Wilkes County’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine is expected next week, but local and state officials still don’t know how much is coming.
Meanwhile, 85,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected at 53 hospitals across the state by the end of this week. North Carolina’s first shipment — 1,925 doses — arrived at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem about 7:30 a.m. Monday. Vaccination of employees there started Monday.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced the number of doses expected at each of the 53 hospitals this week, including 975 doses at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin.
The 53 hospitals were chosen based on their numbers of beds and health care workers and county populations, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary, in a press conference Thursday. Ultra-cold storage capacity, needed for the Pfizer vaccine, also was a factor.
Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said the vaccines coming to the health department next week are from Moderna. Federal Food and Drug Administration approval of Moderna’s vaccine is expected late this week.
“We don’t know the amount, but we were told that 100 doses are the minimum” from Moderna in one shipment, said Willard, adding that it’s supposed to arrive weekly after that.
Dr. Amanda Moore, DHHS pharmacist, said Thursday, “We are making every effort to make sure” every hospital not among the first 53 and every local health department receive Moderna vaccines the second week (next week).
“The question is how much” of the Moderna vaccine to expect then, added Moore. “When the amount from Pfizer coming in the second week is known, that will help clarify.”
Wake Forest Baptist spokesman Joe McCloskey said Tuesday that Wake Forest Baptist officials are working with Wilkes Medical Center leadership on the plan to roll out the vaccines to employees there. We are vaccinating some small groups of Wake Forest Baptist Health employees this week in Winston-Salem and then will begin to ramp up the distribution to other hospitals, including Wilkes Medical Center.”
Willard said vaccination prioritization in Wilkes will be based on a DHHS plan. Phase 1A of the plan lists those vaccinated first, including health care workers who care for patients with COVID-19, those vaccinating these workers and those cleaning areas used by COVID-19 patients. Willard said this includes certain Wilkes Emergency Medical Service, Wilkes Health Department and Wilkes Medical Center personnel, among others.
Cohen said hospital staff vaccinations will be staggered to avoid potential staffing problems due to reactions to the vaccine.
The health department is surveying people eligible for the first round of vaccinations to get an idea of how many intend to be vaccinated. County Manager John Yates COVID-19 vaccinations aren’t mandatory for county government employees.
Also in phase 1A are staff and residents in skilled and unskilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes. Cohen said the federal government will oversee vaccinations in long-term care facilities, working with CVS and Walgreens to provide this.
Cohen said phase 1A “will certainly be the work of December and likely go into January.”
She added, “I want to caution everyone. In terms of time frames, we don’t even know how much vaccine we’re going to be receiving from the federal government in week two. So, it’s really hard for us to project exact timelines at this point.”
Phase 1B includes adults at risk with COVID-19 because they have two or more chronic conditions, such as COPD or Type 2 diabetes. It includes “essential frontline workers,” such as teachers, law enforcement officers, food processing workers and certain health care workers. Phase 1B also includes those working in prisons and homeless shelters.
Phase 2 includes those living in prisons and adults 65 and older with one chronic condition that puts them at risk of severe illness.
Phase 3 includes college and university students and K-12 students when there is an approved vaccine for children. It also includes those employed in jobs critical to society and at lower risk of exposure.
Phase 4 is for everyone else. Wilkes County government officials are discussing plans for drive-through vaccination clinics, possibly at the Park at River’s Edge.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines both must be administered in two doses, with four weeks between the Moderna doses and three weeks for Pfizer.
Cohen said the 85,800 Pfizer doses coming to North Carolina this week are all first doses, which means enough for partially vaccinating 85,800 people. She said state officials are confident about receiving the second doses.
In addition to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the first 11 hospitals to receive the vaccine include Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Lenoir and Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory.
Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin, Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory, Iredell Health System in Statesville and Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem are among the other 42.
Cohen said each state’s population is determining how many doses it receives.
North Carolina officials hope to have delivered vials of COVID-19 vaccine to all 100 counties by Christmas. It’s free to everyone, with insurances companies and the federal government covering the cost.
The North Wilkesboro commissioners unanimously approved the sale of the town-owned Elks Lodge building and land and the commercial building at 910 Main Street properties on Dec. 8.
The board agreed to sell the old Elks Lodge building and land off Finley Avenue to local developer Scott D. Nafe for $200,000. Nafe placed an opening bid for this amount last month, and the upset bid process ended on Dec. 3 with the town receiving no competing bids.
Nafe, a businessman who has redeveloped several commercial and industrial properties in North Wilkesboro, said earlier, “My current intent is to redevelop the property, saving the existing structure… (and converting it) to market-rate (non-subsidized rental) apartments or for-sale condominiums.”
He added, “There currently exists adequate land areas on the site for additional multi-family or condominium units. It is too beautiful a structure to be lost to this community.”
The town purchased the property for $200,000 in 2016, partially as the possible site of new facilities for the North Wilkesboro police and fire departments. It has been unused since then. It was appraised for $230,000 in 2014, and its current tax value is $365,480.
The sale is expected to close within 30 days. As per the town’s real estate disposition policy, proceeds from the sale will go into the town’s general fund capital reserve fund.
The former Elks Lodge, built in 1923 and later purchased by local industrialist P. Ward Eshelman and his family, is on a 4.2-acre parcel. It was established as the meeting and dining place for the North Wilkesboro Elks Club in 1955. An addition was completed in 1962, bringing the two-story brick building to 7,000 square feet of floor space.
The town agreed to sell the 910 Main Street property to George Evans, who emerged from the upset bid process with a high bid of $64,157. The process took several rounds, according to Town Manager Wilson Hooper, and concluded on Nov. 24.
Wilson said Friday that Evans has not told the town formally what his intentions are with 910 Main Street, other than he’ll likely convert the upstairs portion into a dwelling.
Evans is a former sports lawyer and agent with homes in Millers Creek and Florida. He previously made several unsuccessful bids on downtown properties, including a nearby commercial building at 912 Main Street.
The town bought the building at 910 Main Street from 906 Main Street LLC, a corporation with William McElwee III as registered agent, for $51,000 in 2016.
The purchase included a narrow 1,307-square-foot parcel (identified in tax records as 908 Main Street) that actually is between the buildings at 910 Main and 906 Main, but for all practical purposes is part of the building at 910 Main.
The town renovated it and the building at 910 Main to a “shell” state, hoping to spur future investment in the downtown area. The town invested around $250,000 in the rehabilitation of the parcels, according to Hooper.
The combined two-story structure has 4,792 square feet of floor space. It formerly was occupied by Roselli’s restaurant.
The 910 and 906 Main Street properties have a permanent easement in place that allows for the maintenance of a roof and interior wall shared by the properties. Hooper said Evans was made aware of the easement before bidding.
Like the Elks Lodge deal, the sale is expected to close within 30 days and will benefit the town’s general fund capital reserve fund.
The first Wilkes Literacy Gingerbread House Festival drew 36 entries and raised money to help fight illiteracy in Wilkes County.
All 36 gingerbread houses were sold during a silent auction that ended on Nov. 21 and winning bidders picked up their houses on Nov. 22. There also were event sponsors.
Wilkes Literacy Executive Director Jean Hefner said the event was a big success but added that the amount of money raised hasn’t been confirmed yet.
The gingerbread houses were displayed last month in the basement area of Talia Espresso on Main Street, North Wilkesboro, for public viewing. Hefner said over 450 saw them in person (with COVID-19 precautions emphasized) and several hundred viewed them on a virtual tour.
Judges examined the houses without knowing the creators or organizations they represented and chose Dom Bakeries on D Street, North Wilkesboro, as winner of the “professional” category and a house made by Alan Garrett of North Wilkesboro as the “amateur” category winner.
The Dom Bakeries house was made by Dom co-owners David and Bronwyn Barricklow and Dom cake decorator Alaina Grit. David Barricklow made the gingerbread and Bronwyn Barricklow positioned “stones” (speckled jelly beans) on exterior walls and sidewalk. Grit designed the house and applied icing made at Dom Bakeries for many of the features.
Hefner said Garrett’s house, with a snowy MerleFest theme, was a showpiece. Titled “WinterFest, it featured a snowman band called the Sub-Zero Boys on the front porch of the “Cabin Stage.” Signs on candy cane posts pointed the way to fried apple pies, kettle corn and other festival fare.
The “People’s Choice Award” went to a house with a Noah’s Ark theme made by the Wilkesboro Baptist Church pre-K class. Voting for the award was conducted by making in-person and online donations to Wilkes Literacy.
Judges for the professional and amateur categories were Dr. Thomas McMahan, Wilkes Literacy Board chairman; Wilkes County Commissioner Brian Minton, North Wilkesboro Commissioner Angela Day; local chef Audra Bonham; and Chloe Jennings, who has entered many gingerbread house competitions.
Houses were also entered in a “Just for Fun” category.
A tour and photos of every house can be found on the Wilkes Literacy Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Nonprofit-Organization/Wilkes-Literacy-Gingerbread-House-Festival-107768754366551/.
Event sponsors were Talia Espresso, Deal Insurance Agency, Cub Creek Kitchens and Baths Inc., Wilkes Custom Printing, Wilkes County government, Leonard Herring Family Foundation, United Way of Wilkes, Classic Carolina Properties, Orthodontists Pediatric Dentists, attorney Justin M Dingee, Wilkes Pediatric Clinic, The Health Foundation, Finley Properties, Red’s Home & Garden, Wilkes Communications, Wilcox Marketing, City Florist & Gifts, Edward Jones (Graig Langston, financial advisor), David’s Car Care Center, Walter and Doris Stroud, Law Offices of Timothy Welborn, Brushy Mountain Smokehouse & Creamery, Joines & James Attorneys at Law (Tim Joines and Carmon James), Dooley’s, Tilley’s Auto Sales and Crumpton Law (Ashley Johnson Crumpton and Andrew Warren).
Wilkes Literacy offers free individualized, one-to-one tutoring for adults who wish to learn to read or improve existing reading and writing skills. In addition, it provides resources and assistance to caregivers working with individuals who need help with reading.
Wilkes Literacy also provides free resources to improve health literacy among all adults, regardless of their reading abilities, in vulnerable populations in Wilkes County to positively affect health care outcomes.
The organization’s Summer Educational Enrichment for Kids (SEEK) provides free educational and recreational summer activities for disadvantaged children in grades K-5.
Authorities are seeking the public’s help in the investigation of a hit and run on Traphill Road in Hays the night of Dec. 10 that resulted in a young child’s death.
All leads so far have proven fruitless, including reported descriptions of the vehicle that struck Atticus Stamey, 2, of Hays.
The incident occurred where Jettie Joines Avenue intersects with Traphill Road, less than a mile south of the One Mile Road and Wiles Ridge Road intersections with Traphill Road.
The N.C. Highway Patrol is asking for assistance from anyone who may have been involved or seen something pertinent to the fatal hit and run between about 8:30 p.m. to 8:50 p.m. Dec. 10, said Master Sgt. Jeffrey Swagger of the Highway Patrol.
Swagger said the investigation indicates the child wandered away from his nearby home and was located by family members along the right side of the northbound lane of Traphill Road after being hit by a motor vehicle.
He said a family member transported the boy to the Mountain View Fire Station to seek medical attention. A first responder performed CPR there before Wilkes Emergency Medical Services transported the child to Wilkes Medical Center, where he was declared deceased.
The child had been left at home with two other children for a short time as his father briefly went to a neighboring house, said Swagger. According to media reports, family members said Atticus had just recently learned how to unlock doors.
The Highway Patrol responded to the incident about 8:53 p.m. Dec. 10 and is continuing its investigation of the fatal hit and run. The Wilkes Sheriff’s Office also responded and is assisting.
A Highway Patrol press release said the vehicle that struck the child was likely northbound on the narrow and curvy but heavily-traveled Traphill Road.
Anyone with information regarding this collision is asked to contact the Highway Patrol at 828-466- 5500.
Wilkes County School Superintendent Mark Byrd shared statistics reflecting the impact of COVID-19 on the school district since the return to in-person learning at the Dec. 7 Wilkes school board meeting.
Byrd said the stats showed that the number of student absences due to COVID-19 contact in a non-school setting was over three times the number of students who actually tested positive for COVID-19.
“While I don’t ever want to relax the measures we are taking, I thought this would help many see that the hard work of our students and staff and the precautions that they are taking have made a tremendous difference in our ability to keep schools open to this point,” he said.
On Sept. 8, all Wilkes elementary, middle and high schools transitioned from full-time remote learning to optional half-time remote and half-time in-person learning (A/B). On Oct. 20, all elementary schools went to full-time in-person learning.
Byrd said 3,624 students in Wilkes middle and high schools are now using the A/B plan.
He said COVID-19-related student absences in the Wilkes schools since Sept. 8 included:
• 10.9% (218 students) who tested positive for COVID-19;
• 14.6% (293 students) with symptoms that indicated COVID-19, but hadn’t tested positive;
• 25% (503 students) who quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19 in a school setting;
• 37% (740 students) who quarantined due to exposure to an unknown person with COVID-19;
• 12.4% (248 students) who quarantined due to a symptomatic household member.
Byrd said high school students accounted for the majority of students in the Wilkes schools who tested positive for COVID-19 so far.
“The greatest number of absences would be from the elementary level, but those numbers would be higher due to the number of students in attendance daily.”
Roughly 45% of the Wilkes School District’s student population is in grades pre-K through 5. “The fact that pre-K classrooms operate under child care guidelines, which often require entire classrooms to isolate or quarantine, would also impact those numbers,” he noted.
Byrd said he was proud of what was accomplished since the transition on Sept. 8. He encouraged students and staff to “take a few minutes over the Christmas break to reflect on what we have been able to do so far that many never thought would be possible.”
Byrd added, “Some said we could never have school wearing masks, some said we couldn’t be successful on an A/B schedule (half remote, half in-person learning) and many others doubted what we could accomplish, but I for one am proud of what our people have been able to do…. Thank you to so many who have worked so hard to make this happen.”
Byrd shared statistics for COVID-19-related student absences in the Wilkes schools that he said help explain the absences and show how fortunate the Wilkes schools have been in the past few months.
Byrd said April Marr, director of student services for the Wilkes schools, provided these statistics.
He noted that the weekend of Dec. 12-13 marks nine months that Wilkes County Schools has been facing the COVID-19 pandemic.