By a 3-2 vote Monday night, the Wilkes Board of Education approved continuing a mask mandate in place in schools since Aug. 31 at least through the end of November.
School board member Joan Caudill made the motion to extend the mandate a third month. Kirk Walker seconded this and Vice Chairman Sharron Huffman joined Walker and Caudill in voting for the motion.
Voting against the motion were Hardin Kennedy and Chairman Rudy Holbrook, as they did when the mandate was continued on Oct. 4. Kennedy participated in the meeting Monday by Zoom, stating that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
During the meeting, Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard recommended continuing the mask mandate for at least a month.
Willard said this was in consideration of K-6 students (children ages 5-11) not yet being eligible for COVID-19 shots. She said they will likely be eligible within a week so keeping the mandate is fair for their sake.
She also said that despite improvement in recent weeks, Wilkes County’s COVID-19 active case totals, transmission rates and positivity rates on COVID-19 tests aren’t as needed to justify not requiring masks inside Wilkes schools.
Willard noted in an interview that the positivity rate on COVID-19 tests in Wilkes increased from 5.2% on Friday to about 6.3% on Monday. Other metrics reflect an increase in prevalence of the virus locally recently.
Willard added that if the vaccination rate continues to rise in Wilkes, including with kids ages 5-11 being eligible, COVID-19 should be under control here in about six months. “It will be here forever, but we’ll be able to control it.”
Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd reported Monday night that 34 students or staff in the Wilkes schools were in quarantine on Oct. 29, with 18 of these testing positive for COVID-19 and the others considered exposed to the virus.
That’s up from 23 in quarantine and 10 active cases in the Wilkes schools a week earlier on Oct. 22. There were 67 in quarantine and 18 active cases on Oct. 15; 50 and 30 on Oct. 8; and 132 and 47 on Oct. 1. End of the week peak totals this school year were 525 in quarantine on Sept. 3 and 125 active cases on Sept. 10.
A county’s transmission rate is its new cases per 100,000 people in the prior seven days. A transmission rate under 100 per 100,000 is needed to not be a red (high transmission) county. On Monday, Wilkes was among 80 red N.C. counties.
Wilkes had a transmission rate of 131.56 per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 6.34% on Monday, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The generally accepted goal for positivity rate is 5%.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recently recommended that a county have moderate or low transmission rates for at least seven days before face masks are optional for vaccinated students and staff in that county.
Moderate is 10-49 new cases and low is fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 people in the prior seven days. DHHS said face masks should be required for all unvaccinated people until transmission rates are low.
As of Monday, Wilkes had 127 active COVID-19 cases (with eight hospitalized). Wilkes had 95 active cases and 10 hospitalized a week earlier on Oct. 25. The county had 119 active cases and 18 hospitalized on Oct. 18. Wilkes had 332 active cases and 35 hospitalized on Oct. 1.
As of Monday, 10,604 Wilkes residents had tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and Wilkes had 182 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 44%% of all Wilkes residents were fully vaccinated as of Monday. The CDC said 48% of Wilkes residents 12 or older were fully vaccinated by Monday. Statewide, 67% of all adults were fully vaccinated by then.
Kennedy said he opposes making masks mandatory in the schools because it amounts to “holding everybody hostage while hoping to get a vaccine.”
Kennedy said the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 cases in school districts statewide are coming from household contacts rather than within schools.
He said he doesn’t oppose getting vaccinated for COVID-19 but added that parents should be allowed to decide if their children wear masks in school.
Kennedy noted that Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro officials approved no longer requiring wearing masks in most businesses and other public establishments, effective Saturday.
He said that despite the mask mandate the two towns had until Saturday and in the Wilkes schools, few people have been fully covering their mouths and noses with masks in these settings. “COVID doesn’t take a back seat at lunch time or during ball games” when faces aren’t covered with masks.
Caudill asked Byrd if Allison Lambert, a school nurse at Millers Creek Elementary, could speak about school masks. Byrd said that was up to Lambert.
Lambert said supports the mask mandate because it helps prevent students and staff from being exposed to COVID-19. She said this means students and staff are out of school less due to quarantining and also because it reduces the amount of contact tracing needed.
Lambert said that from the start of this school year until about two weeks ago, she couldn’t do her normal work caring for students because of the hours she had to spend on COVID-19 contact tracing. “In the last two weeks, it (the improvement) has been amazing.”
She said that at Millers Creek, the largest elementary school in Wilkes, experiences she has had with students not complying with the mask mandate doesn’t exceed what she can count on both hands.
Lambert said that if a high school athletic team member tests positive for COVID-19, other team members almost always must be quarantined regardless of whether they were wearing masks due to physical contact.
Three parents of students in the Wilkes schools spoke in favor of continuing the mask mandate until the prevalence of COVID-19 decreases even more.
Under state legislation recently signed into law, N.C. public school boards must vote every 30 days on requirements regarding masks in schools.
Two Caldwell County residents were arrested in connection with a man’s death from an apparent gunshot in the Ferguson community Friday morning, said Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew.
Shew said Thomas Leslie Ferguson, 54, was deceased when Wilkes Sheriff’s Office deputies found him in a single wide mobile home at 14772 Highway 268.
Shew said deputies were dispatched in response to a report of a DOA (dead on arrival) case at the Ferguson address, which is just west of the N.C. 268 bridge over Elk Creek and near the Wilkes-Caldwell line.
Shew said Ferguson’s address was listed as 4508 Ferguson Lane, Lenoir (Yadkin Valley community), but he apparently had been staying where he was found deceased.
In connection with Ferguson’s death, said Shew, the sheriff’s office charged Chasity Starr Davis, 35, with murder and William Hayes Coffey, 54, with accessory after the fact of murder. Davis lives at 2928 Barlowe Place, Lenoir, and Coffey at 6049 Laytown Road, Lenoir.
Shew said Davis also is charged with larceny of a motor vehicle in connection with the theft of Ferguson’s Chrysler PT Cruiser from outside the mobile home where he was found deceased.
He said Davis was located later Friday morning while walking along N.C. 268, near where deputies found Ferguson’s car along the highway, and taken to the sheriff’s office for questioning.
Coffey was taken to the sheriff’s office for questioning Friday afternoon after he returned to the mobile home on Elk Creek where Ferguson was found deceased, said Shew. Investigators had communicated with Coffey about him returning there, he added.
Shew, at the murder scene Friday, declined to comment on the relationship between Ferguson and the two charged in his death. He said a weapon suspected of being involved in the case was recovered. No other details were released.
Ferguson’s body was sent to a state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, scheduled Monday.
Davis was placed in the Wilkes County Jail with no bond on the murder charge and with a $30,000 secured bond on the larceny of motor vehicle charge. Coffey was placed in the Wilkes jail with a $100,000 secured bond.
Both had first appearances scheduled Monday in Wilkes District Court.
The State Bureau of Investigation is assisting the sheriff’s office in the case.
The Appalachian State University Police Department (APD) has charged an Appalachian employee who lives in Wilkes County with secret peeping.
The APD secured a warrant for the arrest of Jerry Alan McGlamery, 49, of Laurelwood Drive, Wilkesboro, for this misdemeanor offense after his mobile phone was seized, according to a statement from the university.
The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office served the warrant in Wilkes and McGlamery was taken into custody on Oct. 22.
According to the statement, McGlamery works for ASU as a facilities operations employee and has been placed on investigatory leave as the APD investigation continues. “He has not worked on campus since Oct. 15, and is not permitted to return to campus,” the statement said.
McGlamery was charged as a result of an investigation by the APD after it received a report of a mobile phone being in a vent of a third-floor bathroom in Eggers Residence Hall on Oct. 15. Eggers is an all-female dormitory.
The warrant charging McGlamery said he peeped into a women’s shower room from an access point in the janitor’s closet on the third floor of Eggers. His next court date is Nov. 30 in Boone.
“By the morning of Oct. 16, the entire ventilation system in the building was inspected. That same day, additional physical and operational measures were put in place to ensure there is no access to any bathroom vents,” the university stated.
“A team of university representatives, including staff from University Housing, APD, the university’s counseling center, and the Office of the Dean of Students met with resident assistants and residents of Eggers Hall to provide information about the incident and offer support and resources.”
According to the statement, the investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is encouraged to contact the APD at 828-262-8000 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new report lists North Wilkesboro with the 10th widest gap between high income and low income households among 50 municipalities with the largest income gaps out of 7,632 nationwide with populations between 1,000 and 25,000.
Boone is listed with the fifth widest gap. All but one of the top 10 are in Southern states, including the two in North Carolina. Others in the top 10 are Lake Providence, La., first; Quitman, Ga., second; Crystal River, Fla., third; Livingston, Ala., fourth; Stanford, Calif., sixth; Pikeville, Ky., seventh; Mullins, S.C., eighth; and Greenwood, Miss., ninth.
The report was written by Samuel Stebbins of 24/7 Wall St., LLC., a Delaware corporation with a financial news and opinion company. 24/7 Wall St., LLC did a separate ranking for metro areas.
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, 24/7 Wall St., LLC ranked municipalities by their Gini coefficient. This is a measure of the distribution of income across a population developed by Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912. It is expressed on scale of 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 the highest possible level of inequality
The report listed North Wilkesboro with a Gini index of 0.618 and a median household income if $24,479, the 74th lowest among the 7,622 towns.
The average annual income of the 20% of North Wilkesboro households with the highest income was $193,064, which was 2,722nd highest among the 7,632 towns. Average annual income of the 20% of households with the lowest income was $7,323, which was 531st lowest of the 7,632 towns.
The share of all income in North Wilkesboro in the top 20% was 64.5%, the 19th highest of the 7,632 towns. The share of all income in the bottom 20% was 2.5%, the 401st lowest of 7,632 towns.
Boone’s Gini index was 0.634 and its median household income was $22,434, the 43rd lowest of the 7,696 towns. The share of all income in Boone in the top 20% was 65.0%, the 10th highest of the 7,632 towns. The share of all income in Boone in the bottom 20% was 1.0%, the 19th lowest of 7,632 towns.
The average annual income of the 20% of Boone households with the highest income was $162,943, which was 3,687th lowest among the 7,632 towns. The average annual income of the 20% of Boone households with the lowest income was $2,551, which was the 23rd lowest of the 7,632 towns.
Lake Providence, La., has a Gini index of 0.771 and a median household income of $18,316, sixth lowest of the 7,696 towns. Average household income of the top 20% was $251,217 and average household income of the bottom 20% was $1,586.
America’s top 10% now average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90%, according to data analyzed by UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez.
The report says that U.S. Federal Reserve data shows that the wealthiest 10% of Americans control $93.8 trillion, more than double the $40.3 trillion in the hands of the remaining 90% of Americans.
A January 2020 report published by the Pew Research Center found that over the last four decades, income growth for the top 5% of families by earnings has far outpaced income growth for families in lower income strata.
The report says causes of rising income inequality are complex and varied. The National Bureau of Economic Research says contributing factors include globalization, technological advancement, a stagnant minimum wage and decline of labor unions are among causes.