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Ashe reports two new COVID-19 related deaths

ASHE COUNTY — AppHealthCare has recorded two new COVID-19 deaths in Ashe County as of June 15, totaling the number of deaths at 46.

As of June 16, there were seven active cases in Ashe County, two active cases in Alleghany and 10 active cases in Watauga. In total, Ashe has seen 2,266 cumulative cases since testing for the virus began. Alleghany has the lowest of the three counties with 1,066 and Watauga has the highest with 4,744.

Currently, 11 individuals are being actively monitored in Ashe. None are being monitored in Alleghany and only one is being monitored in Watauga.

With the two deaths, Ashe County has posted the most fatalities in the three counties with 46. Watauga trailed behind with 31 and Alleghany has remained at a low five.

The report of the two deaths comes just as the county reaches 39 percent fully vaccinated. Forty-two percent of the population has received at least one dose.

In a recent June 11 situation update provided by AppHealthCare, it stated that cases have declined in recent weeks aside from two individuals in the Ashe County Detention Center. The last positive test result was recorded on June 7.

“As COVID-19 continues to impact our community, we encourage everyone to do their part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. The safety and well-being of our community is our top priority. We have protocols in place to ensure that we are able to meet the needs of our patients and our community, and masks are still required throughout the facility at this time,” said Ashe Memorial Hospital in a statement.

Ashe has steadily remained in the “light yellow” stage with moderate impact. Only nine counties in North Carolina are in “green” which records low impact.

A of noon on June 14, North Carolina has reported 1,008,926 total cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

The World Heath Organization reported that there have been 175,847,347 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally as of 11 a.m. on June 15. This also includes 3,807,276 worldwide deaths.

As of June 14, the WHO reported that 2,187,874,534 vaccine doses have been administered.

Museum of Ashe County History holds evening celebration to show off its newest exhibit

JEFFERSON — Crowds gathered in the halls of Ashe County’s historic 1904 Courthouse on the afternoon of June 11, to celebrate the Museum of Ashe County History’s newest exhibit.

The exhibit, titled “Real Americans: Native Americans in Ashe County” puts focus on what life in the region was like prior to European settlement and features a large number of American Indian artifacts found in Ashe County and the surrounding area.

“We did over three months worth of research to prepare for this exhibit,” said Don Long, curator of the Museum of Ashe County History. “One of the things we were determined to do was to present the Native American story from their own perspective. To try to understand how they saw their story, and to tell it their way.”

Though the finishing touches had been put on the exhibit around the end of 2020, due to COVID-19 protocols the museum has been waiting for the right opportunity to celebrate the exhibit’s opening with the public.

The “Real Americans” exhibit offers both a broad overview of various Native American cultures from across the nation, while also putting major focus on regional tribes such as the Cherokee. The display also features a wide range of artifacts found in the area, including projectile points, arrowheads and pottery, as well as a unique stone face effigy.

“This particular exhibit was made from a contribution from an individual here in Ashe County who collected a lot of his artifacts here in the county — the majority of them. So it’s not like you’re doing an exhibit of something that’s not from the area. It’s representative of the history of the county,” said Dr. Lee Beckworth, president of the Museum of Ashe County History. “Don Long did the set up for the exhibit, he did a great job presenting the artifacts and everyone that visited seemed very complimentary.”

Present alongside many Ashe County residents at the event were several members of local government, such as town alderman and council members from the various Ashe communities. Though evening’s event centered around the “Real Americans” exhibit, the festivities also offered locals a chance to converse with old friends, meet new ones and enjoy the different displays the museum has to offer.

“We were real pleased with the turnout. We made a special effort to invite the Alderman and the commissioners and we had several of them attend from all three of the towns,” said Beckworth. “We were real pleased that they turned out, and also the general public, we had quite a few from the general public that came. Everyone that comes to this museum is always complimentary about the quality and presentation of the exhibits and the way the courthouse has been preserved.”

Likewise, Long, who along with other museum staff spent months putting together the “Real Americans” display says he was pleased with the way the night’s festivities played out.

“Tonight went very well, we were pleased with the turnout. People have been very interested in the Native American exhibit which we were celebrating, but also just touring through the museum and seeing the other things that we’ve been able to display,” said Long.

The Museum of Ashe County History is located on 301 East Main Street in Jefferson and is free to the public. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about their upcoming events or displays call (336) 846-1904.

Ashe County Board of Commissioners hold budget sessions for fiscal year 2021-22

JEFFERSON — From June 7 to June 10, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners held budget sessions for the proposed budget in fiscal year 2021-22 in the Agricultural Services Building conference room on the courthouse grounds.

Those in attendance of the sessions were Chair Todd McNeill, Vice Chair William Sands, Chuck Olive, Jonathan Jordan, County Manager Adam Stumb, Finance Officer Sandy Long, Assistant Finance Officer/Human Resources Director Angela Eggers, Deputy Finance Officer Teresa Bare and Ashe County Clerk to the Board Ashley Honeycutt.

At this time, the current fund amount for the proposed budget has not been calculated or released. The amount total is set to be presented to the Commissioners at their June 21 meeting. The board will hold a public hearing at the meeting and determine the approval of the budget.

On May 17, Ashe County Manager Adam Stumb presented the 2021-22 budget to the commissioners in their regular session meeting. Stumb said the upcoming budget will be all-encompassing of the businesses in Ashe who are included in said budget.

“As anticipated, the current fiscal year 2020-21 brought plenty of uncertainties surrounding the pandemic,” said Stumb. “Some revenue numbers have been growing while sales and occupancy tax have been driving the game because of local travel and sales generated from federal stimulus payments. While these gains have been beneficial, there’s no expectation that they will continue in the coming year. New obligations will only diminish those gains.

“If last year’s budget was crafted around unexpected circumstances, then this budget will follow suit. As we ease out of the pandemic, we will experience shifts in travel, employment, building costs, fuel prices and other expenses associated in serving the public.”

The upcoming budget will encompass the new middle school project in partnership with the board of education, the re-use of the old middle school building, new equipment and salary raises for the Ashe County Sheriff’s office, further support of AppHealthCare, new aspects and funding for the Ashe County Public Library, extra services for Environmental Development and more.

In the budget sessions, Sheriff Phil Howell, Chief Deputy Danny Houck, Lieutenant Darrell McClure and Executive Assistant Jessica Vogler presented the Board of Commissioners with their current and future needs.

“In neighboring counties, we see they’re giving a little extra attention and care to their law enforcement, as you all are doing as well,” said Sheriff Howell. “We want to keep people in the county and in our department.”

In response to the employment crisis in Ashe and surrounding counties, Commissioner Chuck Olive encouraged ACSO to bring in their employees and work to keep them here instead of them wandering to other counties and jobs.

“You’ve got to convince these guys to stay,” said Olive. “We’re going to support you all we can, but you’ve really got to sell it. We don’t need these people to chase nickels and dimes into other counties.”

In other counties, local government has given out up to anywhere from a five to 10 percent salary raise for law enforcement and employees. Sheriff Howell and his team hope that the Commissioners can take that into consideration along with their vehicle needs, equipment needs and protection needs in the upcoming fiscal year 2021-22 budget.

County librarian Suzanne Moore presented her recommendation for the proposed budget for the Ashe County Public Library. Moore is looking for an increase in salaries for their employees, including nine full-time employees and seven part-time. The ACPL is looking to specifically increase the hours of a part-time worker, which would hold their budget about $73,000. The board agreed to take Moore’s concerns into consideration when reviewing and approving the budget.

For the Ashe County Arts Council, the proposed budget includes about $160,000 in funding. The Civic Center is currently having its HVAC systems replaced and Commissioner Olive proposed that they roll it all up and give $150,000 in occupancy tax to the arts.

Parks and Recreation will normally receive $40,000 in sports leagues and are requesting a new dirt bike/ motorcycle route. They have also requested the naming of the roads at Family Central.

As the budget will come to fruition on June 21, the commissioners said they hope to please and encompass those included.

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Sheriff: Ashe County Detention Facility experiences first possible COVID-19 case

Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell said that the Ashe County Detention Facility may be on the verge of having its first COVID-19 outbreak.

“This morning (June 9) we received news of two inmates who were housed in the Ashe County Detention Facility for Watauga County have tested positive for the corona virus after spending time inside our facility,” Howell said in a statement. “AppHealthCare notified the sheriff’s office after the two inmates were returned to the Watauga Detention Facility and tested positive for COVID-19 virus. We are following all recommended procedures by AppHealthCare to get a full assessment of the situation.

“While our primary functions are for the equal care of our staff and inmates who work and reside here 24 hours a day, we want to assure everyone that we are taking every precaution to keep all who are involved safe and the potential of spread contained.”

“We are extremely fortunate to have a committed, compassionate staff who work as a team for Ashe County. We have been extremely blessed up to this point that our protocols and hard work in protecting everyone to this point has worked,” the sheriff said.