Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland
Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland

Macon County has seen only two confirmed cases of the new coronavirus among its permanent residents as of Thursday morning, but one of those individuals died Monday due to COVID-19-related illness.

Local officials are taking enforcement of social distancing and business restrictions seriously in an effort to prevent any further spread.

The southwestern North Carolina mountain county is on the Georgia state line and is home to about 21,000 people, according to a 2017 U.S. census estimate.

Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland has directed his office to investigate possible violations of that state-of-emergency proclamation, which went into effect March 26. More restrictive than the state’s stay-at-home order on short-term rentals, the Macon proclamation ordered the closure of hotels, resorts, guest houses, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds, RV parks, vacation cabins and vacation home rentals.

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“We can’t allow people to refuse to protect their neighbors,” Holland said in a statement. The Macon County towns of Franklin and Highlands also have similarly restrictive orders for short-term rentals.

District Attorney Ashley Welch, whose eight-county district includes additional counties that have passed similar orders, announced Monday that her office will strongly prosecute anyone violating county short-term rental restrictions.

Welch said violations of Macon’s order are Class II misdemeanors, which can result in 60 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

“Local leaders are trying to provide protections for the good of all residents during this national, regional and community crisis,” she said in a statement.

“The unlawful and selfish actions of just a few could have enormous negative health consequences for many.”

Macon County Director of Emergency Services Warren Cabe said, “Most citizens are responding well. There are some isolated issues with social distancing in some retail establishments, and we are still encouraging visitors to isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Macon County. We have also had a few complaints about short-term rentals.”

Cases in Macon County

The Macon County Public Health Department said the patient who died from coronavirus-related illness Monday was over 65 years of age and had underlying health conditions. Citing privacy concerns, the health department released no further information.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the family and loved ones at this time,” said Carmine Rocco, Macon County interim health director.

“We want to reiterate the importance of citizens staying home and practicing social distancing until further direction from our government and health leadership. Our message to those who are full-time residents, part-time residents or visiting Macon County: Stay at home.

“Stay safe. Practice social distancing. Quarantine if you have traveled. Limit your trips outside of your home to necessities.”

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Macon County first reported a confirmed case March 16 from an out-of-state visitor who was isolating in the county. It reported a second visitor with the virus March 23.

The first positive residential case was announced April 1. The second was announced Thursday.

Macon County has two hospitals, both operated by Asheville-based Mission Health. One is in Franklin, and the other in Highlands. Cabe said both have been working with his department in medical surge planning.

He said the two hospitals have 60-day usage rates for protective equipment, and both have an aggressive plan to treat as many patients as possible. “How long they can manage depends on how many patients they might receive at any one time, which is why social distancing is crucial. Social distancing helps mitigate the patient surge that could be possible.”

Cabe said social distancing, isolation and strategies to deter the spread of the virus seem to be working across the state for now.

“At some point, those strategies will change, and the quicker everyone complies and the outbreak lessens across the state, the sooner we can return to some form of normal,” he said. “We will return to normal and will hopefully be together stronger after this event.”

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Joseph Martin is a Carolina Public Press contributing writer based in Murphy. Email to contact the Carolina Public Press news team.

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