People wearing masks

FACE MASKS are worn by customers waiting to enter the Walmart Supercenter in Wilkesboro on Friday afternoon. The Wilkes County Health Department on Tuesday recommended following new federal guidance calling for wearing such masks in public places such as Walmart and supermarkets where social distancing is hard to practice.

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services website listed Wilkes County with four confirmed COVID-19 cases. The first of those was the county’s one COVID-19-related death.

The Wilkes County Health Department on Tuesday recommended that the public follow new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance calling for wearing cloth face masks or other cloth face coverings in public places such as supermarkets where social distancing is hard to practice.

The new CDC guidance, issued Monday, also said cloth masks or other covering are especially important in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Prior to the new guidance, the CDC recommended that people not wear face masks or other covering unless caring for someone sick who couldn’t wear this. This was partly based on the fact that face masks are in short supply and should be saved for caregivers.

Now on its website, the CDC says the new guidance recommending wearing cloth face masks or other cloth face coverings resulted from recent studies showing a significant portion of people with coronavirus lack symptoms and that even those who develop symptoms can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. “This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” it stated.

The statement continues, “It is critical to emphasize that maintaining six-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus. CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

“The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.”

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said in a press release issued Monday that community transmission of the coronavirus is occurring in Wilkes and across the state. This means it has spread to the point where health officials can’t pinpoint where people get it.

“We believe additional preventative measures should be added to help lessen the effects of COVID-19,” said Willard, adding that use of cloth masks or face coverings shouldn’t replace social distancing and other preventive measures like hand washing, covering a cough or sneeze or staying home when sick.

“The use of cloth face coverings will not protect you from other people’s germs. It is meant to protect other people in case you are infected. This would be important if someone is infected with COVID-19 but does not have symptoms,” she said.

Willard said recent studies suggesting that COVID-19 may be spread by people not showing symptoms is why it remains important for people to stay home as much as possible and only go out for essential trips.

“After you remove a cloth covering from your face, you should be careful not to touch your face and wash your hands immediately after removing,” she said.

The press release also said cloth masks and other face coverings should:

• cover the nose and mouth;

• not be considered a substitute for social distancing;

• not be used on children under age 2, people with trouble breathing or those unable to remove the covering without help;

• be routinely washed depending on frequency of use. This includes washing in a washing machine;

“Due to the short supply of personal protective equipment, surgical masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders. A healthcare worker or first responder should continue to use surgical masks and N95 respirators since these provide better protection from infectious diseases,” said Willard.

She said surgical masks or N95 respirators can dropped off at the Wilkes Health Department as donations.

A how-to video by Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. surgeon general, for making cloth face coverings is on the CDC website at

Willard urged Wilkes Countians to continue practicing social distancing, including avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, keeping at least six feet away from others and staying at home as much as possible. Other preventive steps include frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, keeping a distance from others who are sick not touching your face and cleaning and disinfecting high touch surfaces in common areas like doorknobs, remotes, light switches, tables and handles.

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