COVID in retreat locally and globally | News

Expressed in weather terms, the current COVID situation is 72F with a slight ocean breeze.

According to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, for the week of March 10-17, only 10 cases were reported in Jackson County, a tremendous drop from the pandemic’s peak of 135 reported in one day, just 55 days ago.

“Cases continue to decline and the latest wastewater results show declines as well,” said Anna Lippard of the Jackson County Department of Public Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors wastewater in sites across the country, the sewage acting as a bellwether for infection.

North Carolina’s numbers follow the downward trend, down to 372 cases reported on March 21, a precipitous fall from the pandemic record one-day total of 44,833 on Jan. 13.

For the two-week period ending March 21, cases in the U.S. fell 29 percent from the two-week period ending March 7.

That 72F day with a slight ocean breeze has a potential cloud on the horizon.

Health officials are wary about BA.2, the newest coronavirus variant – but not the last – first detected in January. It is spreading across the U.S., particularly in the Northeast and West, according to the CDC.

The variant most likely will soon be the dominant strain. Cases have almost doubled every week over the past month, the CDC said.

BA.2 is considered a “sublineage” of the Omicron variant, the most transmissable to date. 

BA.1, the original Omicron strain, was responsible for the largest surge of cases since the pandemic began in late 2019.

Worldwide, new infections are primarily from the BA.2 Omicron sublineage. In the U.S., it accounted for 23.1 percent of new cases for the week ending March 12, an increase from 14.2 percent the previous week, the CDC said.

Studies indicate BA.2 is more transmissible than Omicron BA.1, according to the World Health Organization. 

It is too early to tell if BA.2 is making a noticeable impact, But public health officials say they are closely monitoring its spread.

About half of U.S. adults have not had a booster, the third shot, recommended by health officials for the best protection against infection 

Free COVID testing will be available through the OptumServe program at 154 Medical Park Loop, the old Meridian Building, until noon Monday, according to Lippard.

Those without internet access can register by calling 877-562-4850. Anyone can be tested, including those who are underinsured, uninsured, undocumented or homeless.

“We will continue to offer free testing through the health department, as well as provide at-home tests for free as long as supplies last,” Lippard said. 

Jackson County Public Schools on Wednesday reported no COVID-19 cases among staff or students. Last week, the school system reported two student cases, both at Scotts Creek Elementary School. The Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to leave the system’s mask policy at “optional.” 

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports 9,279 total cases in the county through March 19, up 20 from 9,259 reported on March 13.

Western Carolina University’s dashboard ( reports two new cases over the past week. Since July 1, 2020 there have been 1,855 cases among students and 329 among employees.

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