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Macon health department, emergency services express concerns to commissioners regarding COVID19 surge

Last updated on January 14, 2021

Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale told Health Director Kathy McGaha that after a series of phone calls and emails, he had several questions regarding the county’s current COVID19 response.

“There may be issues with the state, or with the federal government, but ultimately it is up to this county to take care of our residents,” said Beale.

Updating commissioners about the current COVID19 situation in Macon County, McGaha said that the public should consider staying home whenever possible at this point in the pandemic to slow the spread of the virus. 

“The public should assume that the virus is everywhere,” said McGaha. “If you go out in public at this point, you should assume you have been exposed.”

Like other counties in the state, the health department’s phone system crashed on Monday with too many calls from the public attempting to schedule testing appointments as well as appointments to receive the COVID19 vaccine. 

According to McGaha, the heath department has over 700 voicemails needing to be returned that will likely not be answered due to the staff being overwhelmed. McGaha said the county could double her existing staff and it still wouldn’t be enough to handle the current need within the health department to serve the public during the pandemic. 

With 15 phone lines dedicated to scheduling appointments from the public, the phone lines remain busy and ultimately crashed Frontier on Monday. To address the current surge of COVID19 cases in Macon County, the health department announced efforts to expand testing and vaccination efforts late Tuesday evening. 

“Macon County remains in Phase 1B, Group 1 for vaccination at this time. This group includes those

who are 75 years of age or older, regardless of health status,” said a press release. “Macon County Public Health will expand COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Clinics beginning

January 19th, 2021 as follows:

Monday and Thursday – COVID-19 Testing 8:30am – 4:00pm

Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday – COVID-19 Vaccination 10:00am – 3:00pm”

Those who are eligible under this phase and wish to receive a vaccination can call 828-349-2517, Option 2 to begin the registration process. Also, anyone who needs to schedule an appointment for testing can call 828-349-2517, Option 1.

Macon County Public Health is providing testing and vaccination clinics through a drive-thru clinic at 1830 Lakeside Drive in Franklin and, an appointment is required. The department is also continually working on ways to expand current capacity and streamlining the scheduling process and request the community assist by holding calls to schedule vaccinations until your phase is announced.

McGaha said registered nurses or doctors who still have a license who want to volunteer to help in the process, can do so by contacting the health department.

The Macon County Board of Commissioners released $100,000 in funds set aside for pandemic related expenses to the health department during their monthly meeting. In addition, they also approved allowing overtime pay for salaried nurses within the health department in order to expand hours to better serve the community. 

According to McGaha, the health department is the only facility available to provide the vaccine to the public at this time. She said that while Angel Medical Center and Mission Hospital are receiving their own allocations of vaccines, they are not working with the county to vaccinate the public and don’t have enough for their own staff.

Macon County Emergency Service Management Warren Cabe informed commissioners that his department is assisting the health department whenever possible by sending paramedics to help with vaccinations and testing. 

Macon County Emergency Management will be hosting a drive-thru COVID19 clinic in the Nantahala Community on January 19 for anyone who believes they may have been exposed to COVID19. The clinic will be held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. or until tests are no longer available. The clinic will be held at the Macon County EMS Base at 1096 Junaluska Road, Topton, NC. 

Cabe informed commissioners that area hospitals are nearing capacity and as a result, Macon County ambulance services are seeing an extended wait time in offloading patients at area emergency rooms. 

According to Cabe, there have been 25 recent occasions where ambulances have had to wait longer 25 minutes at a hospital before the hospital was able to accept the patient from the ambulance into the hospital. Cabe noted that when the county issued an emergency directive at the start of the pandemic, it did so to avoid the issues they are currently facing. 

With COVID19 patients being hospitalized at alarming rates, hospitals are reaching capacity and do not have space to care for other emergencies such as heart attacks or car accidents. Cabe said the county is currently managing, but he is concerned and monitoring it closely. 

The Macon County Board of Commissioners will be meeting again on February 4 at which point McGaha and Cabe will provide an update on the current COVID19 status in Macon County. 

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