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North Carolina to offer vaccines to 65 and older aligning with federal guidelines

RALEIGH — Two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded COVID-19 vaccine guidelines to include 65 year olds and older, North Carolina is doing the same.

Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen announced Jan. 14 that the agency is expanding its vaccination guidelines to include those 65 and older in the current phase.

“Starting today, to align with the new federal priorities and to facilitate speed of vaccinations, vaccine providers that are ready to, can expand to now vaccinate all health care workers, and anyone who is 65 years and older,” Cohen said.

Cohen said North Carolina is receiving about 120,000 doses of the vaccine every week.

According to the Census Bureau, 24.7 percent of Ashe County’s population is made up of people 65 and older.

Cohen said the next people to get a vaccine will be frontline essential workers followed by adults with high risk of exposure and increased risk of serious illness.

“We know that counties are in various stages, as they deal with new cases and vaccinations,” Cohen said. “These factors along with limited supply means that many folks will have to wait before a vaccine is available for them.”

Cohen also reiterated that a person will not be immune from COVID-19 until one to two weeks after they have received their second dose.

“My directive remains in place: stay home,” Cohen said. “Only leave home for essential activities like work, school, or to meet healthcare needs. If you must leave home or be with other people who you don’t live with wear a mask, all the time. Stay at least six feet apart and wash your hands often to keep doing those three W’s so we can slow this virus down while we get everyone a spot to get their shot.”

“We will follow the NCDHHS guidelines to align with this,” AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey said in a statement. “If someone is 65 years or older and interested in receiving the vaccine, we request they fill out our interest form on our website — www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-vaccinations/.”

If someone is unable to fill out the form online, Bracey said to call the call center at (828) 795-1970. The call center is open seven days a week.

“We are still only receiving limited quantities of vaccine so we ask for your patience as we use our vaccine interest form to schedule additional people to get their vaccine,” Bracey said. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure vaccine gets out to the community as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

The vaccine interest form from AppHealthCare can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe2iYpiBZwex9i7SsBn-GzNfIiaQkSkdBqwZYqdSwD2Z-XH0A/viewform

ARHS will also begin to vaccinate those 65 and older.Patients of ARHS can register to be notified when eligible or schedule an appointment to get their vaccine if eligible now by visiting apprhs.org/vaccine-registration/.

“Let’s encourage everyone to get the vaccine when your turn comes,” director of North Carolina Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry said. “It’s safe, and it’s free. I’m sure looking forward to getting the shot when my turn comes. You have a spot, so take your shot.”

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Martin Luther King Jr. celebration sparked inspiration among the Ashe Arts Council

ASHE COUNTY — The Ashe County Arts Council held a virtual commemoration on Jan. 18 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Usually held in person, the Arts Council streamed live on Zoom and Facebook.

Executive Director Jeff Fissell and program director Rebecca Williams constructed this virtual event around a few speakers and one very special storyteller.

The livestream began with a prayer followed by Olivia Glover of Ashe County High School reciting Dr. King’s last testament. Matthew Thomas-Reid then read former President Barack Obama’s speech on the late John Lewis who died in July 2020. These openings were moving to those watching from home as it incited a sort of nostalgia as they remembered those who have passed, all leaving a great impact on the social issues of America.

Storyteller Donna Washington was the night’s special guest and she shared her story “Chairs in the Trees,” which is a take on her experiences during Obama’s second election.

Washington begins with recalling the happenings of lynching chairs in trees after Actor Clint Eastwood spoke to a chair directly as if he were speaking to former President Obama. She states that she was in a community in southern North Carolina during the election season, where a few of these chair lynchings took place. In her time in the town, she taught Greek Mythology to children who had never been introduced to the genre. Many of the children were appalled by her teachings as they were unfamiliar with the ideas.

”I realized I had walked into a community where their parents had clearly told them to beware of people trying to move them away from the true religion,” Washington said. “Nobody had ever exposed them to anything that would suggest that there is anything other than what’s right in their community; out in the world. It was both the most hysterical thing I had ever encountered and the saddest thing I had ever encountered in the same moment.”

She said how she explained to the students what mythology really is and how they became more comfortable. At this point in the Zoom, there were a few confusions as how this connected with the election and the current celebration.

The time in her story came to a peak as she experienced the 2012 election in a hotel full of viewers who did not share the same opinions as her. She entered the lobby the next morning where the breakfast area was filled with people who all seemed to have their eyes on her as she is the only black woman in the room. As she stands in line, an older lady comes up to her and says “I’m so glad that’s over. Now, we can talk to each other again.”

Washington expressed her confusion and her train of thought as it ran from offense to anger and finally to realization. She had realized the woman was simply “un-othering” her, a term Washington used to explain how you can make a person feel welcome in a place they’re sometimes scared of.

With a smile and a touch of the hand, Washington responded, “Yes we can,” closing her story with a spark of inspiration as her students were able to speak freely and she was able to feel comfortable in a community where she was seen as an outcast.

”When you encounter someone with a different mindset, don’t dismiss them; engage, even though it’s hard. You will learn something,” Washington said as she exhibited her strive for equity in a country where its current state seems far from it.

The live stream was then opened up to questions for the guest speaker and through her answers, Washington stated that people should not care that she is a different color and she believes Martin Luther King Jr. would feel the same if he were here today.

She also expressed how King would be saddened for us as a country following the events in the Capitol last week.

According to Washington, King would state that America works because its citizens are able to listen to all sides and violence does not solve anything.

To end the Zoom, the question of how we as a community can support equal justice for all was asked. Washington conveyed that we must really look at the way we administer the laws and justice and how it is going to be important that we thoroughly examine the choices we make.

Board of Education holds emergency meeting, ACS to operate remotely until Feb. 1

JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Education held an emergency meeting on Jan. 14 at 4:30 p.m. at the administrative offices annex of Ashe County Schools. At the meeting, the board voted unanimously for the school system to continue with remote learning until Feb. 1.

Physically present at the meeting were Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox, Chair Joshua Roten, Vice Chair Dianne Eldreth, Finance Officer Amanda Coldiron and board members Dr. Kimberly Simmons and Keith McClure. Board member Polly Jones participated virtually via Zoom, in addition to many ACS staff members.

The meeting was held in open session and a Zoom link was provided to members of the public who wished to participate. Nearly 300 people joined the Zoom call.

ACS operated remotely on Jan. 8, Jan. 11 and Jan. 12, due to inclement weather conditions resulting from a winter storm. Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox alerted students and families on the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 13 that all K-12 students would operate remotely Jan. 14-15 and there would be no instruction on Monday, Jan. 18 due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

After the meeting was called to order, a moment of silence was observed for Crystal Bennett. Bennett was a beloved Exceptional Children teacher at Ashe County High School who died from complications due to COVID-19 on Jan. 13.

Jennifer Greene, who serves as Health Director/CEO at AppHealthCare was on the call to entertain questions and concerns from the board.

“This a virus that hides, it is not easily detected and in fact there are people who do not have any symptoms at all and unfortunately that makes it harder to get control of,” Greene said.

She added that many of the prevention measures currently in place to fight the spread of the virus are proven to make a difference.

According to Greene, AppHealthCare’s goal is to administer vaccines to those who are age 65 and older within the next few weeks and move on to essential workers next, which will include educators.

Greene said she anticipates the vaccine to become available to school employees by early or mid-February.

According to Greene, the Moderna vaccine is approved for ages 18 and older and the Pfizer vaccine is approved for those who are age 16 and older.

She added that she expects additional guidance to be released from clinical trials over the next few months regarding vaccinations for the younger population.

Cox expressed concern about staffing issues at Blue Ridge Elementary School where 11 staff members were quarantined either due to an exposure or testing positive for COVID-19.

She added that the school system’s hearts and minds have been with Ashe County High School after their tremendous loss of a colleague on Jan. 13.

“Our teachers are the most conscientious teachers I have ever seen anywhere, they are thorough, they care about children,” Cox said.

She added that she does not wish to give up on in-person instruction because she believes it is how children learn best and they crave social interaction.

During the meeting, the board allowed all school principals a chance to express their input as far as what decision would be best for the safety of students and teachers.

Westwood Elementary School Principal Jennifer Holden said she heard from many of her staff members throughout the day.

“I know my teachers love to be at school, they love to teach students,” Holden said. “I do think there is a fear, I think there is a lot of people that are very worried right now.”

Holden shared that she suffered a personal loss recently when her aunt died of COVID-19.

“I just saw how fast the COVID can hit and how fast it can attack your body,” Holden said. “It is just not fair.”

She added that she and her staff will support whatever decision the BOE chooses, but would appreciate a week or two of remote instruction to allow time for the current uptick in cases to decrease.

Ashe Early College Principal Elaine Cox said both Ashe County High School Principal Amanda Hipp and Bennett’s family have been in the thoughts of the school system.

Cox said she and her staff would also like a temporary remote instruction period to see if current case numbers in the county decrease.

She added that several parents and students contacted her that day expressing concern.

Blue Ridge Elementary School Principal Joallen Lowder commended everyone in the school system for the amazing job they have done since August.

“I have teachers now who have expressed to me that they would like to go remote, for a while,” Lowder said. “Not forever, not until May but just enough time to take a breath and see where things are going in our community.”

She added that teachers want students safe and in their classrooms. They also want to feel safe themselves and for their families to remain safe.

Mountain View Elementary School Principal David Blackburn said the general public’s personal fears and beliefs surrounding COVID vary from being nonchalant to extremely concerned. However, within ACS, all teachers share the same concerns. They all want their students to be safe and desire a safe workplace.

Ashe County Middle School Principal Dustin Farmer said his staff conducted remote instruction on Jan. 14. He did not reach out to them that day in order to allow them time to process and cope with the loss.

“Lives are more important than education at this point in time,” Farmer said.

He added that the BOE are the elected officials entrusted with difficult decisions and it is the responsibility of principals to take that decision and implement it the best they can.

After a great deal of discussion and hearing the perspectives of school administrators, Eldreth made a motion that ACS continue with remote learning until the next regularly scheduled BOE meeting on Feb. 1. The BOE will reassess this decision at the meeting and decide what their next actions will be based on the data available.

The motion was seconded by Jones. The board then voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

After the vote, it was decided that sports will not be suspended during this time and ACS will continue to follow the guidance of the NCHSSA.

Both Coldiron and McClure agreed that the entire community needs to be more vigilant about wearing masks and about the safety of others.

“It is going to take the whole community to get it under control, not just the school population,” Coldiron said.

Board members determined that the factors they will use in the re-evaluation process on Feb. 1 will include community case numbers and ACS staff member access to the vaccine.

Ashe sees 73 new cumulative cases of COVID-19 in week, AppHealthCare still in Phase 2 of vaccine distribution

ASHE COUNTY — As of Tuesday, Jan. 26, there were 60 active cases in Ashe according to AppHealthCare, with a further 258 individuals being monitored and a cumulative case count of 1,832. There has been 40 deaths linked to COVID-19 in Ashe County according to AppHealthCare.

Outside of Ashe, AppHealthCare has reported 153 active cases and 27 deaths in Watauga County and 31 active cases and four deaths in Alleghany County. Across the state, there have been 8,776 deaths, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 26.

North Carolina had 727,423 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of noon on Tuesday, Jan. 26, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. This is more than 42,000 more cases than the same time a week earlier.

The COVID-19 vaccine is rolling out in phases and will be given to those who are most at risk first. Supplies will be limited at first but will increase throughout 2021.

AppHealthCare is currently in Phase 2.

“The active groups for vaccine distribution are Group 1 Health Care Workers and Long Term Care Staff and Residents and Group 2 Older Adults age 65 or older, regardless of health status or living situation,” said AppHealthCare in a statement on its website. “These groups are eligible to receive vaccine. It is important to note we have less vaccine quantities than we do individuals who qualify for vaccine now.”

AppHealthCare added that there is no specific timeline for when it will move through each of the phases.

AppHealthCare provides information about the number of vaccine doses administered in each county.

According to the data for Ashe County, as of Jan. 21, there were 1,800 total first doses of the Moderna vaccine received for Ashe County. There were 1,690 total doses administered. Also according to the data, as of Jan. 21, there were 500 second doses received by Ashe County with 35 total second doses administered.

AppHealthCare is continuing case investigation and contact tracing efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you receive a call from a member of the case investigation or contact tracing team, AppHealthCare urges you to cooperate and provide information that will help conduct response efforts. Calls will be from (844) 628-7223 or (828) 264-4995. It may also show up as “NC Outreach” or “Contact Tracing.”

AppHealthCare encourages citizens to remember the three W’s: wear a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands.

In a media briefing on Jan. 6, NC Gov. Roy Cooper announced a three-week extension of the Modified Stay at Home Order which was originally set to expire Friday, Jan. 8. The order will now last through Jan. 29.

The full text of Executive Order No. 188 may be viewed by visiting https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO188-Extension-of-Modified-Stay-at-Home-Order.pdf.