By Tim Gardner
Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. addressed the Banner Elk Kiwanians during their regular monthly meeting, Tuesday, February 2 at the Holston Presbyterian Camp Dining Hall and others via online Zoom broadcast.
He provided comprehensive details concerning how the county’s is combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19) virus pandemic and fielded questions from the audience and Zoom viewers about specifics involving the county’s efforts in that battle.
The meeting and Zoom broadcast were a collaboration between the Kiwanis Club, the Avery County Rotary Club and the county’s ongoing efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and eventually end it, while ensuring equitable access to timely information, resources and its vaccine details.
Barrier, Jr. shared that Avery was the last of North Carolina’s 100 counties to have a diagnosed COVID-19 case–more than two months after the pandemic was declared nationally last March. But he added that several months later, Avery had the unwanted position of having the most cases of any county in the state, based on percentage of county population. He said while Avery remains as a red-alert county in the state for COVID-19, he is witnessing a slight downward trend, while hoping for, and anticipating, a downward spiral in upcoming months.
“It may get worse before it gets better, but much like the rest of our nation and the world, Avery County will defeat Coronavirus,” Barrier, Jr. stated.
He added that himself, the Avery Commissioners and county agencies like Emergency Management and the Health Department are working with other local officials, Cannon Hospital, the Avery County School System, 911 Communications, the county ambulance and fire and rescue departments to help protect the health and well-being of all Avery County citizens.
“Since COVID-19 was announced as a pandemic, the Avery County Government has had bi-weekly meetings in a roundtable format to gather ideas of what we should do to help fight it. Then and since, we’ve stressed the Bible verse of Isaiah Chapter 41; Verse 10 that reads: Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
“And I couldn’t compliment all our county officials and employees enough about how they have worked as a great team to help fight Coronavirus. It’s been amazing for me to witness such a tremendous on-going effort that keeps getting stronger and stronger. Their work along with all the county’s healthcare workers as well as our citizens have done and are continuing to do in that regard has shown Avery County at its best. And I’m so proud of that.”
Barrier, Jr. revealed that Avery County and the Avery County Health Department received an additional supply of 200 allotted first dose COVID-19 vaccines, but they have also been depleted as were the county’s original vaccine shipment. He said those still wanting to be inoculated should call (828) 733-8273 to find out when the next doses will be available and when so, schedule an arrival time and to bring his or her insurance card as well as wear appropriate clothing for easy access to have the vaccination in their upper arm. Mask wearing is also required. The county manager also indicated that anyone wanting to be inoculated who has a bleeding disorder must first contact his or her physician for written documentation to receive the vaccine.
Vaccines will be given at the Avery Agriculture Extension Center, located at 661 Vale Road above Ingles Supermarket in Newland.
Barrier, Jr. said nurses and other health personnel on duty will help those getting the vaccine complete the necessary paperwork, advise them of other needed information such as possible vaccine side effects and how long they need to be observed on-site after being inoculated. He added that names of those inoculated into the state Department of Health and Human Services computer system. Anyone with questions concerning receiving the vaccine can call the above phone number.
Barrier, Jr. also said that that Avery Health Department began administering vaccines on January 11th and 2,418 have been given as of the end of the day on January 27th. He provided the following bi-weekly and daily breakdown to make up that number: 710 vaccines administered to the 75 and older group week of January 12-15; 485 vaccines administered day one to the 65 and older group on January 20th; 440 vaccines administered day two to the 65 and older group on January 21st; and 350 vaccines administered day three to the 65 and older group on January 22nd.
The County Manager added that there were 146 active reported Coronavirus cases in Avery County as of January 27th (last date statistics updated), including 109 active community cases and 37 actives in the Avery-Mitchell and Mountain View Correctional Facilities.
Barrier, Jr. said that since Coronavirus was declared an American pandemic, there have been 2,048 cases documented in Avery County. He said that figure includes 1,494 community cases and 554 congregate cases. He also noted that 1,875 have recovered after being afflicted with the virus, but most unfortunately, Avery County has suffered 27 deaths from the disease.
Barrier, Jr. gave the following breakdown of those numbers from August 2020 through the week of January 20th:
Month of August -38 active; 249 total community cases
Month of September-76 active; 325 total community cases
Month of October -126 active; 451 total community cases
Month of November-424 active; 875 total community cases
Month of December-362 active; 1237 total cases
Week of January 6th-84 active; 1321 total cases
Week of January 13th-139 active; 1376 total cases
Week of January 20th-116 active; 1437 total cases
Barrier, Jr. noted that Avery County’s top priority “is the safety and security of the county’s citizens while providing the best service available in combating COVID-19.” He added that while it has been necessary to make some changes to the county’s services, he wanted to stress to Avery’s citizens and visitors that all regular services will be resumed in the county as soon as possible.
Barrier, Jr. said that Avery County government officials join healthcare professionals in encouraging good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene These include covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently with soap and water, staying home when you feel sick or when you have a fever and cleaning surfaces with sanitizing cleaners.
“Diane Creek, Director of the Toe River Health District, of which Avery County is a part of along with Mitchell and Yancey counties said that everyone should not rule out that anyone they are around for even 10-15 minutes could be infected with COVID-19 and that the others they have been around could have been in contact with someone infected. And as a result, every precaution should be taken. That is an excellent assessment and much-needed advice,” Barrier Jr. noted.
Barrier, Jr. added that despite Coronavirus negatively impacting the United States of America’s economy and employment levels in various ways, Avery County has had a surge in sales tax and general revenues since the pandemic started.
“God always provides a blessing in everything and those have been major positives for our county as our revenues could be way down as they have in other parts of the state and country. When you experience something as awful as the Coronavirus pandemic, you try to find upsides and our revenues have been such. And we’re grateful for them.”
Barrier, Jr. then returned to discussing specifics about helping end the pandemic.
“We need to keep up our efforts to slow the spread of the virus,” he said. “If people follow the recommended safety protocols, they reduce their chance of getting sick and infecting others. I can’t stress how important it is for everyone in the county and elsewhere to do as health and medical experts are advising concerning hygiene and foremost, to get vaccinated.”
Barrier, Jr. said he wants to “send a strong signal that we still have a lot to do as we’re trying to help end this violent pandemic.”
He further declared: “Although we’re often frustrated and weary, we’re entering a time of hope. Vaccine teams and health care providers are working night and day getting more vaccines to people, and more are on the horizon. We are charting a path forward, but we have to not let up in our efforts.”
“Again, I know our trends have slightly improved, but we don’t want to get lax. They are still extremely high and now we have a new contagious variant of this virus here in North Carolina. Let’s just keep on keeping on with our fight.”
For the latest updates about Coronavirus in Avery County and throughout the State of North Carolina, log online to these web sites: averycountync.gov and ncdhhs.gov.