There still were no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wilkes County by 11 a.m. Wednesday, reported the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition, the first death of a North Carolina resident from COVID-19 was reported Wednesday morning. A Cabarrus County resident described as being in his/her late 70s died Tuesday from complications associated with the virus. The person had underlying medical conditions.

DHHS reported that a Virginia resident in his/her 60s died from COVID-19 complications while passing through North Carolina.

North Carolina had 504 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide by 11 a.m. Wednesday, up 26.6% from 398 the prior day. The state had 10,489 completed tests by 11 a.m. Wednesday, up 23.3% from 8,502 the prior day.

Caldwell County’s first positive case was announced late Tuesday afternoon. Iredell and Watauga are the only other counties adjoining Wilkes with positive cases.

About 60 in Wilkes tested

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard estimated that 60 people had been tested in Wilkes by Tuesday and none of the results known by then were positive for COVID-19. This included 28 people tested by the health department, with 17 negative test results.

“We do anticipate that a positive case is coming, given the rapid increase in confirmed cases and community spread throughout the state. I think that as a county, that is how we have responded since day one and will continue to do so once we get identification of our first case,” said Willard.

Willard said Wilkes still doesn’t have an outbreak of coronavirus. She added that it’s been humbling to see the county and town governments work together well and try to do what is right for the health and safety of people in Wilkes. 

“I am not surprised that we do not have any positive cases yet. We have worked diligently and proactively with other departments, community agencies and the towns to take proactive measures to help slow the spread of the virus in our community,” said Willard.

“I believe employers and others have really listened to the governor’s and president’s recommendations to do the best that they can when it comes to social distancing, teleworking and limiting access to patrons."

She said she believes Wilkes Medical Center and private practices have seen an increase in people qualifying for testing and this has shifted demand away from the health department.

The health department had one day with a backlog of people waiting to get tested. “The next morning, we were able to get kits and collect samples from those individuals…. We have about 15 sample kits on hand at the health department right now. We also know that once we use a sample kit from the state lab they are sending us another one,” said Willard.

She said that as far as she knows, every person who has been tested in Wilkes has been able to self-isolate at home. “We are still seeing that most people are exhibiting mild symptoms and not needing medical care,” with the dominant symptoms still being fever, cough and respiratory-like illness.

She added that according to DHHS, people with the virus see an increase in severity of symptoms around day seven. According to reports from elsewhere in North Carolina and other states, that’s when some people are seeking further care or being hospitalized.

The turnaround time for test results from the state lab has gone from about 72 hours after the lab receives samples to usually within 24 hours now.

“We have seen that LabCorp is taking longer to get test results. We still have results pending from a week ago. This backlog is expected as every state in the nation is sending tests to them in high volumes.” She said determining results of samples taken in hospitals and congregate living facilities have a higher priority for LabCorp.

Willard said the health department tries to keep enough personal protection equipment (PPE) on hand to last for a week or two. “I do not think anyone was prepared for this level of response. We have worked closely with (Wilkes) Emergency Management to get what supplies that we can.”

She said it becomes increasingly difficult to have enough PPE for front line staff as the coronavirus event continues. “We have adjusted our workflows and cleaning measures to try to reduce the spread and potential exposures to our staff, patients and community. However, we know this a marathon not a sprint, and are trying to plan accordingly.”

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