Most of the county's victims were longtime residents with underlying health conditions, Pike said.
"It makes it a lot more personal when you know somebody," Pike said.
Beth Booth, Graham County's health director, didn't personally know any of the 12 people who have died in her county. But her staff did.
"We've seen some that were family friends, close family, coworkers, things like that," Booth said. "That hit the staff pretty hard, and hit the community even harder, and I really think that's slowly converted some of the folks that weren't wearing the masks and doing the social distancing."
"It really has been a struggle," Booth said. "Just the sheer nature of this population, we'll probably have a little more trouble through the holidays."
Hitting 5,000 coronavirus deaths is an arbitrary benchmark, Booth said. What's more important to her, she said, is the state's death rate, or% of positive cases.
The latter has continued to climb in recent days, reaching 8.3%. That's well above the 5% rate that health officials have set as a target because, at that rate, the spread of the virus would be manageable.
It's better to look at where you're heading than at the 5,000 number, Booth said.
"Is it getting worse, is it getting better?" Booth said. "I think people get so lost in that number, or so focused on that number, that they lose sight of why it's that high."
For Brickhouse, losing his grandmother still feels unreal. With no big family funeral, no hugs, no laughs over shared memories, the grief refuses to move along.
"We didn't have the chance to say goodbye," he said, thinking of her time alone in the hospital. "What was that moment like for her, being isolated? We knew she was a woman of faith. God was with her. But still, not being with family?"
As a pastor, he tells his congregation that following DHHS guidelines — wearing masks, practicing social distancing, holding church services virtually — is not knuckling under to state authority.
Rather, he said, it represents the best act of kindness available in a diminished era.
"This is an expression of love, and we should see it as such," he said. "This is how I best love my neighbor."(c)2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC