During its first meeting for 2021, the McDowell County Board of Commissioners met Monday in the conference room of the Universal Advanced Manufacturing Center and heard another sobering report about the COVID-19 situation in McDowell.
On that same day, health officials reported that 138 additional McDowell County residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. The report on Monday meant a total of 3,645 McDowell County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and the county’s 14-day positivity rate was 25.9%, according to a news release. (Editor's note: See updated numbers from Tuesday on Page A3.)
Emergency Services Director William Kehler told the commissioners that he and other health officials continue to urge the public to wear face masks when they are out, wash their hands, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings. Kehler is particularly concerned about the county’s elderly population, which is the most vulnerable to the virus. He said the “community transmission is at critical levels.”
“Our numbers do not look favorable for our elderly population,” Kehler said. “For the elderly in this community, this is a real threat. I am very worried about this getting into our elderly population. We cannot continue on the course we are on.”
Patrick Ellis, one of the new commissioners on the board, voiced his agreement with Kehler about the county’s course.
“We need to set an example,” he said at the meeting. “We need to tell people to wear a mask.”
Ellis said the board should consider taking action to enforce the wearing of masks in an attempt to bring McDowell’s numbers down.
“Due to the 26%-plus positivity rate and with our rate being so aggressive, it is my recommendation to strongly encourage all county employees to wear a mask inside, socially distance, and wash hands,” he said to The McDowell News on Tuesday. “It is my concern for my elderly neighbors, my parents and some friends that have health issues we as a county cannot take this lightly.
“McDowell County is better than this type of behavior. I am hoping that businesses in the county are requiring mask to be worn inside and social distancing happen as much as possible to help us protect the sick and the elderly. I am wanting to see a decrease in our positivity rate in the next couple of weeks or we as commissioners will need to take action.”
This week, the vaccines for COVID are being distributed in McDowell County for people who are 75 and older as well as for frontline health care workers. Kehler said Monday that 1,711 residents have made appointments at the vaccine call center.
“If you are not eligible for those first vaccines, please let those who are have access to making appointments,” he added.
Kehler said people from other counties want to come to McDowell and get the vaccine here but the supply is limited.
“We need more vaccines,” he said.
As of Monday, more than 600 vaccines have been given out here and that number is probably more than 1,000 by Tuesday.
“We have not treated anyone for an allergic reaction,” Kehler told the commissioners.
At Monday’s meeting, the board recognized two former commissioners, Barry McPeters and Lynn Greene, for their service. McPeters served for 16 years as a commissioner and Greene was on the board for four years. They were presented with resolutions and plaques. Both McPeters and Greene were joined by their families for this recognition.
In addition, the McDowell County Commissioners:
• Heard an update from Judge Bob Hunter about the Fonta Flora State Trail.
• Approved a formal name for long-awaited shooting range. It will be called the McDowell County Public Shooting Range.
• Heard an update about the new buildings for McDowell EMS. Construction continues on both Station Four on U.S. 221 North and the headquarters facilities south of Marion. Station Four is still on track to be completed early this year. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held soon. The headquarters is scheduled for a late 2021 to early 2022 completion.
• Agreed to receive the donated equipment for a proposed disc golf course at the Universal property. As first discussed last month, local disc golf enthusiasts have requested that they be allowed to install disc golf baskets around the pond area. There are already several existing baskets that were placed previously. These additional baskets will create a true 18-hole course.
• Approved a resolution that would request the surveying of an unmapped boundary line along the Burke-McDowell border.
• Appointed review officers who have the power to review and approve plats of land that are recorded with the McDowell County Register of Deeds office. They approved a list of review officers that include Tammy Wylie, Art Uphold, Maranda Fender, Blair Melton, Lisa Sparks, Heather Cotton and Spencer Crawford. Cotton and Crawford are city of Marion officials and they would only review city plats.
• Approved a series of administrative items and tax matters.
• Held a closed session to discuss a legal matter. County Manager Ashley Wooten said the legal matter involved the Whitnel Properties bankruptcy case. Whitnel Properties was the developer of the Haven Heights subdivision off Jacktown Road but it declared bankruptcy. The matter involves the county over the property taxes owed to McDowell. The closed session last 10 minutes and no action was taken.