On Monday, the first case of COVID-19 in Western North Carolina was confirmed in a patient that is isolating in Macon County after visiting Asheville.
The Macon County Health Department cannot confirm the location of the patient who tested positive for COVID-19 because of privacy regulations. Spokesperson Emily Ritter explains:
“I would just remind people that if they tested positive for this respiratory disease, Would they want people knocking down their doors and telling them to leave?,” says Ritter. “This person has followed their isolation orders very well. We are in constant contact and they had very limited contact throughout Macon County.”
But Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor grudgingly confirms the person is in Highlands: “I’ve heard that rumor and I will not deny that.”
Ritter did explain the individual’s full timeline. Around March 10, the person travelled to Buncombe County from New York. Then on March 12, they began experiencing symptoms. On the 13th, they were tested and given guidance to quarantine. That’s the day that they left Buncombe County for Macon County where they have a home. On the 15th, the test came back positive and they received an isolation order from the health department.
They signed the isolation order, which is a legally binding document that carries a misdemeanor charge if they do not stay in isolation. The county health department is checking in with the patient twice a day via phone. This will continue until they are not contagious.
Both the Macon County Health Department and Taylor say rumors that the person is not staying in isolation are false.
“Those kinds of rumors are unfortunate and they really don’t help the situation. We need to say calm and help each other during this situation,” says Taylor.
Meanwhile, there has been an influx of people to Highlands. Usually there are about 1,000 residents in town at this time of year, according to Taylor. But he says there has been a significant increase in the population recently - mostly made up of second home owners from Atlanta.
“People will think that they are escaping the virus by coming up to this isolated community but we really aren’t that isolated from this situation,” explains Taylor citing high tourism rates.
Ritter has this piece of advice for visitors: “If you are coming to Macon County to visit, stay in your home.” This will be less of an issue after Governor Cooper's executive order dining in at restaurants and bars, which starts at 5 p.m.
Taylor say he expects cases to be diagnosed in Highlands just like anywhere else in the country.
The town of Franklin and Macon County have both announced a state of emergency. The town of Highlands is expected to announce the same by the end of the day.