North Wilkesboro and Wilkes County were in the news this week as a COVID-19 hot spot.

Locally, this should be taken as a sobering call for individual diligence with social distancing (six feet apart from others), frequent hand washing and wearing a mask as restrictions that help prevent the spread of the virus are eased in North Carolina.

Wilkes was in the national headlines Thursday, the day after Tyson Foods Inc. reported that 570 people tested positive out of 2,244 people tested for COVID-19 at the Tyson chicken processing complex in Wilkesboro.

The news prompted some to question how Wilkes could be listed with less than 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases if 570 people tested positive at the Tyson complex in Wilkesboro.

The daily COVID-19 totals reported for Wilkes this week do include results of the testing at the Tyson complex in the first week of May, but it’s reasonable to assume that a large percentage (perhaps more than half) of those 570 people live outside Wilkes.

A Tyson spokesman confirmed that about half of the roughly 3,000 people who work at the Tyson complex in Wilkesboro live outside Wilkes, with many commuting from as far away as Forsyth and Guilford counties.

Some of these area counties saw their confirmed COVID-19 case totals shoot up as the Wilkes total did after results from testing at the complex in Wilkesboro.

In Times again

Although not entirely the case, Wilkes County’s appearances in the New York Times generally haven’t been favorable.

On Wednesday, a story in the New York Times placed the North Wilkesboro “metro area” (Wilkes County) first in the nation among “metro areas” with the highest average daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

The Times listed the North Wilkesboro metro area (Wilkes) with 304 new cases in the prior two weeks.

This meant a daily growth rate of 9% and with the number of COVID-19 cases doubling every 8.1 days.

The Winston-Salem metro area ranked sixth, largely due to Tyson employees at the complex in Wilkesboro with COVID-19 who live in Forsyth. The Hickory-Lenoir metro area ranked 12th, partly due to the same outbreak. The top 15 were listed.

The North Wilkesboro metro area (Wilkes) ranked eighth in the nation among “metro areas with the most recent cases” of COVID-19 per 1,000 residents in the last two weeks. The top 15 were listed here again.

The surge in confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Wilkes that drew attention from the Times is due to the outbreak at the Tyson complex in Wilkesboro.

Many of the other COVID-19 hot spots in these top 15 lists also are connected to outbreaks at meat processing plants.

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