NEWLAND — Avery County still remains the only county in North Carolina without a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, but that narrative could change after the Toe River Health District is finished receiving the results of the approximately 280 tests it conducted during drive-through testing on Thursday, May 7.

As of press time at noon on Tuesday, May 12, the TRHD reports that out of the 421 total tests conducted so far in Avery County, 339 tests have returned negative, while the results of 82 tests are currently pending.

“Testing will ramp up, that’s why we had our drive-through clinic last Thursday, and we will have one again in Mitchell County,” TRHD Public Information Officer Mason Gardner said. “We’re wanting to increase testing not just to find a positive or to see an increase. The goal is to drive down the percent positive along Gov. Cooper’s trend line. We also want to test our county to see what we have.”

Before drive-through testing opened up at 9 a.m. on May 7, a line of cars was backed up from the front of the Avery County Health Department to the end of Library Road. Any Avery County resident was allowed to get tested regardless of symptoms or access to health insurance.

Patients remained in their vehicles and filled out a short medical form before the inside of their nose was swabbed. The swab was then sent to the testing facility, and patients were notified within a couple days whether or not they were positive for COVID-19.

Avery County Fire Marshal Paul Buchanan was present at the testing site helping emergency management conduct traffic and organize operations.

“As soon as [the patient] gets swabbed, that swab has to go into a refrigerated unit. We have a runner that’s going from the refrigerator into the building once they have so many swabs in a collection. From there, it goes into a refrigerator inside, and at the end of the day, it goes to the testing lab. From what I understand, it goes to Raleigh,” Buchanan said.

The general consensus from residents waiting in line was that the health department would most likely find a positive test, but still hoped the county would remain without one.

One woman believed that she may have already contracted the virus and gotten over it.

“I think we already had it,” Teresa Goodman said. “We manage properties up here, and in early December, we were both sick. Before Christmas we have a lot of people that come who are [from Asia,] and then after Christmas we have a lot of people who are from all over.”

Newland resident Sam Ray said that he hopes Avery County stays without a confirmed case.

“It’s a good thing to check because most counties do check it. I hope it continues that way,” Ray said. “[At first] I didn’t know what was taking place, I just thought they were checking cars or something. I found that out after I got in line, but I’m glad that they’re doing it.”

Randy Cook reiterated the same sentiment as others in line.

“This is the only county that doesn’t have any, so I hope that we maintain that. But with the sheer volume, I’m surprised one hasn’t turned up at this point. We’re retired, so we don’t have to worry about going to work. From that perspective the self isolation hasn’t been too bad,” Cook said.

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