Wilkes County Health Director Rachel Willard spoke to the Wilkes County commissioners about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Wilkes during the board’s Nov. 16 meeting.

Willard said pockets of COVID-19 cases are occurring in various communities in Wilkes.

“There’s nothing we can really point to as to why it’s increasing,” she said, adding that cases in nursing homes are starting to increase.

Willard said people aren’t being as conscientious about wearing masks. Also, the county’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has remained a low 44% for several weeks.

Willard said in an interview that the increase could be related to more people moving indoors due to cold weather. “We know family and friend gatherings are happening,” she added. “Also, it’s the respiratory virus season.”

She added, “I think it’s all these things combined.”

Willard said 4% of children ages 5-1 in Wilkes were vaccinated in the first 12 weekdays they were eligible. She said the number of pediatric vaccine doses available at the health department is being increased due to demand.

Commissioner Casey Joe Johnson asked Willard what is recommended vaccination-wise for people who have had COVID-19.

Willard said the recommendation is that they be vaccinated immediately after no longer being in isolation. She added that people with COVID-19 who were treated with monoclonal antibodies must wait 90 days to be vaccinated after ending isolation.

Answering other questions from the commissioners, Willard said 566 Wilkes residents have tested positive for COVID-19 even though they were fully vaccinated. She said Susan Bachmeier, chief nursing officer at Wilkes Medical Center, told her that 95-96% of the people with COVID-19 admitted as patients there weren’t vaccinated.

A FEMA-funded monoclonal antibody clinic that opened at West Park, North Wilkesboro, in early September closes on Nov. 29.

Monoclonal antibodies have been available there to people in early stages of COVID-19 and those who haven’t tested positive but are at high risk due to pre-existing health conditions.

“Early stages” means having COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days or less, while “high risk” refers to a broad range of medical conditions. People who are hospitalized with COVID aren’t eligible.

The clinic opened through a joint effort of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, the Health Foundation and the Wilkes County Health Department. The treatments are free.

FEMA designated Wilkes a “monoclonal desert” due to the lack of this treatment option within the county. It also was tied to the high number of COVID-19 cases and low vaccination rate in Wilkes.

Willard said people wanting to be vaccinated can call the health department at 336-651-7450 or 336-990-9950 for an appointment.

As of Nov. 17, Wilkes had 10,864 confirmed COVID cases, 188 confirmed deaths, 189 active cases and eight COVID hospitalization reported.

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