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Vaccinations of hospital staff start
  • Updated

Wilkes Medical Center employees started receiving Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations in a conference room on the hospital’s main floor by mid-morning Monday after the first shipment arrived about 7:30 that morning.

The doses were brought to the North Wilkesboro hospital from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, which received its initial shipment of 2,925 doses of Pfizer vaccine around 7:30 a.m. Dec. 14.

Dozens of hospital employees awaiting their turns to be vaccinated were lined up in the hallway from the conference room entrance to the main hospital lobby Monday morning. After each received a shot, he or she was directed to a seat in the conference room and told to wait 15 minutes before leaving as a precaution in case a reaction occurred.

Dr. Mira Boone, hospitalist at Wilkes Medical Center, was among those vaccinated Monday. Boone said later Monday, “Taking the vaccine is just the right thing to do. It’s right for my patients, it’s right for myself and for my family, for my kids and my husband, and for all the people I love. And it’s right for the community.”

She added, “We all want our life back from this plague. And the only way out of it anytime soon is by everyone getting this vaccine.”

Boone said she and her colleagues at Wilkes Medical Center have seen firsthand the horrors of COVID-19. “We watch as many patients fight for their lives and often lose the battle. I would much rather take my chances with a safe and effective vaccine than take my chances with this horrible disease.”

She also praised the scientists and research volunteers who made this vaccine possible. “It is truly a wonderful and amazing feet of modern science to have a vaccine this fast. I am truly grateful.”

On Dec. 15, 10 employees in a pilot group at Wake Forest Baptist in Winston-Salem became the first people there to receive the vaccine.

The first shipment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Wilkes arrived Tuesday morning, said Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard. On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Moderna for emergency use.

Willard said 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in the first shipment, with half going to Wilkes Medical Center and half to the health department. “It’s supposed to come on a weekly basis after that but we don’t know how much.”

A Wilkes Medical Center spokesman said amounts of additional vaccine coming there also aren’t known.

Willard said the health department received four kits of needles and alcohol swabs for vaccinations. Staff training for giving the shots started last week.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines both must be administered in two doses, with four weeks between the Moderna doses and three weeks for Pfizer.

Wake Forest Baptist and the health department are following a phased approach, aligned with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) guidance, to prioritize the order of vaccinations. It’s based on likelihood of exposure to the virus.

Phase 1A of the plan has 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.

The health department surveyed people included in phase 1A 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. It also isn’t mandatory for employees of Wake Forest Baptist, Wilkes Medical Center and other Wake Forest Baptist affiliate hospitals.

Wake Forest Baptist spokesman Joe McCloskey said Wake Forest Baptist officials are working with Wilkes Medical Center leadership on plans to roll out the vaccines to employees there.

Statewide, 85,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at 53 hospitals by the end of last week, including 975 doses at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin. Staff at the Mountain View and Clingman medical centers in Wilkes, which are affiliated with Hugh Chatham, were vaccinated with part of this shipment late last week.

The 53 hospitals were chosen based on their numbers of beds and health care workers and county populations, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary. Ultra-cold storage capacity, needed for the Pfizer vaccine, also was a factor. Cohen said hospital staff vaccinations are being staggered to avoid potential staffing problems

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines both must be administered in two doses, with four weeks between the Moderna doses and three weeks for Pfizer. A person must receive the same brand — Moderna or Pfizer — both times.

The CDC said Saturday that anyone with a severe reaction to the vaccine shouldn’t get a second dose. It defined severe as needing epinephrine or treatment in a hospital.

Also in phase 1A are staff and residents in skilled and unskilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes. Willard said vaccinations at these facilities in Wilkes were expected to start this week. The federal government is overseeing 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 said not knowing how much of the vaccine is coming and when has made it hard to plan tiimelines.

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 Christmas tree on Wilkes Heritage Museum lawn drew a group of local children playing in the nearby commons area for a closer view on Dec. 12. Jamella Garrett, Amy Johnson, Lora Walker and Alanna Fleming organized the gathering.

In downtown Wilkesboro

Improved ratings mean lower insurance premiums

Owners of residences and commercial buildings in at least parts of five Wilkes County fire districts can expect to soon pay less for homeowner’s insurance.

The N.C. Department of Insurance announced earlier this month that it reduced fire suppression ratings for the Knotville, Broadway, Moravian Falls, Mountain View and Mulberry-Fairplains fire districts, effective April 1, 2021.

The private Insurance Services Office (ISO) inspects fire departments and rates them based on a Fire Suppression Rating Schedule from the N.C. Department of Insurance. Nine Wilkes fire departments were inspected in October.

This schedule considers emergency communications, fire department (including equipment and firefighter training hours) and available water supply. It also recognizes efforts fire prevention, public fire safety education and fire investigation efforts.

ISO rates fire departments on a scale of one to 10, with one being the best. These ratings, typically in effect for about five years, are provided to insurance companies to determine homeowner’s insurance premiums.

Moravian Falls went from a rating of 6/9E to 4/9E; Broadway, from 6/9E to 5/9E; Mulberry-Fairplains, from 5/9E to 4/9E; Mountain View, from 6/9E to 5/9E; and Knotville, from 6/9S to 5.

Split ratings are given when part of a fire district is within five miles of a fire station or substation and the other part doesn’t have fire hydrants and is between five and six miles from a station, which is the case for most Wilkes fire districts.

The first half of the rating is for most of the district, which is the area within five miles of a station or substation. It can be a number between one and 10. The second half (between five and six miles from a station or substation, can be a 9E or a 10.

Knotville Fire Chief Calvin Wyatt said adding more tanker trucks helped improve the district’s rating because it increased the volume of water available to fight fires.

Wilkes Fire Marshal Niki Hamby said adding fire hydrants helped Knotville lower the second half of its rating.

Broadway Fire Chief Tracy Brooks said purchasing additional equipment and completing more hours of training helped improve Broadway’s rating.

Mountain View Fire Chief Brad Mathis said the ratings also consider personnel and truck response to fires, scene set up, equipment maintenance and reporting.

“Our firefighters and medical responders work hard for the citizens of Mountain View. Our number one goal is to save lives and protect property, but everything we do helps property owners save money on fire insurance.”

Moravian Falls Fire Chief Kimi Hamby said more firefighter training and recording this helped improve his district’s rating.

Hamby said Wilkes fire departments benefitted from showing their ability to work together to shuttle water and how well they can move massive amounts of water for long periods, as well as making mutual aid water tanker operations more streamlined. He cited automatic mutual aid agreements, resulting in three departments automatically being dispatched when there is a structure fire.

Mulberry-Fairplains Chief Scott Handy his district’s rating was improved “by putting in a lot of hard work and manpower hours.” Handy also cited “dedicated officers and board members and good support from the community.”

Four other fire departments were up for inspection and kept their same ratings. They are Roaring River, Millers Creek and Cricket, all 5/9E. North Wilkesboro remained unchanged at 4.

Drug busts reflect dominance of imported meth
  • Updated

The Wilkes Sheriff’s Office’s latest round of felony drug arrests reflects the increased prevalence of imported methamphetamine in Wilkes County, said Capt. Craig Dancy, who heads the agency’s narcotics unit.

“Everything has gone to meth now,” said Dancy when he announced these latest cases Friday. Charges against all but four of 35 defendants in the latest round include meth offenses.

“And they’re not making it here anymore because it can’t compete” with meth produced by drug cartels in Mexico, said Dancy. “We haven’t found a meth lab (in Wilkes) in two years.”

He said laws requiring retailers to keep records of people who buy household ingredients used in simple “one-pot” meth labs, once prevalent across Appalachia, are also a factor.

Dancy said other new laws and greater awareness have made it harder to get prescription pain pills for illegal purposes. “Doctors around here have done a great job” with this, he said.

He said people addicted to opioids from taking pain pills in many cases are now using meth, while fear of ingredients in heroin is still making it less popular locally.

Californians arrestedArrests of five people from California, among the 35 announced Friday, accounted for much of a recent sharp rise in meth seized in sheriff’s office cases. Dancy said the leader of the five, Jose Manuel Zazueta, 28, claimed to be part of the Sinaloa cartel, based in Mexico’s Pacific coast state of Sinaloa.

He said Zazueta and John Somphone Vongxay, 36, another of the five, are federal fugitives facing drug charges in California.

Sheriff’s office narcotics officers arrested Zazueta and Julisa Placensia Perez, 23, in Country Square trailer park on N.C. 16-18 near Wilkesboro on Oct. 16 as part of an undercover operation after learning a meth delivery from California was expected at a residence there.

Vongxay, Victor Madrigal, 23, and Jacqueline Esmeralda Ramirez, 28, all from San Diego, Calif., were arrested the next day at a Wilkesboro motel. Zazueta and Perez have the same address in Imperial Beach, Calif., south of San Diego near the Mexican border.

Dancy said investigators learned that the five were together when they drove from California to Florida and then North Carolina, delivering meth along the way. Dancy said 895 grams of meth were seized when Zazueta and Perez were arrested and 4,984 grams when the other three were arrested.

The sheriff’s office charged Zazueta and Vongxay with three counts each of trafficking in more than 400 grams of meth, the highest level of meth trafficking.

Perez and Ramirez are charged with three counts each and Vongxay with one count of conspiracy to traffic in meth. Zazueta, Perez and Vongxay are charged with maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance.

Zazueta and Vongxay are charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver (PWISD) meth and Vongxay is charged with delivering meth.

Total amounts of controlled substances seized in cases announced Friday are 6,876 grams (15 pounds) of meth worth about $250,000 on the street; about 60 pain pills worth about $2,000, 60 more pills worth about $2,000 (Fentanyl made to look like Oxycodone), four grams of heroin worth about $400 and 100 grams of marijuana.

Other trafficking casesAmong cases announced Friday, four people are charged with conspiring with each other to traffic in meth. They are Billy Joe Taylor, 31, Yellow Banks Road, North Wilkesboro; Terry Eugene Wagoner, 31, Jenkin Park Drive, North Wilkesboro; and Dalton Alexander Royal, 22, and Lauren Nicole Huffman, 21, of the same address on Chickadee Drive, Millers Creek.

Dancy said 84 grams of meth were seized when the four were arrested at a home on N.C. 18 North about a month ago. Royal is also charged with three counts and Huffman with one count of trafficking in meth. Royal, Taylor and Huffman are charged with PWISD meth. Royal is also charged with maintaining a vehicle for controlled substances and selling meth.

Other trafficking cases in the latest round, which Dancy called “Operation Naughty List” in recognition of the holiday season, are:

• Trisha Marie Nelson, 44, Country Square Drive, Wilkesboro, trafficking in meth (highest three) and maintaining a dwelling for keeping a controlled substance. Nelson and Ashley Nicole Jones, 24, Wilkesboro, are charged with conspiring with each other to sell meth. Jones and Nelson are both charged with PWISD meth and Jones is charged with selling meth.

Dancy said 688 grams of meth and 60 pills containing Fentanyl, but pressed to look like Oxycodone pills were seized when Nelson was arrested. (See related story in this issue.)

• Jonathan Shawn Robbins, 43, Ronda, two counts of trafficking in meth, PWISD meth and maintaining a vehicle for controlled substances. Dancy said Robbins was bringing 85 grams of meth from Winston-Salem to Wilkes when it was found in his vehicle after he was stopped Dec. 16 at the Red, White and Blue Road exit of U.S. 421;

Other meth casesJeremy Scott Walker, 28, Winkler Mill Road, Wilkesboro; Tyler Alexander Grimes, 30, N.C. 18 South Moravian Falls; and Destiny Marie Church, 22, Stone Ridge Lane, North Wilkesboro, are charged with PWISD meth in connection with meth sold from Walker’s home, said Dancy. Walker is charged with keeping a place for controlled substances and other two are charged with conspiring with Walker.

Lee Norris Elliott, 41, South Recreation Road, Wilkesboro, and Larissa Dean Barnes, 40, Dowell Ridge Road, North Wilkesboro, are charged with PWISD meth in the same case. Elliott is also charged with maintaining a vehicle for controlled substances and with possessing marijuana.

John Christopher Davis, 33, Shepherd River Road, Millers Creek, and Brandy Noreen Frazier, 47, East Brocktown Road, Moravian Falls, are charged with PWISD marijuana and Davis is also charged with possessing meth and heroin and maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance in the same case.

Angela Renee Anderson, 40, Moravian Creek Drive, Moravian Falls, is charged with two counts each of PWISD meth, selling meth and maintaining a dwelling for controlled substances.

Bryan Marroquin, 24, Jolly Street, North Wilkesboro, and Tabitha Byrd, 30, Fletcher, are charged with possessing meth in unrelated cases. Jessi Lee Mash, 27, Boone Trail, North Wilkesboro, is charged with PWISD meth and possessing marijuana.

Charged with PWISD meth in unrelated cases are Davina Dawn Wilcox, 43, Old N.C. 18, McGrady; Scottie Ray Hamby, 46, Shingle Gap Road, Purlear; Harold Dean Holland, 38, Lankford Lane, North Wilkesboro; Eric Logan Reavis, 21, Broadway Tower Road, North Wilkesboro; Tommy Cheek, 53, Elledge Mill Road, North Wilkesboro; Joesky Obrian Barnes, 31, N.C. 18 South, Moravian Falls; Jeffery Lynn Mulcahy, 59, Green Acres Road, Millers Creek; and Melissa Logan Byers, 49, Zacks Street, Millers Creek.

Byers, Mulcahy and Cheek are also charged with maintaining a place for controlled substances. Joesky Barnes and Holland are charged with selling meth. Reavis is also charged with selling a counterfeit controlled substance.

In cases not involving meth, James Louis Hairston, 27, East Brocktown Road, Moravian Falls, is charged with PWISD pain pills and maintaining a vehicle for controlled substances; Daniel Narvaez, 19, West Waugh Street, North Wilkesboro, is charged with PWISD marijuana; Earl Edgar Wagoner, Dillard Road, Hays; is charged with PWISD pain pills, selling pain pills and maintaining a dwelling for controlled substances; and Sierra Nicole Hamilton, 24, Elkin Highway, North Wilkesboro, is charged with possessing pain pills.

Investigations in the cases announced Friday began as far back as September. Dancy said the Wilkesboro Police Department, Yadkin County Sheriff’s Office, Det. Tim Sims and his assigned dog, Mick, of the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation assisted.

Churches plan Christmas worship events

Wilkes County churches are planning special worship services and musical programs this week, some of which are in-person and some virtual in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Cokie Bristol, the pastor at Millers Creek United Methodist Church, said on the church’s Facebook page that the virtual holy communion planned for today (Wednesday) from 7-8 p.m. can be accessed via Zoom, Facebook Live or YouTube.

“In planning for this service, we felt that most have full plates Christmas Eve and day with scheduling around this pandemic,” said Bristol. “We wanted to lighten the load and offer a time when everyone might be able to take a break mid-week, offer a place of sanctuary and refuge, and engage in worship apart but together.

“Such strange words: apart — together. We mourn our loss but we celebrate our gains in keeping others safe.”

Other announced services are listed below.

Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Wilkesboro, will have an in-person Christmas Eve service on Thursday, Dec. 24, from 6-7:30 p.m.

North Wilkesboro Presbyterian Church, 804 E Street, will conduct a virtual candle lighting and communion service on Thursday, Dec. 24, featuring the Revs. Steve Snipes and R.C. Griffin.

Millers Creek Baptist Church, 5100 Boone Trail Road, will present “The Heart of Christmas,” a musical by the church’s sanctuary choir, in-person on Sunday, Dec. 27, at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. The 8:30 a.m. service will be livestreamed on the church’s YouTube channel.

Wilkesboro Baptist Church, 300 West Main Street, will hold its traditional Christmas candlelight communions on Thursday, Dec. 24, at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 27, at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Attendees are required to register so that the in-person services aren’t extended beyond safe capacities.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 200 West Cowles Street, Wilkesboro, will hold a Christmas Eve livestreamed service on Thursday, Dec. 24, at 4 p.m. It can be joined on the church’s Facebook page.

Saint Stephen Catholic Church, Elkin, will have in-person Christmas Mass on Thursday, Dec. 24, at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Beaver Creek Baptist Church in Ferguson has a drive-through nativity scene from 6-7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 24.