After about 300 people with appointments are vaccinated as planned in a drive-through COVID-19 clinic Thursday, the Wilkes County Health Department will have given nearly 3,000 first doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Appointments for the clinic at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge are available to people 65 and older and health workers with potential exposure to the virus by calling 336-990-9950 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

In addition, the initial 215 second doses of the Moderna vaccine were administered in two Wilkes Health Department drive-through clinics last week.

Meanwhile, Wilkes crossed the threshold of 5,000 COVID-19 cases Friday and the county had 89 COVID-19-related deaths by Monday. Seventeen of those deaths were reported in 2021. The county’s cumulative COVID-19 total was 5,127 on Monday, with 519 active cases. Fifty-seven of the active cases were hospitalized, the most ever for Wilkes.

In a statewide webinar last week, the Wilkes Health Department was singled out by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for its timely administration of Moderna vaccine it receives each week and for timely submission of mandatory weekly reports on this to DHHS.

Wilkes County government officials said a DHHS consultant was on site observing a health department drive-through clinic at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge last week.

Emphasis increased last week on speeding up the COVID-19 vaccination process nationwide and especially in North Carolina, which has lagged behind other states in rolling out the vaccine.

DHHS announced last week that a county’s weekly vaccine allotment will be reduced if it doesn’t use all it received the prior week. This became a greater challenge for the health department when it received 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine from Wilkes Medical Center this past Thursday, although the gift was welcomed.

It was the second gift of 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the hospital this month.

The health department administered half of the 600 doses the same day it was received and the other 300 on Friday. Both first dose clinics were on a first-come, first-served basis at the Park at River’s Edge.

Simultaneously Thursday, the health department administered an additional 300 first doses of Moderna by appointment at the Park at River’s Edge as planned. People with appointments were fast-tracked for vaccination in a separate drive-through line.

As planned, law enforcement was there to prevent people from lining up until the announced starting time of 9 a.m.

Sandra Lowrance of the Sugar Loaf community in northern Alexander County said that when she and her husband, Charles Lowrance, arrived by 7 a.m. for a good place in line, one Wilkes Sheriff’s Office deputy was at the intersection of the old airport runway (Industrial Drive) and YMCA Boulevard telling people to turn around and come back later.

The Lowrances said the deputy (Dustin Smith) deserved credit for how well he handled a difficult traffic situation.

The Lowrances and others waited in the Wilkes Family YMCA parking lot until it was time to start lining up. Sandra Lowrance was the first person vaccinated Friday.

The line of vehicles with people waiting to be vaccinated Friday extended out YMCA Boulevard to N.C. 268 West and eastward on N.C. 268 to the Tyson Food technical services building — a distance of nearly a mile — by about 10:30 a.m.

Starting last week, people 65 and older are eligible for the vaccine. Previously, it was 75 and older. People in group one of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan are also still eligible. This includes those working in hospitals, outpatient clinics, vaccination sites, home health care, public health, clinical services, emergency medical, mortuaries, pharmacies, dental offices and certain other services with potential work-related exposure to COVID-19.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said that after scheduling 40 vaccination appointments every 30 minutes in a drive-through clinic at the Park River’s Edge last week, it was apparent it could be done faster.

Willard said the health department is scheduling 80 appointments every 30 minutes Thursday of this week.

All of Wilkes Medical Center’s 650-675 employees have had opportunities to be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 and most have done so. Many have received their second doses.

Many of the residents and staff of Wilkes County’s long-term care facilities have been vaccinated by teams from CVS or Walgreen’s pharmacies, working under federal oversight.

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