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County leaders express concern over health department’s decision to scale back transparency

As COVID19 cases in Macon County continue to rise with days last year reporting over 100 new cases in a day, the Macon County Department of Public Health announced Monday morning that they will no longer be providing the public with information regarding cluster within the county.

“Macon County is seeing a continued surge of COVID-19 positive individuals as a result of holiday gatherings,” Health Director, Kathy McGaha said of the change. “This surge is affecting the entire community, including businesses, churches, agencies, etc. We need the community to do everything they can to slow the surge of COVID-19 by wearing their mask, avoid in-person social gatherings, and when it is your turn – get vaccinated.”

According to the announcement, the decision was made in order to realign the department’s resources to better support the vaccination roll-out process and due to
exceptional community spread within Macon County.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) defines clusters of COVID-19 in non- congregate living settings as:
• A minimum of 5 cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period AND
• Plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases*

Franklin Mayor Bob Scott responded to the announcement urging the health department to reconsider.

“With due respect, I feel it is important to continue issuing cluster information,” said Mayor Scott. “The reason is, how can a person know if they have been in a cluster situation if that info is not issued and therefore are at increased risk.
We have seen the effects of some local groups and individuals which refuse to take this pandemic and masking serious. Please reconsider this and continue to issue cluster information.”

Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor also responded to the health department on Monday morning saying he agreed with Mayor Scott’s concerns.

Macon County Commissioner Vice-Chair Ronnie Beale said that he has received multiple calls and emails concerning the county’s current response to COVID19 and is also concerned with the decision to no longer report clusters to the public.

“Commissioners will be meeting tomorrow night and will be asking those very questions,” Commissioner Beale said Monday morning. “Macon County Public Health Director Kathy McGaha is on the agenda to present an update to the board and we will be addressing concerns at that time.”

Shortly after the announcement regarding clusters was made, the health department also announced that the next phase of vaccines will be provided to the public beginning this week.

“Macon County Public Health is announcing that it will begin to vaccinate those eligible under Phase 1B, Group 1 starting this week,” said the health department. “This group includes those who are 75 years of age or older, regardless of health status. Those who are eligible under this phase, receive a vaccination, can call 828-349-2517 to schedule an appointment. Vaccine appointments will be at Macon County Public Health located at 1830 Lakeside Drive in Franklin, and will be conducted through a drive-thru clinic.”

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