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Forsyth sees largest-ever one day increase in COVID-19 cases

Forsyth County’s health department reported 50 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing local total number to 445.

It is the county’s largest daily increase in cases since the pandemic was first felt here in mid-March.

Among the new cases are three additional staff members at the Oak Forest Rehabilitation Center, where two people — a staff member and a resident — tested positive last week.

Most other residents have been tested and had negative results.

For two residents, results were still pending, said Joshua Swift, Forsyth’s public health director.

Of the county’s 445 total cases, 208 have recovered and five have died, leaving 232 active Forsyth cases known to public health officials.

At least 70 of Forsyth’s cases are connected to a Tyson chicken processing plant in Wilkesboro, including county residents who either work at the plant or have been in close contact with someone who works there, the health department reported.

Tyson confirmed Saturday a temporary shutdown of its fresh chicken production plant “for deep cleaning and sanitizing.” Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson said production resumed Tuesday.

“(The) case increase is currently under investigation and does not appear to be connected to Tyson,” Swift said in a statement.

Tony Lo Giudice, Forsyth’s assistant public health director, said part of the department’s current investigation involves contact tracing for the 50 new cases.

There have been at least 2,329 cases in the 14-county Triad and Northwest N.C. region with 78 reported deaths.

The number of cases in Wilkes County has jumped from 21 on April 27 to at least 242. Wilkes health officials said that as of 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, about 86% of cases are considered to have come from close-contact exposure.

Meanwhile, the official state count records 15,346 cases of COVID-19 (up 301 from Monday), 577 deaths (up 27) and 464 people hospitalized (up 11) statewide as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

On Monday, state health officials began providing weekly data on the number of North Carolinians considered recovered from COVID-19. That total was at 9,115, or 60.6%.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, said the median recovery time has been 14 days for those not requiring hospitalization and 28 days for those hospitalized.

The statewide case total does not include the 50 announced by Forsyth health department. The statewide total is up 25.2% from a week ago, while the deaths are up 27.6% from a week ago.

The surge was disclosed less than four days after Gov. Roy Cooper approved a limited relaxing of stay-at-home and retail business restrictions that began at 5 p.m. Friday.

When asked about potentially beginning Phase 2 before May 22, Cooper said “we need to look at all of our indicators and benchmarks over a 14-day period ... to get a true read of what is happening.”

“None of these indicators by themselves can give us the signal about when we need to move into Phase 2.”

Statewide as of Tuesday morning, nursing homes account for 2,222 confirmed cases and 297 deaths, while residential care facilities have had 401 confirmed cases and 46 deaths, and correctional facilities have had 1,090 cases and 14 deaths.

About 76% of COVID-19 cases have come from outside those facilities.

However, 61.8% of deaths statewide have come from inside nursing homes, residential care centers and correctional facilities.

The state defines nursing homes as providing nursing or convalescent care. Residential care facilities can include adult-care homes, family-care homes, multi-unit assisted housing, group homes and intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

State health officials began releasing April 27 details on dozens of nursing homes and other group living facilities that have had COVID-19 outbreaks, defined as at least two active cases. Those totals are updated Tuesday and Friday afternoons.

As of Tuesday, DHHS said Alamance, Davidson, Forsyth, Guilford, Randolph and Wilkes counties have active COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and residential care facilities, meaning there are at least two cases in each facility. Guilford has three, while Alamance has two and Davidson, Forsyth, Randolph and Wilkes one each.

Davidson’s Alston Brook was listed with 56 cases — 41 residents and 15 staff. There have been eight deaths involving residents.

Burlington’s White Oak Manor has 57 cases — 41 residents and 16 staff. There have been five deaths involving residents.

Covering the city

Mask the City organizers distributed about 12,000 masks Tuesday to senior citizens as part of Mask the City Senior Day. More than 300 volunteers at nine locations in Winston-Salem helped with the effort. For more information about Mask the City, go to www.maskthecity.com.

Virtual graduations, drive-by diplomas for students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools

Graduation, the capstone of 13 years of school work, will look different for the nearly 3,900 seniors enrolled in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, the district announced Tuesday.

Usually a large-scale affair at Joel Coliseum or the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex, graduation will be held virtually on June 12-13 to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus, which has disrupted so many milestone events for this year’s class, including prom, spring sports, spring concerts and plays and awards day.

A virtual ceremony will be held for 16 schools, with each ceremony broadcast or streamed.

Brent Campbell, the district spokesman, said schools will be able to include the types of things that made their graduations unique, such as speeches and musical performances. The name of each graduate will be read, accompanied by a photograph, he said.

“Since each school has some unique traditions, we wanted to honor those traditions as best as possible,” Campbell said. “Putting them together in a video broadcast was the best way we knew how to bring the ceremonies to life since current restrictions on gatherings won’t allow us to have any type of live group event.”

Each school will also have a drive-by diploma pickup, allowing each graduate a chance to walk across the stage and take photos. Schools will be in touch with their graduates about that program.

A face-to-face ceremony will be held when conditions allow.

School buildings were closed on March 15 by Gov. Roy Cooper.

A task force of school leaders and students was formed last month to come up with ways to celebrate seniors.

Superintendent Angela Hairston said in a statement that task force members wanted some type of ceremony on the weekend that graduation was originally scheduled.

“Student leaders told me they also wanted a chance to be celebrated in person, to walk across a stage, and get those momentous pictures,” she said. “We felt a virtual ceremony and a drive-up diploma pickup was the best way to honor those wishes. It allows the schools to keep the unique ceremonial traditions within their virtual program and still follow the health guidelines our state has in place.”

Sex assault suit against former YMCA counselor in Kernersville gains 8th accuser

An eighth man has joined a lawsuit alleging that a former YMCA counselor sexually abused him when he was a young boy and that the YMCA failed to stop it.

In February, Lisa Lanier, an attorney whose office is in Jamestown, filed a 20-page lawsuit in Forsyth Superior Court against Michael Todd Pegram, the ex-YMCA counselor; the Kernersville YMCA and its parent organizations — the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina and the YMCA of USA, which is based in Chicago.

The initial lawsuit had seven men as plaintiffs who allege that Pegram sexually assaulted them when they were young boys. An amended complaint adding the eighth man was filed April 23.

Pegram, 48, pleaded guilty in June 2019 to five counts of first-degree sex offense, one count of attempted first-degree sex offense, one count of statutory sex offense with a child and 21 counts of taking indecent liberties with a child.

He was formally charged with sexually assaulting eight boys between 1991 and 2001, according to indictments.

He is currently serving a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

For more than a decade, Pegram lured boys through various jobs — a counselor at the Kernersville Family YMCA, a volunteer firefighter, a hockey coach and a local DJ, according to the lawsuit and Assistant District Attorney Kia Chavious, who prosecuted Pegram.

The eighth man, who is now 40 and lives outside of North Carolina, said in the lawsuit that he was 10 when his parents enrolled him in a summer camp program at the Kernersville YMCA. Like the other seven men, he participated in sleepovers and DJ events that Pegram arranged, the lawsuit alleges. Pegram invited the boy over to his house when the boy was 12, showed the boy pornography and then sexually assaulted him, according to the lawsuit.

After the alleged sexual assault, the boy refused to return to the Kernersville YMCA. The lawsuit said that after the sexual assault, the man struggled with substance abuse, had a failed marriage and continues to have nightmares.

Attorneys for the Kernersville YMCA and the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina have not formally responded to the lawsuit but did issue a statement in March.

“We are saddened to hear and learn more about what these victims and their families experienced more than 25 years ago, but we are unable to comment on pending legal matters,” the statement said.

Denise M. Gunther, an attorney representing the YMCA, said Tuesday that she could not comment on the amended complaint.

The lawsuit alleged that Pegram handpicked a group of boys that he deemed to be his favorite and named the group “Todd’s Thunderbirds.”

“It was an honor to be in Defendant Pegram’s counseling group and those in this group were revered as the ‘cool kids,’” the lawsuit alleges. “Defendant Pegram used gifts, special privileges and attention to lure these young boys and win their trust.”

The lawsuit said that Bruce Boyer, former executive director of the Kernersville YMCA, and other administrators and employees knew or should have known about Pegram’s inappropriate actions. Pegram had the boys spend the night at the Kernersville YMCA, even though it was against policy.

“Following one of these improper sleepovers, Director Boyer found a photocopy of the buttocks of one of the Plaintiffs on the photocopier and gave it to Defendant Pegram, asking, “Is this what happens at your sleep-overs?”

The lawsuit also alleges that Pegram used the YMCA’s vans to take the boys on trips to the beach, Florida, camping and other places and that he used a media room to show pornography. The lawsuit said many of the sexual assaults happened in Pegram’s office and in the activity room at the Kernersville YMCA. Pegram also used the hot tub and the shower room to assault the boys, according to the lawsuit.

Parents of some of the boys also complained to the YMCA but nothing was done, the lawsuit alleges.

Pegram worked as a counselor and a teen director from March 1988 to March 2002, officials at the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina have previously said. Boyer told Kernersville police detectives that Pegram was fired in 2002 after violating YMCA policy. Without prior approval, he took a group of boys to an all-male revue at a local hotel, Chavious said at the June 2019 court hearing.

She said that based on the police investigation, it didn’t appear that YMCA officials were aware that Pegram was sexually assaulting children or that he had groups of young boys over at his house.

The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs have suffered pain and mental anguish from the alleged abuse, racked up expenses for medical care and treatment and lost income and wages because of the abuse.

A trial for the lawsuit has not yet been set.