North Wilkesboro is among places in North Carolina chosen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a monoclonal antibody treatment center for people with COVID-19.

Heather Murphy, executive director of The Health Foundation, said Thursday that the treatment center is planned at 1901 West Park Drive, a vacant office owned and renovated by the Health Foundation for non-profit organizations to use as a meeting space.

In a recent email to representatives of other non-profits in Wilkes, Murphy said the 1901 West Park Drive facility won’t be available for the foreseeable future for that reason because it will be used for the monoclonal antibody treatment center.

“With amazing support from Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and Wilkes Medical Center, the 1901 Meeting Space was converted overnight,” she stated in the email.

Wilkes Medical Center President Chad Brown said Monday that officials at the hospital are working with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on releasing information about the monoclonal antibody treatment center. Brown said details will be announced when they’re firmed up.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard Monday that said her understanding was that the clinic already was seeing patients.

The extent to which monoclonal antibody treatments were made available to COVID-19 patients through Wilkes Medical Center up to now isn’t clear. The treatments have been available at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin, Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Lenoir and some other area hospitals for months.

Bailey Pennington, DHHS communications specialist, said Friday that there will be six FEMA-supported monoclonal antibody treatment sites opening in North Carolina. Pennington said more site-specific details should be available this week.

Murphy said the goal is to make getting tested of COVID-19 and treated with monoclonal antibodies as seamless as possible.

“FEMA identified Wilkes County as a high priority area (for a monoclonal antibody treatment center) based on our high number of cases, transmission rates and our hospital’s capacity. We are in the midst of a severe outbreak, and the decisions each of us make are impacting our entire community,” said Murphy.

“While it is heartening to have FEMA arrive, knowing that we are one of the highest priority areas in the country should cause all of us to review and tighten our COVID-19 protocols.”

“FEMA is running the program, including providing the medical personnel, procuring a site, ensuring equipment, setting up supply chains etc. They have been coordinating with us, our local hospital, Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Medical, DHHS, the (Wilkes) Health Department etc..” she said.

“One of the strengths we have as a community is the ability to work together and mobilize resources. I am exceedingly proud of the efforts of Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Health, Wilkes Medical Center and the Wilkes County Health Department and the leadership of The Health Foundation to do whatever it takes to bring this service here.”

Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order on Sept. 2 intended to make it easier for North Carolinians to access monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 by increasing places where it is available. The order is in effect through Nov. 30.

The DHHS has said that while the number of providers administering the treatment increased, many providers were limited by not being affiliated with health systems. Cooper’s order allows treatment to be provided in a medically-supervised community setting, including those that are part of COVID-19 testing sites.

In a COVID-19 update Thursday, Cooper said state and FEMA officials are working together to set up monoclonal antibody treatment centers. He said the hope is that by preventing COVID patients from developing more severe illness, lives will be saved and the strain of the virus on hospitals will be eased.

Cooper said a person who tests positive and has mild to moderate symptoms should talk his or her doctor about whether treatment with monoclonal antibodies is right for that person.

“They’ve been shown to be effective at preventing hospitalization and severe illness once you already have COVID. It shows how important it is to get a COVID test because this (monoclonal antibody) treatment has to be administered within 10 days from the start of symptoms” to be effective.

He also reminded people that COVID-19 vaccine is available across the state for free, regardless of whether people have insurance.

“We can’t stress enough, by far the majority of people hospitalized by COVID right now are unvaccinated,” said Cooper, adding that this is largely preventable by being vaccinated.

“If you’re still unsure about getting one, get off social media and get on the phone with your doctor. That’s the best place for accurate medical information.”

According to DHSS, monoclonal antibodies are proteins made in a laboratory to fight infections — including the virus that causes COVID-19 — and are given to patients directly with an IV infusion or a shot.

For more information about monoclonal antibody treatment, call the Combat COVID Monoclonal Antibodies Call Center at 1-877-332-6585 (English) or 1-877-366-0310 (Spanish).

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