The Latest: Updates on COVID-19

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The first positive confirmation of the COVID-19 virus for Cashiers and southern Jackson County has been confirmed this week (see sidebar story), bringing the total of confirmed cases in Jackson County to three overall with zero deaths. 
As of April 18, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 32,800 people, overtaking Italy and China and making the U.S. the number one ranked nation for fatalities in the world.
According to the N.C. Department of Public Health, 99 new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed this week in the state, bringing the total to more than 6,400 confirmed cases with 172 deaths. 
By the numbers in NC
The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus continues to grow in North Carolina with new state numbers released April 18, but at a notably slower rate than in recent days.
As of Saturday the statewide case total stands at 6,493 according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
After a surge of deaths from illnesses related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, only nine additional deaths were reported in Wednesday’s count, bringing the statewide total to 172.
More than 430 residents are hospitalized with coronavirus across the state, and nearly 68,000 tests for the infection have been completed.
Adults ages 65 and older account for 80 percent of the deaths but just 26 percent of the cases in North Carolina.
There have been no deaths in people under 25, and just 7 percent of the state’s deaths are in those under 50, even though they account for 46 percent of the state’s cases.
Demographic breakdown
According to NCDHHS data, women in North Carolina appear to be slightly more susceptible to infection, with men only accounting for 44 percent of the cases. But men are dying at a much higher rate, accounting for 69 percent of deaths.
Infection rates among African Americans continues to be high, accounting for 38 percent of North Carolina cases while African Americans make up only about 21 percent of the state’s population. Although African Americans who become infected do not appear to be dying at a greater rate than other groups who become infected, a disproportionate number of deaths from the virus have been African American individuals, with 40 of the state’s 117 deaths being in African American residents.
There have been few confirmed COVID-19-illness-related deaths in groups other than whites and African Americans, so death rates remain unclear among these groups.
Face-to-face surveys suspended
According to local representatives with the U.S. Census Bureau, face-to-face surveys that were to begin April 29 have been suspended for now in order to comply with the mandated social distancing directive. 
According to Jackson County Planning Director Michael Poston, all Census field operations are on hold. This includes both Update/Leave and Enumeration. Update/Leave is the program the Census uses to reach those that do not receive mail at their physical address – Post Office box users. 
“This delay has impacted our County as we have a high number of PO box users that have not received information about completing the Census,” Poston said. “Enumeration is where Census workers will come to each home to help people complete the Census.”
Poston said the face-to-face surveys have not been canceled, just suspended. 
“The Census will send out field workers once it is safe to do so,” Poston said. “The best way for people to help limit the need for field operations is to complete the Census.” 
There are three ways that the Census can be completed. Fill out the paper version of the Census form, if you have received one, complete the Census online at www.my2020census.gov, or by phone at 844-330-2020 for English  and 844-468-2020 for Spanish.
For those that have limited or no internet availability, the County has established Wi-Fi hot spots at the Cashiers Recreation Center parking area.
Density is a factor
One factor in spreading infections appears to be congregate living facilities, including long-term care facilities and correctional facilities. NCDHHS has reported 45 outbreaks of two cases or more at facilities in 28 counties. However, North Carolina has not yet released the records to show which facilities have outbreaks of which sizes. At a press conference Tuesday, DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the department had decided to “strike a balance” between the privacy of facilities and public health in not releasing that information.
State prison officials face a lawsuit from civil rights groups calling on them to release several thousand prisoners at high risk for illness, but so far have resisted most efforts from these groups and public health experts to do so. An announcement was issued on Monday detailing how around 500 prisoners would be transferred to community-based programs, such as wearing electronic monitoring devices.
Numbers by county
NCDHHS reports show the counties with the most cases as of Wednesday morning are Mecklenburg with 1,015, Wake with 510, Durham with 330, Rowan with 206, Cabarrus with 191, Orange with 161 and Guilford with 149. Those seven counties account for more than one-third of the confirmed cases among North Carolina residents.
No additional counties reported new cases on Wednesday, and the virus has been confirmed in residents of 93 of the state’s 100 counties.
Jackson County has three confirmed cases, and Macon county has two confirmed cases with one fatality reported.
Counties without any confirmed cases so far are Avery, Camden, Graham, Hyde, Madison, Swain and Yancey. Camden and Hyde are in the rural northeastern coastal region of the state, while the others are rural communities on the state’s western border with Tennessee.
Schools remain closed
The 2019-20 school year remains in limbo, with classes still being held remotely for at least three more weeks. Both Blue Ridge School and Early College and Summit Charter School, along with all Jackson County Schools, remain closed, and will be closed through May 15 and are currently utilizing remote learning curricula.