The Transylvania Times -

By Alex Perri
Staff Writer 

Officials: Keep Your Distance


Last updated 3/19/2020 at 11:15pm

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Transylvania County public health officials say Transylvania residents must act as though the coronavirus is already around us, and heed recommendations to remain 6 feet apart from one another, keep gatherings of people small and infrequent and limit daily activities in the community as much as possible.

"We are in this critical ... period right now, where if we will make a commitment to the social distancing measures and really ratchet down our lives in terms of social exposure, we can make an impact in how far and wide this virus spreads," said Transylvania County Public Health Director Elaine Russell said. "And that's extraordinarily important." "When we look at the rate at which the cases in the U.S. are growing, we see that we're on a similar trajectory to Italy," said Tara Rybka, the county's Public Health information officer.

Many residents may be wondering how seriously to take the varying guidelines being released after outbreaks are reported in large cities, when there are no confirmed cases in Transylvania County. Rybka said that though there are no confirmed cases yet in the county, as a rural community, residents should take health care facilities and the local population into consideration to understand the importance of social distancing.

"Because we are a rural community, we also have fewer nurses and fewer hospital beds and fewer ventilators," Rybka said. "So, regardless of the size of the community, it's important to keep the number of cases at any one time as low as possible. And in Transylvania County, our demographics show us that we are at older populations. And so, just right off the bat, we have a higher proportion of our population who is in that at-risk category of being older adults."

Russell understands that officials have been giving confusing guidelines to follow around the practice, but insists this is the biggest thing that can be done to prevent the spread in a county where many people with vulnerable health live.

"The governor's executive order set groups at 100," Russell said. "Anything over 100 would face an enforcement action. The CDC issued guidance saying really you need to be in groups of 50 or less and then the president is saying 10 or less. I think what we need to take from all of those numbers is that for our health and safety, and to make the most of the sacrifices as a community to combat coronavirus, keeping distance between yourself and other people is one of the best techniques for minimizing your risk of exposure."

On Monday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released recommendations of no mass gatherings of more than 50 people. For many residents that means drastically altering their way of life – only going out in public if it's for essentials, such as shopping for groceries and medications or going to a doctor's appointment.

However, Russell noted that now is a great time to take advantage of the county's natural resources, ideally alone or with your immediate household family members.

"It's a good time to go and walk your dog," she said. "We do encourage solo walks, though. Certainly if it is your spouse or your child, who is a household person, that would be okay. But this is not a time where you want to catch up with a lot of your friends and go hike in the park or go hike in the forest." Rybka said parents should maybe think twice before sending their kids to the playground, as playground equipment has hard surfaces that are rarely cleaned, but playing in their own backyard with their own toys is certainly encouraged.

"Being outside is generally less risky than being indoors, but again you want to keep your group 6 feet away from other groups that you may encounter Hiking or walking on the bike trail and things like that," Rybka said.


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