Wilkes County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was a patient at Wilkes Medical Center in North Wilkesboro when tested for the virus and when the results came back positive two days later, said Wilkes Health Director Rachel Willard.

Wilkes Medical Center President Chad Brown said the person who tested positively is in isolation at the hospital.

Willard said the health department is now working with hospital officials to identify people the person with COVID-19 had contact with since he/she first exhibited symptoms (fever or cough). She said efforts will be made to reach all of these people to tell them to self-quarantine for 14 days and be tested for the virus if they become symptomatic.

Willard said the person who tested positive had not traveled out of the country recently, but otherwise it wasn’t yet known if he/she contracted the disease from travel outside Wilkes or if it was from “community spread,” which would mean the method of contracting the disease wasn’t known.

Willard said the hospital informed the health department about the person testing positive Monday morning. She was informed about 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Other identifying information isn’t being released due to privacy laws.

Fewer tests being done

Willard said the health department has completed 28 COVID-19 tests, with 24 test results negative and four still pending.

“We will continue to see the number of tests being conducted fall over the next few weeks and months. We are going to be moving into a surveillance system similar to what we have for seasonal flu.

“We also know that we are encouraging those who are sick with mild like symptoms to stay at home and not even come to the doctor’s office, unless symptoms worsen.”

She noted that private practices and hospitals aren’t required to share information with the health department on numbers or tests completed or other details about them, except unless they are positive.

“We know that other counties are testing residents of Wilkes County. However, we will be notified if a resident is positive, regardless of what North Carolina county they were tested in.”

Because community transmission is occurring in North Carolina, the focus has shifted away from testing and moved into the mitigation phase.

Willard said the health department hasn’t turned anyone away from testing due to lack of kits. “On Friday, we had roughly 20 test kits available. We have reduced the number of tests being conducted due to the change in clinical guidance…. This guidance applies to all providers in North Carolina.”

New protocol

She said the Wilkes Health Department is now seeing well patient in the mornings and sick patients in the afternoons.

“This allows for deep cleanings several times a day to protect those who are coming into the building. We are requiring patients or community members who have fever, cough and respiratory symptoms to call ahead of time.

“If we think we they need to be seen, we are giving them specific directions about what to do when they arrive. When they arrive, they are directed to a communicable disease nurse who instructs them to drive around back.

“This allows time for our staff to put on the appropriate PPE. The nurses then go outside, triage and complete an assessment of the patient. If the person meets the new criteria for COVID-19 testing, then we will test them in their car.

“If not, and they need further assessment, we are taking them inside through a back door, again to limit exposure, and completing that assessment in the clinical room. All other patients are still accessing the building from the main door.”

Protective equipment

Willard said the Wilkes Health Department has been able to maintain the level of personal protective equipment (PPE) it had at the start of its response to the coronavirus.

“In the past, it has been recommended that organizations have roughly two weeks of supplies on hand. We had been able to secure more PPE, so we are still averaging about two weeks of supplies.

“Of course, this could change as our patient load increases or decreases. We continue to work with Wilkes Emergency Management to ensure we have the supplies we need to meet the demands of our response to the community.” 

She said it’s important to remind the community that health officials like the U.S. Centers for Communicable Diseases and Prevention (CDC) aren’t recommending masks for those who aren’t sick to help maintain the supply of PPE for front line or essential staff.

“If someone is sick or at risk, they should remain at home to the greatest extent possible. However, we know that people may have to go to the doctor or to the grocery store. For that, I would recommend that individuals who are sick or at risk follow the PPE guidance from the CDC. However, we know that the concern is there.”

Willard said, “If someone feels that they have to make a mask, then I would encourage them to do their research since all homemade mask are not the same. I would also want to add that if they move forward with making a mask and wearing them out, they would need to proceed with caution. Currently, homemade mask are not approved by the CDC, and I would not want to give people a false sense of safety or protection.”


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