A rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in Wilkes County is continuing, with 195 new cases confirmed here from Friday to Monday.

The Wilkes County Health Department reported that as of Monday, 7,488 Wilkes residents had tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Those included 314 currently active cases, the most since the health department started reporting active cases in early February.

Ten of these 314 Wilkes residents with COVID-19 were in hospitals, the most reported by the health department as hospitalized since 23 in early March.

Signs announcing closures and reduced hours on doors of government offices and nonprofit agencies in Wilkes graphically reflect the surge in COVID-19 cases here.

Hand-written signs on doors of the Wilkes Register of Deeds office in the Wilkes County Courthouse last week stated, “Due to COVID, we are extremely short-staffed this week. Expect long wait times! We will be closed for lunch and essential errands from 1-2:30 p.m. Please be patient with us.”

Wilkes Register of Deeds Misty Smithey said Friday that she and Becky Caudill, assistant register of deeds, were the only two people out of a staff of six in the office vaccinated for COVID-19 when one of the six tested positive for the virus in late July.

Smithey said she arrived at work and found that County Manager John Yates had closed the register of deeds office and was having it “fogged” to kill the virus.

One of the staff members tested negative after being in quarantine and returned to work, said Smithey, adding that this person plans to get vaccinated. She said two others who were in quarantine decided to get jobs elsewhere. The employee who tested positive hasn’t returned to work yet.

Wilkes Superior Clerk of Court Regina Billings said a few employees in her office recently had to quarantine after two people working there tested positive for COVID-19. She said the positive cases resulted from exposure to family members with the virus.

Billings said staff of the Wilkes Clerk of Court’s office are cross-trained to handle multiple responsibilities so the quarantining of a few didn’t cause a major disruption.

Jennifer Snider, executive director of the Ruby Pardue Blackburn Adult Day Care at West Park, North Wlkesboro, said the facility is temporarily closed after two cases were brought there by participants from involvement in two different community activities. Those cases were identified as positive as families noticed participants becoming symptomatic at home.

“Our center chose to be proactive and take measures to close and clean for a 14-day period in order to shield safety on all other participants, families and staff after two cases were brought in,” said Snider. No staff tested positive.

Signs on the front door say the facility closed at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 6 and will reopen Aug. 23.

Snider said staff continued wearing masks when it no longer was required They also continued doing daily symptom checks and having their temperatures taken upon entering the building.

She said no concerns were raised during these check-ins or at other times at the center.

Program participants “have been encouraged to wear masks as much as they can understand why they need to do so,” said Snider.

A sign on the front door of Wilkes Art Gallery on C Street, North Wilkesboro, said that facility is closed “out of an abundance of caution” through Aug. 15 “due to a positive COVID-19 case.”

Willard said there are COVD-19 outbreaks at three long-term care facilities in Wilkes: Accordius Health at Wilkesboro, Wilkes Assisted Living on Old Brickyard Road, North Wilkesboro and Wilkes Health and Rehabilitation on Old Brickyard Road. Willard said she didn’t have immediate access to the number of positive cases at each facility.

There also are COVID-19 outbreaks at several Wilkes churches and a growing number of local churches have returned to outdoor services.

The number of confirmed COVID-19-related deaths of Wilkes residents has been 117 for a few months. Death totals usually increase a month or longer after case numbers rise.

Another statistic used to show the severity of the virus is the number of people per 100,000 testing positive in the prior two weeks. This provides a rate and allows comparisons between counties with widely differing populations.

Wilkes County’s rate was 583 new cases per 100,000 in the two weeks prior to Monday, which was more than any adjoining county.

The Wilkes rate for the two weeks prior to Friday was 478 per 100,000. Early that same week, on Aug. 3, it was 383 per 100,000.

The percentage of all Wilkes residents who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 has remained low at 34% since July 30.

As of Monday, Wilkes was among 12 North Carolina counties with 34% or lower vaccination rates for all residents. The lowest was Robeson County at 27%. Most of these counties had rates of 33% or 34%.

Orange County, home of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had the highest vaccination rate at 76%.

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