WINDSOR – Robert Wilson said he had never felt as sick as he was two months ago.
The 54-year-old Bertie County man said he tested positive for COVID-19 on April 10, and now looks back and counts his blessings that he survived the ordeal.
Addressing a virtual audience on Tuesday of this week during an internet-based Town Hall meeting hosted by Bertie County local government, Wilson shared his story of surviving a virus that has thus far claimed the lives of over 108,000 in the United States, to include 1,000 North Carolinians.
“As a COVID-19 survivor I know first-hand that this virus is the worst feeling you’ll ever experience,” Wilson remarked. “I had severe body aches, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and ran an extremely high temperature. I also lost 19 pounds in seven days.”
He stressed having no health problems prior to being diagnosed with the virus.
“Since that time I’ve had a minor stroke, a heart attack, and was diagnosed with blood clots,” Wilson shared. “Surely, COVID-19 can cause you to have major health problems. It also doesn’t discriminate. It don’t care what age you are or what color.”
While he lived to tell his story, two of Wilson’s friends did not.
“When you experience people close to you dying, it changes your complete mindset about this virus,” he stated. “This virus isn’t a game and there’s no cure for it.”
He emphasized the importance of the “Three W’s” – wait six feet apart, wear a mask, and wash your hands.
“These are simple steps that can save your life and protect the lives of others,” Wilson stressed. “I thank God for saving me and allowing me to share this important message.”
The internet-based meeting, something that can be best described as the new normal, was delivered on Facebook Live and Zoom.
“Our goal is to ensure that every citizen is focusing on how we can work together to fight this pandemic and limit its impact on individual lives as well as our larger community,” stated Ron Wesson, Chairman of the Bertie County Commissioners, at the outset of the 30-minute meeting.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper took part in the virtual meeting.
“By participating [in the meeting], you are taking the threat of coronavirus seriously,” said the Governor as he spoke from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. “State officials are working night and day to make decisions that are made using data and science so we can slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state.”
Cooper added that a new decision had been reached that will devise a plan on how the state will address healthcare disparities and the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on communities of color.
He reminded the listeners that the great majority of those testing positive for the virus do not exhibit any symptoms. For that reason, the Governor stressed the important of wearing a face mask, and standing six feet apart while in public as well as washing your hands frequently.
“Those actions save lives,” Cooper stressed. “If we all work together we’ll come out stronger on the other side.”
Using a graph showing the progression of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bertie County, Wesson pointed out that, “there has been very little flattening of the curve here locally. The number of those cases continues to rise.”
Numbers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirm Wesson’s statement. As of Friday (June 5), the county listed 129 cases, an increase of 10 since May 29. Two weeks earlier (May 15), Bertie reported 74 cases.
Thus far, four residents of the county have lost their lives to COVID-19, a number that Mitch Cooper, Bertie’s Emergency Management Director, does not want to see rise.
“These cases are community spread,” he observed. “If you are sick, stay home. Thirty-five percent of our residents are considered high risk for COVID-19 due to their age and underlying health issues.
“We have some of our citizens who believe COVID-19 is all hype,” he continued. “While our younger, healthier citizens may see less effect from COVID-19, our high-risk population remains vulnerable. It is all of our responsibility to protect our loved ones. We need to take this seriously and need to work together to keep this virus under control.”
Bertie Sheriff John Holley and Bertie County Manager Juan Vaughan II also addressed the COVID-19 issue.
Holley pointed out that criminal court proceedings have reopened and the courtroom layout is different to promote social distancing. He also encouraged Bertie citizens to refrain from gathering together in large numbers to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“We’re working very hard to keep everyone safe,” Holley noted.
Vaughan ensured those listening that the county staff, despite the fact that their offices are closed to the public, are at work daily and that business can be handled online, on the phone, or leaving payments in the drop box. “COVID-19 has affected our government operations, but it hasn’t stopped our commitment to provide our citizens with quality services,” Vaughan stressed, adding those “non-stop” essential services include providing clean water, keeping the solid waste drop-off sites open, and dispatching emergency responders.
Bertie Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Otis Smallwood gave an update on how COVID-19 was impacting education.
“The presence of COVID-19 has forced us to serve our students beyond brick and mortar buildings,” he noted. “As challenging as it was, our teachers, administrators, child nutrition staff, transportation staff, and our parents have all put forth extra effort to ensure that our school system’s academic, social and emotional needs are met.”
Dr. Smallwood admitted that another challenge awaits….how to plan for the 2020-21 school year.
“There are so many uncertainties ahead of us, to include summer learning, a re-enter plan [for possible school start-up in August], athletics, and transportation,” he said. “We will probably have to follow state health guidelines, which may include health screenings, daily temperature checks, sanitizing stations, and wearing face masks, all while maintaining the proper social distancing.”
Dr. Smallwood added that Bertie Public Schools will soon host its own Town Hall style meeting to solicit ideas from local citizens and stakeholders in developing a plan to reopen schools.
Rev. Roosevelt Whitehead, Moderator of the West Roanoke Missionary Baptist Association, provided comments about the role that the faith-based community is playing in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“We see the need to continue to follow the guidelines from Gov. Cooper’s executive orders and from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to ensure the appropriate preparedness in an effort to reduce the risk and exposure to our members,” Rev. Whitehead remarked.
He encouraged those feeling ill to get tested, and if those results are positive to stay isolated for at least 14 days.
“God says to us to be subject of the governing authorities. We must remain wise, careful, and practice what the CDC requires for staying six feet apart, wearing a mask, and washing your hands,” he concluded.