By Tim Gardner
Going from last to first in any field usually produces a glorified achievement. But not true in the case of Avery County’s battle against coronavirus (COVID-19).
Avery was North Carolina’s last of 100 counties to have a confirmed coronavirus case. From the time coronavirus first started in America last winter until mid-May and as cases mounted throughout the state, the High Country county of 17,505 citizens (Source: Wikipedia) had not had a single case. By mid-May, however, this county that borders fellow-North Carolina counties Watauga, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and Mitchell as well as Carter and Johnson Counties in Tennessee had lost that distinction, as county health officials reported a case.
Then by last summer, as the state’s most populated counties and cities had spikes in cases, Avery County saw only a moderate-at-worst increase in cases per capita, data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services revealed. But as of this week, however, the county is at 928 cases per 100,000 residents. That equates to the highest rate in the state.
Data will be released next week to determine if Avery still holds on as the unwanted leader of North Carolina’s coronavirus cases by percentage of residents.
Metropolitan areas continue to have more total coronavirus infections, but smaller, more rural counties like Avery have seen community spread accelerate at a colossal level in recent weeks, according to the NCDHHS. That spread pattern follows national trends, data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows.
Diane Creek, Director of the Toe River Health District, which governs Avery County, said she and her staff as well as all other medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, medical scientists, health department employees around the world are “working feverishly to help keep coronavirus from spreading, to get the numbers of those infected down and to ultimately end coronavirus.” And Creek, like all medical professionals urge everyone to wear a mask, practice social distancing of at least six feet apart from others as often as possible and to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds several times per day.
Cheek added that “Educating everyone about the dangers of coronavirus by medical professionals and then people following the medical recommendations are the key to combating the disease, helping bring it under control and eventually maybe even ending it.”
Various factors may contribute to why coronavirus has spread in rural regions. One that medical professionals are especially noting is that people traveling from larger cities and areas to mostly rural places like Avery County could have spread COVID-19-especially in areas like Avery with tourist attractions, and lack of, or lax mask compliance could have escalated the spread.