Editor's note: This story was written and published before Tuesday's announcement that three more positive tests came back, raising the known total to 13 in McDowell.


As of Monday, 159 people in McDowell County had been tested for the coronavirus and 10 tests came back as positive. One-hundred and eleven tests came back negative and the remaining 38 test results are still pending.

In addition, North Carolina currently has 2,870 confirmed positive cases and 39 deaths of COVID-19 statewide.

On Monday, Emergency Management Director William Kehler gave another update to the McDowell County Commissioners about the coronavirus situation. The commissioners are now meeting twice a week to hear the latest information about how COVID-19 is affecting McDowell County and its government.

Kehler gave a report about the availability of hospital beds in North Carolina. Out of 3,223 ICU beds, there are 732 available. For inpatient beds across the state, 6,418 beds are available out of 14,766 beds. Those numbers are from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

For the positive cases in North Carolina, the age group is still between 25-49 years of age with 41%; ages 50-64 represent 28%; and 65 years or greater, represents 21%. The remaining is in individuals younger than 25 years of age.

In fatalities, 82% in North Carolina are in individuals greater than the age of 65.

Kehler provided an overview of McDowell EOC operations from each section:

* Operations continues to work alongside Public Health and continues to assist working with persons under investigation. Operations continues to work with Mission Hospital McDowell on surge planning and testing telehealth. Since the launch of the online screening tool, in three days over 750 individuals have accessed that tool and completed it.

* Human services has extensive coordination with McDowell Cares, Grace Community Church, Nebo Crossing, and many more churches that are helping citizens who need assistance. They continue to work on the feeding plan, child care planning, sheltering of homeless individuals and offering crisis assistance.

* Planning continues to write 72-hour Incident Action Plans to ensure the EOC’s goals and objectives, and keeps them on task for strategic planning for short term and long term. Included in that is recovery.

* Logistics has a top priority of sourcing personal protection equipment (PPE) for first responders and healthcare professionals. McDowell Cares has provided masks to assisted living and nursing homes.

* Public information officers continue to push out timely and validated information through social media, websites and local media like The McDowell News and WBRM radio.

* Safety is reviewing the daily guidance coming from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state DHHS on reuse of PPE and guidance for first responders to try and conserve PPE.

* Finance continues to work to capture all costs.

The medical screening and general information hotlines are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The medical screening number is 527-6687. The general information number is 559-9683. To access the online screening, visit www.mcdowell.clearstep.health.

Kehler emphasized the need for people to stay at home and keep up the social distancing.

“There’s still a lot of movement,” said Kehler to the commissioners, “The next couple of weeks are going to be critical.”

He added McDowell County residents have the opportunity to “flatten the curve.”

After hearing from Kehler, the commissioners heard a report from Carol Wolfenbarger, president of Mission Hospital McDowell.

“Our goal first and foremost is to protect our workforce so they can care for our patients,” she said.

The hospital, along with the rest of Mission Health, has suspended visitation and staff members are using universal masks. Mission has eliminated elective surgeries and tests and screenings have been postponed. Triage tents have been set up at the hospital in Marion.

“Being a part of HCA, we have a wealth of resources wouldn’t have had,” said Wolfenbarger to the commissioners.

All Mission hospitals are making sure they have enough supplies. “We’re trying to be good stewards of PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment),” said Wolfenbarger. “We’re trying to be proactive and conserve PPEs for when we really need it.”

As of 5:30 a.m. Monday morning, Mission Hospital McDowell has no COVID-19 positive patients in the hospital and 5 PUIs or Persons Under Investigation. These are patients who are being tested for COVID-19, according to hospital spokeswoman Nancy Lindell.

Wolfenbarger said Mission Hospital McDowell is licensed for 65 beds and 30 beds are now in place for inpatient status.

“We’re doing everything we can to care for our community,” said Wolfenbarger to the commissioners. “I think with the collaboration we have in McDowell, I would put it up against any other in the country. You hope the worst case scenario doesn’t happen but we’re prepared for it.”

County Manager Ashley Wooten said the county government is installing drop boxes so the public can pay their taxes and water bills.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community, the McDowell County Board of Elections office will be closed to the public until further notice. The closing took effect Monday, according to a news release.

County election officials said there are several ways that you may complete a new voter registration or make changes to your current voter registration:

• Voter registration applications can be obtained at the McDowell County Board of Elections Office, 2458 N.C. 226 South, Marion. An application box/drop box is located to the right of the front door.

• Online at: ncsbe.gov

• Online at: ncdot.gov

• By mail: McDowell County Board of Elections, P.O. Box 1509. Marion, NC 28752

North Carolina voter registration application can be found of the Web at https://dl.ncsbe.gov/Voter_Registration/NCVoterRegForm_06W.pdf

Absentee Ballot Request forms can be obtained:

• McDowell County Board of Elections Office, 2458 NC 226 South, Marion. An application box/drop box is located to the right of the front door.

• Online: https://mcdowellboe.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/absentee-request-06.23.2020.pdf

You should mail absentee ballot request forms to: McDowell County Board of Elections, 2458 N.C. 226 South, Marion, NC 28752. Staff will be available by phone at 828-659-0834, ext. 1342 or 1336.

The McDowell County Commissioners did not take formal action at the Monday meeting at Historic Carson House. They will meet there again at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Steve Bush, executive director of the McDowell Chamber of Commerce, will be invited to speak at this meeting and talk about the economic impact from COVID-19 and what help exists for local businesses. The commissioners said they would like to hear from a representative with the local unemployment office.

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