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Calls for vaccine drop sharply
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About 10,000 people had received first doses of the Moderna vaccine at Wilkes County Health Department clinics by the end of last week, said Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard.

These included about 1,100 people vaccinated in a drive-through, first dose clinic at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge in Wilkesboro on Thursday, Feb. 11.

Willard said the health department is supposed to get enough Moderna vaccine for 1,200 first doses at a drive-through clinic at River’s Edge Thursday. Enough vaccine is expected for 900 second doses at a drive-through clinic Friday at River’s Edge.

The health department now requires appointments for first or second dose vaccinations. To schedule an appointment, call 336-990-9950. Cards with the date and time of second dose appointments are given when people get their first doses.

Willard said she heard reports of people having much shorter waiting times when they called the health department for first dose appointments last week. Others working at the Feb. 11 clinic said they heard statements affirming this from people there to receive first doses.

As of last week, the health department has 10 people answering calls for appointments. Previously, three to five people were answering the phones. Additional people answering phones include employees of the county’s animal control, information technology and parks and recreation departments.

Willard said only about 430 people called for a first dose appointment on Monday, Feb. 1, unlike about a week ago when call volume averaged about 2,000 a day and people reported waiting hours for calls for appointments to be answered, if at all.

Willard said the reduced call volume indicates that a large percentage of Wilkes residents 65 and older seeking vaccinations have accomplished this. “As we move to vaccinating people in group three, this number (of people calling for appointments) will go up.”

Anyone working in child care or in the schools (Pre-K to 12th grade), including teachers, is eligible for vaccination starting Feb. 24, while others in group three can be vaccinated starting March 10.

She said whether the health department makes vaccinations available to everyone in group three on March 10 depends on the vaccine supply at that point and how far along the department is in getting people in earlier groups vaccinated.

Willard said about 80% of those vaccinated with first doses at the health department clinics have also received their second doses. This includes about 800 people given second doses in a drive-through clinic at River’s Edge on Friday, Feb. 12.

Wilkes Medical Center is holding additional vaccination clinics for patients of medical practices affiliated with the hospital.

The hospital is holding a second dose vaccination clinic this Saturday for the 403 hospital patients 65 and older who received first doses of the Pfizer vaccine in a Jan. 30 clinic at West Park, North Wilkesboro. These are by appointment only.

Patients of medical practices affiliated with Wilkes Medical Center may schedule vaccination appointments through the hospital by calling 336-70-COVID or through their myWakeHealth accounts.

“Wake Forest Baptist Health continues to partner with the Wilkes County Health Department and has transferred hundreds of doses of the Moderna vaccine” for use at health department clinics, said Wake Forest Baptist spokesman Joe McCloskey.

McCloskey said more than 1,200 first and second doses have been given at Wilkes Medical Center to Wake Forest Baptist Health employees, including those who work at the local hospital and at other Wake Forest Baptist locations.

McCloskey said around 30,000 first and second doses have been provided to Wake Forest Baptist employees and patients across the region.

The Walgreens pharmacy in North Wilkesboro is among about 300 Walgreens statewide offering the public vaccinations with the Moderna vaccine by appointment. The pharmacy here held a vaccination clinic this past weekend. Appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations at Walgreens are made by going to Walgreens.com/

Each Walgreens pharmacy was expected to receive an initial allotment of about 100 doses of vaccine shipped directly from the federal government for clinics starting this past weekend.

This was in addition to North Carolina’s current weekly federal allocation of about 150,000 doses. State officials have said this is distributed primarily based on county populations.

'Community effort'
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Volunteers are playing an integral role in the Wilkes County Health Department’s weekly drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge in Wilkesboro.

Wilkes Health Department Rachel Willard said each first and second dose clinic is staffed by about 60 people, including about 25 volunteers.

Dr. Dariel Rathmel of North Wilkesboro is among the regular clinic volunteers. “This is a community effort,” said the retired internal medicine physician in between putting shots in arms at Thursday’s first dose clinic.

Rathmel said she volunteers because she believes it’s her civic responsibility and she wants to see everybody get vaccinated. “I’m loving every minute of it and am thrilled to see old patients of mine. And there’s such great teamwork here.”

She said the Wilkes Health Department has done a great job with the clinics. “It’s been a work in progress and we’re ironing out things as they arise.”

People frustrated over being unable to get connected when they dialed the health department number for a vaccination appointment earlier called Rathmel at home because they knew she was volunteering at the clinics. People working at the clinic Thursday said they heard it had become considerably easier to get an appointment.

Rathmel said she saw a car full of people from Greensboro with appointments at River’s Edge Thursday after they couldn’t get them in Greensboro.

“I just wish we had more vaccine. I wish we could do this 12 hours a day in shifts and vaccinate everyone who wants it,” she said.

Rathmel works as a member of one of the 10-12 two-person vaccination teams at each clinic. One member of each team gives shots while the other fills out forms with information collected on people vaccinated for the state. The two alternate between vaccinating people and filling out forms if both are licensed to give shots.

Information on each form includes the time, date and clinic site of the vaccination, lot number of the vaccine used, who gave the shot and in which arm it was given. People receiving the first dose are given a card with the date, time and place for their second dose.

Fran Cantrell of Millers Creek, a retired Wilkes school nurse, said knowing health care providers were caring for others while she isolated herself earlier in the pandemic helped motivate her to volunteer at the clinics. “It’s something I can do,” she added.

Cantrell and fellow volunteer Nancy Scroggs of Moravian Falls were a vaccination team at Thursday’s clinic. Scroggs is a retired nurse practitioner who teaches graduate level courses at the Chamberlain College of Nursing.

“Obviously, the need is great and it’s a critical time with the vaccine here. That means we’ve got to get it done. We’re a small place and we should be able to work together to accomplish this,” said Cantrell.

“It’s disappointing to see people not doing the things they should do to protect themselves, their families and others in the community,” she added. “We’ve got to do it and we’ve got to stick together.”

Cantrell’s recent letter to the Wilkes County commissioners urging them to speak out on the importance of COVID-19 precautions and getting vaccinated prompted the commissioners to establish a COVID-19 task force with representation from varied segments of the community.

All 12 Wilkes County school nurses volunteered to work at the clinics on a rotating basis, usually four at a time. They get normal pay from the Wilkes schools while serving on vaccination teams.

Simultaneously, the school nurses are still doing contact tracing for COVID-19 cases in the schools. Earlier in the pandemic, they helped the health department with contact tracing.

Wilkes school nurses Becky Smith and Nikki Splawn were one of the vaccination teams at the clinic Thursday.

Smith said their efforts at the clinics help keep students and staff in the schools safer. Splawn agreed and added, “We long for the day when school nurse work will be normal again.”

Splawn said she believes the percentage of Wilkes teachers planning to get vaccinated when this is allowed starting Feb. 24 exceeds that of the general public. She said acceptance is growing as those with reservations learn about more people they know having no adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Debbie Nicholson, the health department’s director of nursing, said health department nurses, Wilkes Emergency Medical Services staff (including director Tim Pennington) and Dr. Leticia Kribbs, a local pediatrician, are also vaccinating people at the clinics. Kribbs does this as a volunteer.

The health department has received statewide recognition for how rapidly people are vaccinated at its clinics. Ten two-person teams are vaccinating about 1,000 people with first doses in about three and a half hours. About 150 people are vaccinated every 30 minutes in second dose clinics.

“We definitely could not do this without our community partners and all of our volunteers. We are very thankful for all of the help,” said Nicholson. Ways to improve are discussed at weekly health department meetings on the clinics, she added.

Staffing in addition to the teams administering vaccine typically includes eight Wilkes Sheriff’s Office deputies helping with traffic, additional health department staff in various roles and additional Wilkes EMS paramedics on standby as people wait for 15 minutes in their vehicles after being vaccinated to see if they have reactions. Wilkesboro police officers also help with traffic.

Volunteers and health department staff register people to be vaccinated as they wait in line in their vehicles.

On Thursday, volunteers registering people included several second-year nursing students at Wilkes Community College; Dr. Joe Fesperman, a local retired family practice physician; and twin sisters Martha Ogilvie Brame and Margaret Ogilvie Stone, both retired teachers.

Willard said all of the volunteers and representatives of county government departments and the Wilkes County Schools are important to the success of the clinics.

She said more volunteers are needed. Interested people can contact the health department at 336-651-7461 for more information.

1 dies in 2-vehicle Wilkesboro wreck
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A woman died as a result of a two-vehicle collision at the intersection of Stokes Street and N.C. 268 West in Wilkesboro Friday morning.

Edna Hayes Hall, 90, of Millers Creek, operating a 2009 Ford Focus, died at the scene, said Capt. Jason Delbert of the Wilkesboro Police Department.

According to Wilkesboro Officer B.D. Dancy’s report, Hall was at the stop sign on Stokes Street and was attempting to turn left onto N.C. 268 West when her Ford collided with a 1995 Toyota Tacoma pickup that was westbound on N.C. 268 West. Dancy said Hall failed to see the pickup before pulling out onto N.C. 268 West.

The front of the pickup, driven by Christopher Todd Reep, 37, of Boomer, hit the driver’s side of the Ford after the car pulled out onto N.C. 268 West. The impact forced the Ford off the south side of N.C. 268 West, where it came to rest in the lawn of a business. The pickup remained in a lane of N.C. 268 West.

Wilkes Emergency Medical Services transported Hall’s husband, Thomas Franklin Hall, 82, of Millers Creek, to Wilkes Medical Center. He was sitting in the front passenger seat and had non-life threatening injuries, said Delbert.

Wilkes EMS also took Reep to Wilkes Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries, said Delbert, adding that Reep was on his way home when the wreck occurred.

A Wilkesboro Fire Department member took a small dog that was in the back of the Ford for safe keeping.

Dancy’s report didn’t list any charges but it said the wreck was still under investigation by the Wilkesboro Police Department traffic collision reconstruction team.

It wasn’t clear if either of the Halls had just been vaccinated at a Wilkes Health Department clinic for second doses of the Moderna vaccine underway at the nearby Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge when the wreck happened at 9:50 a.m. Stokes Street is the clinic exit route.

Wilkes Sheriff’s Office deputies and North Wilkesboro Police Department officers assisted Wilkesboro officers with traffic control. Other Wilkesboro officers were working at the clinic.

Delbert said the Ford was a total loss and the pickup received about $4,000 in damage. He said the two drivers and the passenger were wearing seat belts.

Elkin police: Pickup with child inside stolen
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A 6-year-old girl sitting in a pickup when it was stolen from the Walmart Super parking lot in Elkin Sunday morning was found unharmed about 15 miles away at a church in Yadkin County later that day, said Capt. Josh Tulbert of the Elkin Police Department.

Tulbert said Christopher Davis Coffey, 37, of Lenoir, charged by Elkin police with second-degree kidnapping, motor vehicle theft and other offenses, apparently didn’t immediately realize the child was inside when he pushed the 17-year-old female driver of the pickup away from the vehicle and drove off. The incident was reported at 10:42 a.m. Sunday.

He said the child was released at Richmond Hill Baptist Church, just north of N.C. 67 between Boonville and East Bend, while Elkin and Jonesville police officers searched for the pickup and spoke with the victim-driver and witnesses. The child was found at the same church. The 6-year-old and the 17-year-old are sisters.

Tulbert said the child was found at Richmond Hill Baptist Church and cared for by a member of the church who also called the Yadkin Sheriff’s Office. Yadkin deputies picked up the child at the church.

The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office was notified just before noon Sunday that a Red Dodge pickup reported stolen in Surry County was last seen traveling on U.S. 421 and headed toward Wilkes, said Major Logan Kerr of the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office.

Kerr said Wilkes deputies located the pickup at 5606 Wilkes-Yadkin Road, which is near U.S. 421 in eastern Wilkes, and found Coffey on foot behind a building nearby. Wilkes deputies took Coffey into custody early Sunday afternoon and transported him to the Wilkes County Jail. The Wilkes Sheriff’s Office charged Coffey with felony possession of a stolen vehicle

Tulbert said that in addition to second-degree kidnapping and motor vehicle theft, Corp. James Brooks of the Elkin Police Department charged Coffey with reckless driving to endanger persons or property, driving while license revoked and assault on a female. The assault charge resulted from the driver of the pickup being pushed out of the way, he said.

“Later, the vehicle the suspect arrived in at Walmart was recovered as a stolen vehicle, reportedly taken from Stokes County,” said Tulbert. Charges against Coffey in other jurisdictions are expected, he said.

He said that in addition to the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office, the N.C. Highway Patrol, Jonesville and Pilot Mountain police departments and the Yadkin, Surry and Stokes sheriff’s offices assisted. He also thanked representatives of Walmart on C.C. Camp Road in Elkin and Richmond Hill Baptist Church for their help.