After increasing by six from Sept. 28 to Sept. 29 and by one on Tuesday, Wilkes County had 167 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths as of Tuesday.

The increase from 160 to 166 was the largest one-day jump in reported deaths from the virus since the pandemic began. Thirty-three such deaths were reported in Wilkes in September, the most here in a single month.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said the seven most recent deaths were people ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s and all occurring at Wilkes Medical Center or at hospitals outside of Wilkes. This reflected a statewide and nationwide trend of younger people dying from COVID-19.

There are reports of the virus claiming the lives of multiple members of the same households in Wilkes.

According to a New York Times website, Wilkes ranked 35th among the state’s 100 counties in COVID-19-related deaths per 100,000 people since the pandemic began as of Monday.

Alexander County ranked 13th and Surry County ranked 17th in these deaths per 100,000 people. Rankings for other adjoining counties were Caldwell, 26th, Yadkin, 29th; Iredell, 30th; Alleghany, 49th; Ashe, 80th; and Watauga, 87th.

New cases decreasing

Meanwhile, the daily increase in new COVID-19 cases in Wilkes continues to drop.

The Wilkes Health Department reported that by Monday, 10,212 Wilkes residents had tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. That was up by 53 from 10,159 on Friday. Case totals the prior three Friday to Monday periods, starting most recently, increased by 110, 127 and 187.

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), 643 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people were reported in Wilkes in the two weeks ending Monday. The Wilkes rate has been dropping since it peaked at a little over 1,500 new cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks ending Sept. 10.

The health department reported that Wilkes had 211 active COVID-19 cases as of Monday, the fewest reported by the health department since 88 on Aug. 2. Thirty-five Wilkes residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, the same as on Friday. The last time fewer than 35 were reported was 32 on Aug. 30.

Booster shot clinic

Willard also reported that a little over 60 people received booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine Friday in the health department’s first drive-through clinic for this additional protection from the virus. This was conducted by appointment at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge in Wilkesboro.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer booster vaccine last month.

She said the majority of people receiving a booster shot Friday were eligible because they are at higher risk for reasons other than being 65 or older, including their medical conditions, working in high-risk professions or conditions or living or working in places where many people are together under the same roof.

Willard said most Wilkes residents 65 and older vaccinated at least six months ago received the Moderna vaccine and the booster shot must be the same vaccine received with the initial vaccination. Moderna booster shots haven’t yet been approved by the FDA. In addition, a person must have been fully vaccinated at least six months to receive a booster shot.

She said the health department anticipates significantly more Wilkes residents seeking booster shots when the Modern booster vaccine is approved because it will make it available to many more older adults.

As of Monday, only 20 people had made appointments for Pfizer booster shots at the health department this week.

DHHS reported that only 42% of Wilkes residents were fully vaccinated by Monday, keeping Wilkes among North Carolina counties with the lowest vaccination percentages.

Willard said only about 4%% of Wilkes residents ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated.

Statewide, 64% of people 18 and older were fully vaccinated as of Monday. An estimated 40% of people ages 12-17 statewide are fully vaccinated.

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