The second week with COVID-19 vaccinations is underway at the Wilkes County Health Department in Wilkesboro and at Wilkes Medical Center in North Wilkesboro.

Meanwhile, the health department reported the 69th and 70th COVID-19-related deaths of Wilkes residents on Monday. Both people were in their 80s and had underlying conditions.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said, “While we continue to see our hospitalizations and death toll rise, I am pleading in an effort to slow the spread. I’m asking everyone over the coming weeks to truly limit interactions to those within your immediate household.... in the home stretch of the holiday season.”

Wilkes has 284 active COVID-19 cases, including 37 people hospitalized.

Willard said everyone currently being vaccinated in Wilkes is still in phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan, which includes those working in health care facilities and people in other fields most likely to be exposed to the virus.

This includes certain Wilkes Emergency Medical Service, Wilkes Health Department and Wilkes Medical Center personnel, among others.

Willard said vaccinations of residents and staff at skilled and unskilled care nursing homes and similar long-term care facilities could start as soon as this week.

Mariah Phillips, administrator of Accordius Health at Wilkesboro, said residents and staff of that skilled nursing care facility are scheduled to start receiving Moderna vaccinations on Jan. 7 through Walgreens. Administration of COVID-19 vaccines at long-term care facilities is being provided nationwide by Walgreens and CVS, under federal supervision.

Staff and residents in skilled and unskilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes are all in phase 1A of the vaccination plan.

Willard said she expected to receive 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine for vaccinating that many people in clinics at the county health department this week.

She said 210 people were vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine at the health department last week. Wilkes Medical Center is supposed to receive 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, Willard added.

The first Moderna shipment in Wilkes, a total of 800 doses, arrived at the health department on the morning of Dec. 22. Half went to Wilkes Medical Center and half to the health department.

Willard said Moderna shipments are supposed to arrive on a weekly basis now.

Vaccinations with the Pfizer vaccine, delivered from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, started at Wilkes Medical Center on the morning of Dec. 21.

About 150 people were vaccinated that day at the hospital. It wasn’t clear if more people were vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine at the hospital later last week.

Vaccinations are continuing this week at Wilkes Medical Center, with around 300 vaccinations expected there Tuesday.

Wake Forest Baptist and the health department are following the same plan for vaccinating certain groups in phases, based on likelihood of exposure to the virus. The plan is aligned with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) guidance.

Phase 1B includes adults at risk with COVID-19 due to 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 health department surveyed people included in phase 1A to get an idea of how many intend to be vaccinated. Willard said it appears 50-60% don’t want to be vaccinated at this time, but she said she expects more to decide to get vaccinated.

County Manager John Yates said COVID-19 vaccinations aren’t mandatory for county government employees. They also aren’t mandatory for employees of Wake Forest Baptist, Wilkes Medical Center and other Wake Forest Baptist affiliate hospitals.

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

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