September 11, there are over 100 COVID-19 cases in the county and nearly half are part of an outbreak at Graham County’s only assisted living facility, Graham Healthcare and Rehabilitation.
“We’re not seeing anything that different in our nursing home than any other nursing home is seeing. Once it takes a foothold, because it is so infectious, mitigating that is quite difficult,” says Booth.
As of September 11, there were 48 COVID-19 cases at the facility - 37 cases are residents, and 11 cases are staff members – out of the 108 positive cases in the county. There were 55 residents at the facility before the outbreak, according to Booth. When a resident is diagnosed with COVID-19 they are moved to a sister facility outside of the county for isolation and treatment.
Booth sympathizes with families who have loved ones in assisted living care right now. She says the best thing that you can do is to stay in touch with your loved one through socially distanced communication.
Booth asks that county residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 at another facility or at a location outside the county contact the health department for further instructions. Do not wait to be called, says Booth.