ASHE COUNTY — The 35th Annual Ashe County Commissioners’ Volunteer Awards were scheduled to be held April 23, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions placed in order to stop the spread, the event was postponed and eventually canceled.
The event, which is held every April during National Volunteer Week, was canceled after Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order March 16 limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people.
While more than 300 nominated volunteers did not get the ceremony to celebrate and honor their work in the community, the awards were still given out to those who deserved the honors.
Terri Hopkins, Ashe County Volunteer Coordinator expressed her gratitude for the volunteers and feelings about the program.
“I am so happy to be a part of this program. I get to meet so many wonderful, thoughtful and caring people who enjoy doing for others,” Hopkins said.
A special “thank you” is extended to the following individuals, businesses and organizations that give their time and contributions to the volunteer banquet each year: Arvil Scott, Ashe County High School JROTC, Ashe County Cheese, Aubreana Lovell, Graham Caddell, Hobby Barn, Southern Market, Third Day Market, Travis Bennett and WKSK.
Gratitude is also given to Ashe County High School for serving as the venue and the Ashe County High School Cafeteria Staff for the banquet portion.
“We are very blessed to have our many volunteers. These people provide tremendous services with their time, skills, and dedication,” said Commissioner William Sands. “They provide about 1,000 hours per day and save the county tax payers several million dollars a year.”
“Their love for our people and our county is evident. Our Lord commanded that ‘We love one another.’ These people set that example,” Sands added.
The Ashe County Volunteer Advisory Board Members include Board Chair Jennifer Richardson who serves as the Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer Coordinator; Board Co-Chair Bevin South, who serves as the Director of Strategic Initiatives & Special Projects at Ashe Services for Aging; Board Secretary Kathy Elliott, who serves as a Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer; Donna Phillips who serves as a Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer; Fawn Roark who serves as the Student Success & Resource Coordinator at Ashe County Middle School; Judy Current who serves as Director of Strategic Growth & Marketing at LifeStore Banking Services; Ramona Renfroe of the Museum of Ashe County History; Randal J. Cokeley of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc.;Rebecca Williams of Ashe County Arts Council and Ad Hoc Glenda Luther who serves as Director at Ashe Senior Center.
Out of the 394 nominated volunteers, 11 overall winners were chosen by the Volunteer Initiative Board.
The following people were selected as Overall Winners for 2019-2020: Becky Marsten, Dr. Linda D. Brown, Jerry, Peggy and Sarah Brandt, Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project, Project Star, Dr. Matthew Thomas-Reid, Connie Osborne, Halei Miller, Chloe Henson and Laura McPherson.
Marsten was chosen as the Lifetime Achievement winner, a suitable honor for her many volunteering efforts at the Ashe County Arts Council, Bethany United Methodist Church, Meals on Wheels, Ashe County Sharing Center, Christmas in July Festival and the Ashe County Chapter of the Philanthropic Educational Organization.
At Bethany United Methodist Church, Marsten is a member of both the Chancel Choir and Ding-a-Lings Handbell Choir while also serving as the President of Women of Church Organization, Secretary of Worship Committee and is a Sunday School teacher. She also was the coordinator of the 2019 Church Directory and is the church’s chief communicator through the email list.
In addition to delivering meals while volunteering at Meals on Wheels, Marsten also is a regular volunteer on Fridays at Ashe Sharing Center. Her involvement with the Ashe County Arts Council is extensive as she has served as President of the Board of Directors, a member of the 2019-20 Transition Team, a programming committee member and an ex-offico for performers of all other board committees. Marsten is also known for providing baked goods and meals for performers and offers volunteer assistance for special events.
At the annual Christmas in July Festival, Marsten has helped set up early in the morning to assist the vendors in setting up for many years. She then moves to the Arts Council booth to support and help out during the festival.
“Becky can always be counted on to volunteer with the day-to-day activities for the Ashe County Arts Council and the Ashe Civic Center providing refreshments, taking up tickets, hospitality, planning and execution,” reads an essay from the Ashe County Arts Council written on behalf of Marsten.
Brown was recognized for her outstanding effort as a Senior volunteer at Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary.
Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary is a horse rescue farm which rehabilitates abandoned, abused and neglected horses, ponies and donkeys.
A letter written by Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary on behalf of Brown describes her as a “Volunteer Angel” who has been with the organization since it began in 2011. Brown is commended for her extraordinary organizational and leadership skills which have helped transform the sanctuary from a small struggling grassroots start up 501©(3) into a financially viable horse rescue which is now capable of housing and caring for 18-22 horses regularly.
Some of Brown’s responsibilities year-round include writing grants and individual proposals as well as organizing and conducting the annual fundraising event “Beer for My Horses.” All of these responsibilities handled by Brown provide life-changing opportunities for abandoned, abused and neglected equines through improved facilities, proper feed, veterinary care, farrier care, etc.
According to Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary in their nomination letter, there is no job too big or small for Brown’s skills and she has done everything from mucking out stalls to doctoring any animal needing help. She has also been responsible for over $100,000 in charitable giving to the sanctuary.
“Linda Brown is kind and compassionate to those around her. Her love includes the animals and all people lucky enough to have her light in their life. We are blessed that Dr. Brown applies her significant abilities to help the horses of Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary,” the letter reads.
The winners of the Family award were Jerry, Peggy and Sarah Brandt who were nominated by The Ashe County Little Theatre.
Jerry has spent numerous volunteer hours at the Ashe Civic Center helping with set up and break down of events, assisting with the organization of tools and supplies as well as the everyday physical labor of building whatever is needed. He has also worked backstage at the theatre moving scenery, creating special effects and herding actors.
The letter describes him as a mastermind at set building, electrical work and facility maintenance. He is also recognized for always having a creative, straightforward solution to any problem.
Peggy has contributed many volunteer hours including the organization of inventory, house managing and ensuring people are doing their job while encouraging other people to volunteer. She has worked backstage at the little theatre often being a backstage child wrangler and utilizing her organization skills to help make a show happen.
“As a volunteer, her creativity and sewing skills are put to use making costumes, props and set dressing,” the letter reads.
Sarah is described as a bright young lady who loves people. She often volunteers with house managing, ticket taking and providing hospitality.
“She loves theater and enjoys being on stage but can be found volunteering backstage, helping younger children and always being part of the team,” the letter reads.
The Brandt family also volunteers at Bethany United Methodist Church, the Ashe County Sharing Center and the Ashe County Arts Council.
The Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project was selected as the winner for the Faith-Based Entity and were nominated by the Ashe Baptist Association.
Many people, aside from all nonprofit agencies and school employees that are involved contribute to this project and its success.
Businesses donate toys, groups donate books, people purchase wrapping paper and individuals bring boxes for wrapping as well as others providing snacks and drinks for volunteers. In addition, school clubs and church youth groups volunteer to wrap, move and prepare the gifts for distribution to families.
“It’s no small undertaking; numerous hours of preparation, and coordination, and organizing, long days of standing and wrapping fits, and carrying heavy black trash bags with not just one gift but several for each child. The hard work is quick forgotten when someone comes in on distribution day with teary eyes trying to express their gratitude for the gifts they are receiving. Single moms, single dads, grandparents, and sometimes a mom and a dad that are in a hard place with medical issues or out of work; just trying to make a decent life for those children that are in their care,” the letter reads.
Many volunteers return year after year and some that were helped as children are now adults volunteering to share the same blessing that was once offered to them.
“Project Star,” which is organized by Appalachian Senior Programs was the winner for the corporate/business category.
“Project Star” has been sponsored by Appalachian Senior Programs for the past 18 years and serves as a Christmas project for senior citizens residing in the county that are in need.
The project is a collaborative effort, which brings the entire community together. Agencies within the county submit names, which are all kept confidential, of senior citizens who are in need to Appalachian Senior Programs. Each number, along with four or five items the senior may need or want are typed on a star to hang on Christmas trees in different businesses throughout the county.
Those who wish to participate choose a star, purchase the items and return the items to Appalachian Senior Programs where they are bagged and distributed to the agencies to be delivered to senior citizens.
“During the 2019 Christmas season, 248 senior citizens received gifts of which many requested only food and warm clothing, many things we take for granted each and every day,” the letter nominating “Project Star” reads.
During the past year, 31 senior citizens received heating and or fuel assistance and throughout the past 18 years, “Project Star” has paid more than $40,000 in fuel and heating bills. This is in addition to delivering more than 4,000 gifts at Christmas to senior citizens most in need as well as homeless and developmentally delayed people in the community.
Thomas-Reid was the individual volunteer winner for his commitment to volunteering to teach the game of chess and so much more to students in all of Ashe County’s elementary schools.
He was nominated by the students and teachers at Blue Ridge Elementary Schools because of the key role he has played in the lives of many fifth and sixth grade students.
He is known as “Mr. Matt” among students and he has a special way of helping students realize their potential through the game of chess and teaching them problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
“Even though many of the comments focus on the game of chess, we all know and see Mr. Matt’s dedication to being a mentor for at-risk students. This past December, Mr. Matt organized a chess tournament at the Ashe County Library with all of the elementary schools. The looks of excitement, dedication and determination on all of the students’ faces was something else to see. Anyone could walk into that room and witness the critical thinking and problem-solving going on by the students,” reads the letter submitted on behalf of Thomas-Reid.
Also noted in the letter is his selfless love of at-risk students and his dedication to the students at BRES.
Osborne was selected as the winner among National Service nominees and is a volunteer with the Appalachian Foster Grandparent Program.
While volunteering, Osborne provides one-on-one tutoring for children who need extra help with subjects including reading, math and spelling at Blue Ridge Elementary School.
She is 71 years old and has been involved with the program for the past two years. The benefits reaped from the Foster Grandparent Program is a three-fold process. The children benefit from the love and extra help from the Foster Grandparent, the station benefits from a caring volunteer always ready to help and the Foster Grandparent benefits from the love that is returned from the children.
“The kids come in and the first thing and last thing they do each day is hug the Foster Grandparent. The volunteers help to fill a void in a child’s life. Although Connie has not been in our program very long we feel she is the true definition of what a Foster Grandparent volunteer should be,” reads the letter nominating Osborne.
Also in the letter, Osborne is described as a wonderful asset to the second grade classroom she volunteers in. She checks students’ daily folders and homework to make sure its been completed, assists students while they are working independently and plays review games or participates in math activities with small groups.
“If Grandma Connie is not at school when the students arrive, they immediately ask where she is and why she isn’t there. She is a vital asset to our classroom. Our students are always making pictures for her, giving her little handmade gifts and lots of hugs,” reads the letter.
Miller was selected as one of the winners in the youth volunteer category for her service at Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary.
In the letter of nomination, Miller was described “an all-together extraordinary young person who will become an exceptional young woman.”
As a little girl, Miller always seemed to be at her best and most comfortable when surrounded by animals. By the time she was nine years old she starting coming to the rescue any chance she got.
While volunteering, she does whatever needs to be done from mucking out stalls and filling water buckets to washing and grooming horses and ponies.
Some of her favorite animals she cared for are mentioned in the letter and include a three-legged donkey taken by Animal Control from an abusive owner who had left the donkey with a broken, unusable leg. Miller was extremely shy around people at the time and developed a trusted bond with the donkey.
One rescue that was exceptionally special to Miller was a horse named Apple Jack who she wished to adopt. Apple Jack was an older horse that became extremely ill and eventually succumbed to a fatal disease.
“But until then, Halei would come out each day she could after school to care for the old horse and finally holding his big head in her lap as Apple Jack was humanely euthanized. She said she didn’t want him to be alone. She wanted the horse to feel loved. On that day Halei taught the adults and children alike what real courage and compassion is about,” reads the letter.
Henson has always had a heart for service. When she was in pre-school she began making little trees out of scrap pine cuttings and wood she gathered at her family’s tree lot. She would share these “little trees” with children who visited the lot to strike up friendships.
By the time she was 7 or 8 years old, she worked with her grandpa Bill Henson to improve the trees using fresh product instead of the scraps. She came to her mother Dana with the idea to travel to town to sell her trees.
She walked from store to store, asking store owners if they would like to purchase one of the trees for $1. The owners of The Hotel Tavern took an interest in Henson and purchased a little tree to put on each table in the restaurant. They also spoke with her about how she began this project and motivated her to make and sell the trees for charity.
“She has been selling trees and giving to charity for 3 years now. She donated $765 to St. Jude her first year, $1,000 to Pender County Topsail Elementary School Hurricane Relief Fund her second year and $1,500 to St. Jude her third year,” reads the letter nominating Henson.
Frosty’s Choose and Cut in West Jefferson allows Henson to sell and deliver her trees at their site and has substantially helped her increase her giving. She works many cold afternoons, weekends and snow days making and delivering “Chloe’s Christmas Trees” with her grandfather.
McPherson was nominated for her outstanding work as Director of Volunteers at Ashe County Public Library.
She has been employed at the library since 2014 and works as the library’s Adult and Teen Services manager where she directly supervises two other employees and oversees the management of volunteers.
“Laura is a liaison to our community, serving on committees and boards that partner with the library in various ways. After completing a local leadership program, she found ways to become more involved with outreach and strengthened partnerships in our county. She served on the Chamber of Commerce’s member services committee; another way to get word out about library events and learn how our library can help satisfy needs of the community,” reads the letter of nomination.
McPherson has joined a community action group called “Hands Up for the Homeless” and helped coordinate a drive to provide essential cold-weather items for those experiencing homelessness in the county.
Along with her department, she hosts an annual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program to coordinate appointment for community members with Friends of the Library and volunteers. Last year, the library’s VITA program was credited with helping participants receive over half-a-million dollars in refunds.
Since the library is considered to be the campus library to the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College, McPherson also serves as a connection to students and teachers there. She recently designed a special program for teens called “Stories to Service” which provides meaningful volunteer experiences integrating reading, service opportunities and leadership while encouraging participants to be lifelong learners who view the library as an epicenter for information and community engagement.
The winner of the Group/Team nominees were the Ashe Memorial Hospital Volunteers.
Team members have volunteered with AMH anywhere from a couple of months to 20 plus years for a combined 164.5 years of service. These volunteers assist in many areas of AMH including the Medical/Surgical Floor, Monitor Bed Unit, Labor & Delivery, Surgical Day Center, Physical Therapy, Emergency Department Registration, Emergency Department, Out Patient Registration, Scheduling, Human Resources and Mountain Hearts Center.
The team was nominated by Human Resources Supervisor, Teresa Patrick, who expressed how the team goes above and beyond when it comes to helping both community members and AMH.
The recognized volunteers include Dorothy Vannoy, Linda Crest-Cooper, Charlene Wilcox, Ronald Huber, Walter “Walt” Peterson, Timothy Roten, Addie Fairchild, Gwynita Steele, Sam Howell, Pamela sawyer, Mary “Midge” Presnell, Pamela Guion & Governor, Jo’anne Kuszaj, Robert “Chip” Ritchie, Katy Easley, Della Jones, Michael Sawyer, Jane Huber, Lois “Cookie” Parker, Frank Ward, Tamela “Tammy” Cooper and Alexis Treadway.
“I cannot imagine what our county would be like without our many volunteers who provide unselfish countless hours serving and sharing their time and talents without any expectations for recognition or compensation,” said Commissioner Larry Dix. “Words just do not come close to expressing our appreciation to them.”
2020 Ashe County Commissioners’ Volunteer Awards nominees
Mary Zell Absher
Dr. Linda D Brown
National Service Nominees:
Betty Ann Miller
Virginia Sue Roten
Nathaniel D. Miller
Robert F. Miller
Alexis Noelle Taylor
Austin Reed Taylor
Olivia Lynn Taylor
American Red Cross Blood Mobile
Appalachian Foster Grandparent Program
Appalachian Senior Companion Program
Ashe County Arts Council
Ashe County Heart Association
Ashe County Little Theatre
Christmas in July Festival
Jim’s Corner Furniture
Medi Home Health & Hospice
We Care Planning Committee-BROC
West Jefferson Community Partnership
Director of Volunteers:
Faith-Based Entity Nominees:
Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project
Bald Mountain Baptist Church Senior Encouragers
Bethany United Methodist Church
Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church Youth Group
Glendale Springs Presbyterian Church
Green’s Chapel Singers
Mt. Vernon Baptist Church Choir
Reverend Dennis Washburn
Reverend Dominick Mongiove
Reverend Steve LeaShomb
Riders of Faith of North Carolina
Shelter Baptist Church
Temple Baptist Church Choir
The Parise Brigade
The Parish of the Holy Communion
Warrensville Baptist Church Ladies Group
Warrensville Methodist Church
West Jefferson First Baptist Church
W.J Baptist Church – Men’s Group
W.J. First Baptist Church – Mission Friends Group
W.J. First Baptist Church – Mission Kids Group
Jerry, Peggy & Sarah Brandt
Ashe County Arts Council Transition Team
Ashe County Veterans Honor Guard & Auxiliary
Ashe Memorial Hospital Volunteers
Ashe Senior Center VITA Program
Carroll Jolly & “Molly Jolly”
Fiddlesticks Youth Jam
J.J. Johnson & “Twinky”
Jefferson Breakdown Band
Jefferson Lodge #38
Medicare SHIIP Program
Pam Guion & “ Governor”
Ron Smith & Family
Sarah Borders & Friends
Tri-M Music Honor Society
Luz Maria Chico-Soto
Tamela “Tammy” Cooper
Rose Ellen Farrington
Guy Graybeal Jr.
Kwi Su (Kay McNeill)
Robert D Miller
Pearl E. Osborne
Lois “Cookie” Parker
Jakolia (Cookie) Parsons
James (Jim) Parsons
Walter “Walt” Peterson
Dr. Matthew Thomas-Reid
David H. Richardson
Robert “Chip” Ritchie
Jennifer S. Russell
Pamela J Stamper
Sydney Marie Taylor
ASHE COUNTY — The numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Carolina have continued to surge during the state’s removal shutdown laws, allowing some semblance of normalcy to return to the lives of millions.
As of presstime, there are six active cases in Ashe County, with a further 19 people being monitored.
After the first case confirmed in the county by AppHealthCare April 3, the number of confirmed cases grew to five by April 29. In the month that has followed, the number has increased rapidly, with 34 total now confirmed for Ashe.
The Ashe numbers include one death, AppHealthCare announced Wednesday, May 26. As of presstime, it is the only death linked to COVID-19 in Ashe, Alleghany or Watauga counties.
On June 9, there were 37,160 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina, with 1,029 dead, according to NCDHHS. This includes 33 confirmed cases in Watauga County, 20 active, and 30 in Alleghany County, with 16 active, according to AppHealthCare. Presumptive and confirmed positive cases are in all counties across the state.
According to NCDHHS, which keeps an updating list of congregate setting outbreaks, a facility in Ashe on Old Highway 16 in Grassy Creek is the source of 15 resident cases. The facility is listed as “other,” meaning it is not a nursing home, residential care facility or correctional facility, but can be a homeless shelter, migrant farm worker housing facility or other location with a multitude of people living there.
Organizations from the international to the local level are encouraging people who feel sick or are symptomatic to stay home and receive medical treatment.
In a series of executive orders beginning March 14, Gov. Roy Cooper closed schools, limited the size of gatherings, instituted a stay-at-home order, shut down non-essential businesses, limited the capacity of businesses still in operation and barred dining in at restaurants.
Cooper began the reopening process with an executive order that took effect Friday, May 8.
Under Phase 1, most businesses can open, retail stores can open at 50 percent capacity, parks and trails are encouraged to reopen, close-contact businesses (such as gyms, salons and movie theaters) will remain closed, restaurants will continue to be open for takeout and delivery only, and gatherings are still limited to 10 people, but gathering outdoors with friends is allowed.
The state entered Phase 2 on May 22, opening up more possibilities for businesses. Restaurants offering dine-in options, personal care businesses (including salons and barbers) and public pools are all allowed to have a maximum 50 percent capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements. Employees of personal care businesses will be required to wear face coverings.
Bars, indoor fitness facilities and indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters and bowling alleys are still to remain closed.
Ashe County declared a state of emergency March 22. The county was followed by the towns of West Jefferson, Jefferson and Lansing.
An amendment to the county’s state of emergency declaration shortly after banned short-term rentals in the county, with the goal being a reduction in travel by non-residents. The amendment expired May 8, and was not extended.
The Ashe County Courthouse will remain open as usual, but residents are encouraged to take advantage of online resources or to call the needed office. The county also announced they would be limiting the number of visitors to 10 at a time.
The Ashe County Airport will remain open, but no public visitors are allowed. The landfill and convenience sites will remain open to the public.
West Jefferson Town Hall reopened Tuesday, June 2, following approval from the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen the night before.
At the Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting March 16, the board voted unanimously to close Jefferson Town Hall to the public. As in West Jefferson, Jefferson Town Hall will continue to operate and fulfill its normal duties, and can be reached at (336) 846-9368.
According to Lansing Town Clerk Marcy Little, Lansing Town Hall has been closed. She added it is being recommended people do things over the phone at (336) 384-3938 or via the drop box located out front. The town also closed the public restrooms in the Lansing Creeper Trail Park.
Meanwhile, meetings of local government boards including different boards of aldermen and the Ashe County Board of Commissioners have seen their meetings canceled or changed to being electronic.
On March 12, Ashe Memorial Hospital’s expanded visitor restrictions went into effect. The hospital asks that those who are not members of a patient’s immediate family refrain from visiting unless absolutely necessary, regardless of the visitor’s age or health status.
Local assisted living centers Margate Health and Rehabilitation Center and Forest Ridge Assisted Living have enforced visitation restrictions to protect residents from possible exposure to COVID-19.
Margate announced they are limiting visitation, making exceptions for cases involving significant issues, emergencies and terminally ill residents.
Forest Ridge Assisted Living announced that all visitation has been restricted, at any Ridge Care Senior Living’s assisted living and memory care communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Exceptions to these restrictions will only be made for extenuating circumstances and must be approved and scheduled by each community’s executive director. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice.
The N.C. State Parks announced Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area are closed as of March 27. Grandfather Mountain announced it would reopen in a limited capacity May 15, with all ticket sales moving online.
Also closing are recreation facilities at recreation sites in the National Forests in N.C. were temporarily shut down. The closures include picnic pavilions, shooting ranges and all restrooms.
These shutdowns are in addition to previous announcements about developed campgrounds, several large developed day use areas, visitor centers and Off-Highway Vehicle trail systems, which remain temporarily shut down.
The Ashe County Public Library announced its plans to resumes limited public services on Tuesday, May 19. Initially, the building will still be closed to the public, but curbside delivery of library materials and printed items will be offered Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Ashe County Arts Council was closed from March 13 to May 9. The Arts Council has canceled all events in the foreseeable future, and are hoping to find dates to reschedule to.
The Florence Thomas Art School announced it would be reopening June 2. The art school has announced plans for events, classes and workshops beginning in July.
Ashe County Parks and Recreation has suspended all sports leagues until further notice, refunds will be considered if leagues are eventually canceled. Ashe county Park reopened May 11, however all facilities including bathrooms, playgrounds, courts, skate park and shelters will remain closed.
In line with major sports leagues around the world, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced Thursday, March 12, it would suspend high school athletics until at least Monday, April 6. It was later decided to cancel the season entirely, following Cooper’s decision to cancel schools entirely April 24.
Family Central’s park office is closed but staff can be contacted at (336) 982-6185 or by email at email@example.com. The gym and workout room at Family Central will be closed until further notice.
At the Ashe County Detention Center, new inmates are being quarantined for anywhere from 15 to 30 days upon arrival. Air filters have been added in between the Detention Center’s four pods, hopefully keeping any disease contained should it arrive.
Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now doing as much as they can remotely, and have also been instructed to avoid entering confined spaces, instead opting to conduct business outside. Sheriff Phil Howell said the ACSO still wants people to know they are in the community.
According to Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, citizens can call (866) 462-3821 for more information.
While schools have been closed since March 16, Cooper declared April 24 that the spring semester would not resume. Students have been taking classes online, while school boards at every level have been working on what is next.
For continued updates and more information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.ashepostandtimes.com.
Bailey Little contributed reporting to this story.
RALEIGH — The state’s governor and health secretary on June 8 expressed concerns that North Carolina’s COVID-19 trends are accelerating in the wrong direction, as that day marked the highest number of virus-related hospitalizations in the state at 739 and June 6 marked the highest number of new cases reported in one day, at 1,370.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen also said that the percent of tests that are positive statewide is now among the highest in the nation — the percentage has been fluctuating between 9 and 10 percent since June 3. Cohen said on June 5 that she received a call expressing concerns about North Carolina’s numbers from Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“I am concerned,” Cohen said. “These trends moving in the wrong direction is a signal we need to take very seriously.”
Cohen said the state will continue to ramp up testing and work closely with health departments on contact tracing for positive cases. In addition to anyone with COVID-19-like symptoms and anyone who is at high risk for severe illness, the state is urging the following groups of people to seek testing:
“We must remember that this virus is still out there and can be deadly,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Following are updates on COVID-19 cases and test numbers in the U.S., North Carolina and in High Country counties. The following reports may differ from other sources due to the varied reporting times of multiple health agencies and other sources.
Cases 35,624 1,951,722
Deaths 1,032 110,771
Hospitalized 739 N/A
Recovered 23,653 506,637
Sources of North Carolina data include the Raleigh News & Observer (June 8) and NCDHHS (June 8). The numbers reported by the newspaper and NCDHHS, including the NCDHHS interactive graphic below this article, may differ as the newspaper updates numbers throughout the day while NCDHHS updates numbers once daily. The number of hospitalized patients represents those currently hospitalized in reporting hospitals and is not a cumulative total of people hospitalized. The estimate of people who have recovered is provided by NCDHHS once per week, on Mondays, and is based on the estimated median recovery time for non-hospitalized cases and for hospitalized cases. U.S. data is from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine (June 8).
Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Wat. 33 20 N/A 0
Ashe 40 8 N/A 1
Avery 8 6 2 0
Cald. 196 105 91 3
Wilkes 509 N/A 473 6
Sources of case information in Watauga and surrounding counties include AppHealthCare (June 8), the Raleigh News & Observer (June 8), NCDHHS (June 8), Caldwell County Health Department (June 8), Wilkes Health (June 8) Toe River Health District (June 8) and Tennessee Department of Health (June 8). Not all counties report the same categories of data.
According to AppHealthCare, four residents have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 thus far in Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga counties. AppHealthCare also reports that 34 people have tested positive in its three-county service area who are not residents of Watauga, Ashe or Alleghany counties. As of June 8, the health department is also currently monitoring 26 people in Watauga County, 34 people in Ashe and no people who reside outside of the three-county area due to those people being exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case. These individuals are currently in quarantine and monitoring their symptoms.
State/County Tests Completed
The above testing numbers could be incomplete due to differences in reporting from health departments and other agencies. Sources include AppHealthCare (June 8), NCDHHS (June 8), Toe River Health District (June 8), Caldwell County Health Department (June 8) and Tennessee Department of Health (June 8). Wilkes Health is not reporting the number of tests completed.
The Tennessee Department of Health totals include the sum of negative tests and confirmed cases for each county but might not reflect pending tests.
RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released health guidelines on June 8 as the first step to help North Carolina K-12 public schools find safe ways to open to in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year.
The StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit for K-12 lays out a comprehensive set of baseline health practices that public schools should follow to minimize risk of exposure to COVID-19 for students, staff and families. In addition to specific requirements, the toolkit recommends practices that schools should implement to minimize spread of COVID-19 while allowing in-person teaching to resume.
“Getting children back to school to learn is a high priority, but they must be able to do so in the safest way possible,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “Every child, family and public school educator in North Carolina deserves strong protection to lower the risk of virus spread.”
Schools are asked to plan for reopening under three scenarios — Plan A, which calls for minimal social distancing; Plan B, which calls for moderate social distancing; or Plan C, which would result in remote learning only. Plan A is considered the least restrictive and will be implemented if COVID-19 metrics continue to stabilize or move in a positive direction, according to the toolkit.
NCDHHS, in consultation with the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, will announce by July 1 which of the three plans should be implemented for schools to most safely reopen. The remaining plans may be needed if the state’s COVID-19 metrics change over time.
NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said that the opening of schools would be possible if North Carolinians kept working together to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We will each need to do our part and practice the 3 Ws: wear a cloth face covering, wait six feet apart and wash your hands frequently,” Cohen said. “These easy actions will have outsized impact in keeping viral spread low to in order to help get our children back to school.”
The Public Health Toolkit was developed collaboratively by DHHS and DPI with input from a range of stakeholders across the state, including local superintendents, State Board of Education members, the Governor’s Teacher Advisory Council and members of the Governor’s COVID-19 Education and Nutrition Working Group.
“We are working together to balance the need for all of our children to get back to school — especially children who rely on public schools for their education, health, safety and nutrition — while at the same time proceeding cautiously and deliberately to protect their health and safety,” said State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis. “I know meeting these public health requirements will take a tremendous effort by our schools, but I also know we are doing the right thing and that our schools will rise to the challenge.”
The StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit will be a companion to operational guidance under development by DPI that will offer strategies for how to implement the public health guidance, and cover other non-health areas for reopening planning, including scheduling, instructional practice, and staff training.
In addition to the new guidance from DHHS, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said the North Carolina education agency has already been leading workgroups to create draft operational strategies that will help school systems prepare for the fall. The work groups are comprised of stakeholders such as teachers, school staff, superintendents to other support professionals.
“We will now seek feedback on the draft operational strategies from other stakeholders across the state to ensure that we best capture the needs of all our schools,” Johnson said.
The StrongSchoolsNC Public Heath Toolkit for K-12 was developed using the most current CDC guidance for schools and includes requirements and recommendations for eight areas: social distancing and minimizing exposure; cloth face coverings; protecting vulnerable populations; cleaning and hygiene; monitoring for symptoms; handling suspected, presumptive or confirmed positive cases of COVID-19; communication and combating misinformation; water and ventilation systems; transportation; and coping and resilience.
For example, NCDHHS stated that the toolkit requires students and others to be screened for illness before entering school, and requires floor markings to maintain social distance. It also includes sample screening symptom checklists in English and Spanish, a flow chart protocol for handling suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a checklist of infection control supplies schools may need. The toolkit will be updated as new health guidance is released by the CDC and additional resources are added.
Questions about the StrongSchoolsNC Public Heath Toolkit for K-12 should be directed to StrongSchoolsNC@dhhs.nc.gov (in English or in Spanish).
Kayla Lasure contributed reporting to this article.