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Swain Schools delay mask decisions Swain Community Hospital receives funding to increase COVID19 testing efforts

Last week, the Swain County Board of Education decided to make masks optional after consideration of postponing making a decision regarding mask requirements for students this Fall.

Alison Cochran Swain County Director of Public Health spoke to members of the Swain County Board of Education last week to update them on the drastic increase in COVID19 cases within the county in recent days.

“I would like to take a moment to remind the public, our community, that this pandemic, COVID19, and its variances is an ever-evolving state,” she said. “We at the health department are doing everything we can by providing and promoting vaccines. Unfortunately, the vaccines are not 100% effective. No vaccines is. There have been breakthrough cases of those who have been vaccinated contracted COVID19. But with vaccines, masks, and social distancing, we hope and pray that our community will face fewer hospitalizations and deaths. This is truly what we are striving for.

Swain County reported 35 active cases on Thursday, nearly double from the 18 reported one Monday. Cochran noted that the Delta variant spreads more easily than the novel COVID19 virus and is currently responsible for the majority of positive cases in the region.

“I am concerned now,” said Cochran. “With the drastic increase we have seen overall, but if we start to see a specific increase in school age, I can let you know that as well.”

The Swain County Board of Education unanimously voted to begin school with an optional mask mandate while also deciding to watch the metrics for county-level data and make a final decision as it gets closer to the start of school it changes are needed.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper stopped just shy of a new mask mandate during a press conference last Thursday, although he and state health leaders urged citizens to get a COVID-19 vaccine following the CDC’s new guidance that recommends even fully vaccinated people wear coverings indoors due to a rise in COVID-19.

North Carolina health officials reported over 3,200 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday. This was the highest single-day case count since late February. Health experts say the majority of these cases are the delta variant, which has a higher viral load and a shorter incubation period compared to the regular strain of the virus. Nearly 1,200 people are hospitalized statewide due to COVID-19 with another big increase Thursday.

Jackson County Schools voted to require masks to begin the school year while Haywood County Schools and Macon County Schools have decided to make them optional at this point.

Masks will likely be required for schools located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, as Principal Chief Richard Sneed reinstated a mask mandate last week, once again requiring masks be worn indoors.

Swain County Community Hospital was one of 19 hospitals in North Carolina selected to receive federal funding to increase COVID19 testing availability.

North Carolina received more than $4.9 million federal funds for small rural hospitals in the state to provide COVID-19 testing and mitigation, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced today. The program will provide increased COVID-19 testing to rural populations ensuring an equitable distribution across the state.

Nineteen hospitals, including Swain Community Hospital, will receive up to $258,376 to increase COVID-19 testing efforts, expand access to testing in rural communities and expand the range of COVID-19 mitigation activities to meet community needs. All 19 hospitals have fewer than 50 beds or are critical access hospitals.

“This funding is key in providing an equitable response to COVID-19 in our rural communities. Rural hospitals are well-positioned as trusted health care providers in their communities to encourage COVID-19 vaccination and testing, especially in places where many people feel uncertain about getting vaccinated,” said Maggie Sauer, Director of the Office of Rural Health at NCDHHS.

In many small rural hospitals, COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and treatment add an additional workload for already limited staff and resources. Targeted support is necessary for rural communities to overcome barriers toward achieving and maintaining high COVID-19 testing rates.

Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some rural residents at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or having severe illness.  This includes the 10 million rural residents who identify as Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander or mixed race. One in five rural residents belongs to one or more of these groups.

Funding came from the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program through the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Funded activities include COVID-19 testing education, establishing easily accessible testing sites, test result processing and implementing activities within CDC Community Mitigation Framework to address COVID-19 in rural communities.

The 19 hospitals receiving these funds are Alleghany Health, Ashe Memorial Hospital Inc., Charles A. Cannon Jr. Memorial Hospital, DLP Person Memorial Hospital, Granville Health System, Martin General Hospital, Pender Memorial Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, The Outer Banks Hospital, Vidant Bertie Hospital, Vidant Chowan Hospital, Washington Regional Medical Center, LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes, Swain Community Hospital, Cape Fear Hoke, Cape Fear Bladen, FirstHealth Montgomery, J. Arthur Dosher Memorial Hospital and Wilkes Medical Center.

Since May, more than 92% of new cases in North Carolina have occurred in people who are not fully vaccinated. Vaccines are proven to be effective against COVID-19 and its variants. To find a vaccine location near you, visit MySpot.nc.gov or call 888-675-4567

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