At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

DHT, health departments parter for better access to testing

To support efforts to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 in Western North Carolina, Dogwood Health Trust is partnering with multiple rural county health departments throughout the 18-county and Qualla Boundary to increase access to COVID-19 testing specifically to support contact tracing efforts. Dogwood has been working for weeks to source test kits from private labs to support health department efforts in rural areas of the region. 

Contact tracing is an effort to follow up and test those who have had close contact with confirmed cases, thereby actively finding others who are infected and should isolate. So far, almost half of the counties and Qualla Boundary have utilized test kits from Dogwood for this approach. The momentum was quick in response to the first identified case in Western North Carolina — a visitor from New York, a state with the highest number of cases to date — who had attended a Contra dance at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown. This person became symptomatic while in the region and unknowingly affected others before going into isolation in Cherokee County. 

The Folk School, working with Cherokee and Clay County Health Departments, put out a call to everyone who attended the dance and did contact tracing to determine who may have been in contact and would necessitate testing and/or isolation.

“We are grateful for the generosity and quick response of Dogwood Health Trust to provide test kits and support our efforts here in Cherokee County to slow the spread of this virus,” said David Badger, director of the Cherokee County Health Department. “Dogwood quickly sourced and deployed test kits, enabling us to set up contact trace testing within days of learning of the first positive case.” This effort resulted in the Health Department being able to identify additional positive cases and continue further contact tracing as necessary.

Public health and Dogwood officials both caution that testing efforts like this one are just one of many kinds of testing needed to slow the spread. Testing taking place at area hospitals, the NC Department of Health and Human Services, and a multitude of other innovative rapid-test approaches are all part of the broader effort.

“This effort to support testing and contact tracing here in WNC still doesn’t replace the need for everyone to stay home,” said Antony Chiang, Dogwood Health Trust CEO. “It is my hope that all of us will fully grasp just how critical our public health infrastructure is and why we need deep and steady investment in public health when we are not in crisis.” 

The Clay County Health Department was also part of the testing and tracing effort. Health Director Stephanie Johnson encourages the community to remember that “there are no bad people in this scenario; we are all in this together. Partnering with public and private entities, supporting evidence-based methods of testing and tracing, collaborating to find solutions to unforeseen circumstances – that’s what we do as public health professionals.” 

In addition to supporting efforts for testing and contact tracing, Dogwood has also been working on partnerships to support the creation and distribution of much needed PPE for the region, and options to mitigate social impacts. Details on efforts to date, along with data supporting “stay at home” directives and the Dogwood response to COVID-19 are included on their newly launched website covidwnc.org. More details and partnership announcements and opportunities will be added in the coming days and weeks. 

Dogwood Health Trust is a North Carolina nonprofit corporation with the sole purpose of dramatically improving the health and well-being of all people and communities of Western North Carolina. Dogwood Health Trust became operational upon the sale of Mission Health’s assets to HCA Healthcare and is the recipient of the net proceeds of the sale. To learn more, visit www.dht.org.

Go to top