Wilkes County’s COVID-19 case count has leveled off, with only a slight or no increase each day for nearly two weeks.

As of Tuesday, 557 Wilkes residents had tested positive since the first cases in March, and 508 of those were recovered. That left 49 “active cases” in Wilkes. A COVID-19 patient who was hospitalized is considered recovered after at least 28 days pass since he tested positive. If not hospitalized, it’s 14 days since testing positive.

The last time the daily case total increased by more than three in Wilkes was when it rose from 528 on June 12 to 542 on June 13 due to an outbreak at the Wilkes Correctional Center in North Wilkesboro. In the outbreak at the prison, 25 people had tested positive as of last week.

All of the county’s cases since and including the outbreak at the prison have been “close contact” cases, said Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard. This means health department officials identified the people with COVID-19 cases or the situations that resulted in these latest cases. When this isn’t determined, these are called “community spread” cases.

Willard said Wilkes Medical Center is seeing an increased number of patients with non-COVID-like symptoms and is doing more surgical procedures. The hospital hasn’t had more than one COVID-19 patient admitted at a time all this week. It went 11 days without admitting a COVID-19 patient before reporting one on June 19.

“We really did well flattening the curve” in Wilkes, she said. This refers to slowing the increase of COVID-19 cases to avoid overwhelming hospitals and other health care facilities.

Wilkes Medical Center had as many as nine COVID-19 patients at a time in May, largely due to a COVID-19 “cluster” of about 600 cases at the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken processing in Wilkesboro. Willard said the Tyson complex still hasn’t gone 14 days without a positive case, so the cluster there hasn’t been closed out.

Willard said that in addition to ongoing concerns about people not following social distancing and facial mask guidance, there is strong potential for COVID-19 cases in Wilkes increasing as a result of the reopening of public schools in mid-August.

Wilkes has had six deaths related to COVID-19.

Cooper’s announcement

Meanwhile, speculation is mounting concerning what Gov. Roy Cooper will announce this week concerning the next phase for “reopening” the state by further easing of restrictions designed to prevent he spread of COVID-19.

Phase two of the reopening is scheduled to end Friday and Cooper recently hinted at the possibility of a “Phase 2.5.” He also said it may become mandatory to wear face masks requirements while out in public. Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles on Tuesday publicly asked Cooper to make face masks mandatory statewide.

Cooper may opt for a less than full phase three because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and percentage of tests that are positives statewide. These are among key indicators Cooper and his administration are watching as they make decisions about reopening.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, said Monday that state officials are trying to balance co “reigniting” the state’s economy, protecting public health and not overburdening the health care system.

Data from hospitals indicate that the Charlotte, Triangle and Greenville regions are driving the state’s rapid rise in hospitalizations from COVID, causing some to suggest approaching phase three regionally.

Concerning vacations

Willard gave advice when asked about COVID-19 considerations with vacations this summer.

“As a health department, we would recommend that someone do their research before traveling. How do you have to get there? Can you drive, are you flying, are you taking a bus? Are there additional precautions that you need to take based on that? If you are traveling by car, make sure that rest stops or gas stations are open and have facilities for necessary breaks,” she said.

“If you are flying, does the airport require any additional prevention measures? I would also recommend researching the destination to evaluate case count, and any mandates or restricts that are in place. I would encourage everyone to practice the 3W’s (washing hands, wearing face masks, waiting six feet apart).

“Everyone has to use their best judgement and make the best decision that they can. As always, we would recommend the standard precautions. Upon return, watch symptoms for 14 days. If symptoms do develop stay home, call your health provider and seek testing when necessary.”

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