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Two COVID clusters cause spike in Macon cases

Macon County Health Director Kathy McGaha speaks during a press conference                on Friday, May 29. Screenshot from Macon Media Macon County Health Director Kathy McGaha speaks during a press conference on Friday, May 29. Screenshot from Macon Media

Updated 6/4/20: Macon County now has 109 positive COVID-19 cases, 94 of those are active.

Macon County has seen a surge in positive COVID-19 cases within the last week as two clusters were identified and testing capabilities increased.

Public health and emergency management officials held a press conference last Friday to discuss the county’s cases, testing procedures and future predictions. 

Health Director Kathy McGaha said two clusters (five or more positive cases within a specific community setting in a 14-day period) were identified within the last week — at least five cases at Ebenezer Evangelical Church in Franklin and six cases at Old Edwards Inn in Highlands. The cluster identified at the inn consisted of employees and some of those employees are members of the Catholic church in Franklin.

“Some contacts identified from the positive cases from the church are also positive cases associated with Old Edwards Inn,” McGaha said. 

An incorrect press release issued from the Macon health department last week stated that there was a cluster identified at Walmart in Franklin as well, but was later corrected by staff. McGaha clarified during the press conference that while there have been positive cases at that essential business, it is not yet enough to classify it as a cluster. 

At the time of the press conference on Friday, May 29, Macon County had a total of 63 positive COVID-19 cases — 59 are active, three recovered and one death — but 42 of those cases were just reported on May 28 and May 29. By the end of the day June 1, the county had a total of 90 cases — 81 of those active. 

Macon County had been fortunate not to have many confirmed cases up until now, but McGaha said she isn’t surprised that an increase in testing has led to an increase in positive results. 

“We’re very confident that the coronavirus is spread through the community as in most of the state and most of the country,” she said. 

In the beginning stages of the pandemic, only people who were exhibiting symptoms were being tested for the virus and Macon County Public Health was testing between seven and 10 people a day. Now the health department is performing up to 100 tests a day and has been doing so for several weeks now. 

“We had lots of tests completed at one time so we anticipated a spike, but we didn’t think it would all come in within one week,” said Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe. “Macon County was simply an anomaly (with such low numbers).”

McGaha said the health department was working closely with the church and the inn to complete additional trace testing on other members and employees and also to ensure they’re complying with the proper protocols going forward. 

“We also have environmental health specialists and nurses reaching out to all businesses to make sure they understand the requirements and answer their questions. They’ve been very cooperative,” she said. 

When asked for more specifics about the active cases in the county, McGaha said the age ranges were across the board — three people under the age of 18; many in the 20 to 49 age range; and several elderly patients who are more susceptible to developing severe symptoms with the virus. She said one person was currently being hospitalized and a total of five people have required hospitalization at some point. 

As of June 1, there have been 1,314 tests administered in Macon County and results are still pending on 229 tests.

Cabe said the county currently has enough testing kits and personal protection equipment, adding that gowns were the biggest need so that nursing homes and group homes could have enough on hand. 

“The longer this goes on we anticipate some more shortages, but we hope the supply chain catches up,” he said. 

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