Law Enforcement Officers Laud Cooperation Of Citizens In Crisis – April 22

By Dave Russell, The Sylva Herald

Local law enforcement isn’t immune from the impact of COVID-19, taking a lead role in enforcing the rules and regulations.

“It’s a very difficult and challenging time that we’re in right now,” Jackson County Chief Deputy Kim Hooper said. “We have answered some calls from citizens about numerous places where more than 10 people have gathered, or they have some concerns seeing out-of-state license and we have spoken to those people.”

Deputies informed them of the rules the state and local authorities have laid out, he said.

Newcomers to the county are asked to quarantine for 14 days before moving about the county.

“We have received nothing but 100 percent cooperation from the public,” he said. 

The Sheriff’s Office is still fighting crime.

“The department is not shut down,” Hooper said. “If we have to make arrests, we will make arrests.”

The majority of the calls coming in right now are people concerned about out-of-state license plates, he said. 

The department has not had to bust up any parties or talk to any churches about gathering.

“The majority of the churches are following the guidelines that have been set out,” he said. 

The department has conducted one traffic checkpoint.

“What we did last Friday was community outreach, a safety check on N.C. 107 near Lyle Wilson Road,” he said. “That was just a friendly reminder of the recommendations set out by the Department of Public Health, the state and local authorities – stay home, stay safe.”

Deputies at the checkpoint did not check licenses or look inside cars, he said.

Hooper and his colleagues want everyone to be safe, he said.

“Like everybody is saying, from the president on down to local, take advice from these guidelines set out – stay home and stay safe,” he said. “We want to spread the word and encourage people to make an adjustment to their lifestyle until we get this pandemic behind us.”

Sylva Police Chief Chris Hatton is very pleased with the response from the community, also citing 100 percent cooperation. 

“We’ve had some people call in on some situations that we’ve had to go straighten things out, but not as much as the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “We were really busy when they came out with the first wave of what needs to be closed, where you can eat, like outdoor dining or not. Everybody we have talked to who was not doing the right thing, after we talked to them, they were like, ‘OK, I misunderstood.’”

Airport Receives CARES Boost To Offset Covid-19 Losses – April 22

By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

When COVID-19’s impact on airports comes up in conversation, it’s not likely that Jackson County Airport springs to mind, but it has nonetheless been affected.

In late March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act which included $10 billion in relief to aid airports harmed by the pandemic.

North Carolina’s 72 public airports received $284 million in federal aid. 

Jackson County, one of the state’s 62 general aviation airports, received $20,000 of that money.

“The CARES Act allocated money for airports across the nation, every airport,” said Jim Rowell, Jackson County Airport manager. “The Federal Aviation Administration allocated it based on how big the airport is, how much traffic it sees, payroll and the number of employees according to their scale.”

Asheville Regional Airport received more than $14 million, Macon County Airport and Western Carolina Regional Airport in Andrews both were awarded $30,000.

Jackson’s airport does not have paid employees, but it still has operating costs that would have been covered by revenue lost due the pandemic.

The CARES Act funds will be used to cover utilities and other expenses.

“Everything that goes on from an operations standpoint is still going on,” Rowell said. “My recommendation is that the funds be used for utilities, maintenance of equipment such as runway lighting, related safety devices.”

The airport does not offer commercial flights but can accommodate small planes and helicopters that land there.

Owners landing aircraft at Jackson often pay overnight tie down fees or buy fuel.

The opportunity to land there brings revenue into the county from second homeowners in Jackson County and people vacationing or conducting business in the area.

The facility is estimated to bring $1.3 million in revenue to the county.

Rowell gave an example of how airport business has been impacted.

Last week he received a call from a man who wanted to fly into Jackson County and pick up a machine part in Haywood County.

Rowell informed the man he would have to provide his own transportation, could not rent a room if he planned to stay overnight and would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days if he planned to stay.

The man was unaware of the restrictions and decided not to fly to Jackson.

The airport is owned by the county, operated by the Jackson County Airport Authority and funded with local, state and federal dollars.

Amid COVID-19 Crisis, HERE Continues to Fill Housing Needs – April 22

By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

While most of the world hunkers down to curb the spread of coronavirus, aid agencies like HERE in Jackson County continue to provide crucial services.

Since its work began last year, HERE has placed 69 people in permanent housing. That number includes 16 families and 17 individuals.

The organization currently has dozens of people in emergency shelter.

“The majority of our shelter clients are single adults, so total individuals including those in eight families is 33,” said Bob Cochran director of HERE.

HERE contracts with local hotels to get people into emergency accommodations.

The process of getting people into permanent housing can take as little as weeks or much longer.

“Many of our clients have struggled with homelessness for years and even as children when their parents could not provide a safe, stable home for them,” Cochran said. “We use a housing first model. Evidence shows that mental health treatment, vocational training, child welfare intervention and other social investments have a much greater return when individuals have safe, secure and permanent housing from which to operate.”

HERE works with a range of people. Some clients are people with chronic health conditions who were living on Social Security Disability but lost their home. A person without a permanent address is disqualified from receiving benefits. Helping that person could be as simple as finding an apartment and getting their disability benefit reestablished.

Others need more help.

“There’s a big difference between a family with income needing assistance getting into permanent housing versus somebody with no income, ID, birth certificate or Social Security card,” Cochran said.

For individuals in the latter group, the process can take several months. Many of HERE’s clients are able to move forward and maintain housing and a stable environment for themselves or their families. Others cannot and find themselves homeless again.

The organization is working on strategies to improve those outcomes. Cochran believes all the effort is worth it in the long run.

“Children growing up in stable households are more likely to do better in school and become productive members of society as adults,” he said.

To be eligible for subsidies like Section 8 housing, a person must have credentials like ID and a birth certificate.

Cochran is currently assisting a client who was born in another country but is a naturalized citizen. He cannot obtain a copy of the client’s birth certificate from the birth country or locate adoption paperwork.

“So many people are here from other states,” he said. “This year I’ve sent off to Illinois, Georgia and Florida for birth certificates.”

Landlords require prospective tenants to have income. Some need guidance finding work. There are subsidies available to help with rent, but those stipends are based on income. The subsidies are designed to ensure that the person does not pay more than 30 percent of income on rent and utilities.

The cost to help clients varies. On average HERE pays for about six weeks of emergency shelter. The agency also helps clients cover the cost of moving into long-term housing.

“If we estimate one person or one family needing cold weather shelter for six weeks before entering permanent housing, that cost would be $2,730,” Cochran said. “First month’s rent and deposits for a two bedroom house or apartment would be approximately $1,586.

That includes $693 for rent, $693 for a deposit and $200 for utility deposits, if needed, he said.

The organization partners with The Community Table to feed shelter clients, but pays for meals on Wednesday when the pantry is closed. They are also exploring ways to provide meals on the weekend for shelter clients without income.

Clients can receive transportation to and from appointments and help purchasing prescriptions.

Sometimes caseworkers run into problems due to the availability of housing, high level of competition for available units, and finding landlords willing to rent to the recently homeless or someone with poor credit.

“Usually it’s hard for our clients to find apartments,” Cochran said. “You or I would just hop in our cars and go look at it. A lot of times they’re trying to do everything over the phone, and they don’t make a good first impression. The landlord knows its limited means and senses there are challenges from the very beginning. They’ve got so many barriers, and when they’re competing against other prospective tenants, they don’t always come across well. They’re not always the strongest applicant.”

Jackson County Budget is Feeling COVID-19 – April 22

By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

Jackson County Finance Director Darlene Fox said the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the county’s ability to put together a budget, but it may impact the final outcome.

All departments and organizations have submitted their projected budgets and made financial requests despite having to adapt to new methods of operation due to the pandemic.

“A few were delayed but in by the time I needed to process for budget reports,” Fox said. “I have extended the deadline for a few nonprofits to have their applications submitted.”

Despite the delays, preparation of the budget is on schedule and department meetings began this week.

The Board of Commissioners will have a first look at the budget, including requests and projects on May 12. The completed budget should be submitted to the board by June 1.

The state has made provisions for counties to pass interim budgets if needed, but Fox believes Jackson’s budget will be ready by the June 30 deadline.

Fox and County Manager Don Adams, who is working part time while recovering from a health issue, consider a number of components when creating the budget.

“We look at the requests from our departments and agencies, look at revenues over the past several years, and any current situations that may have an impact on the revenues,” Fox said.

They also consider appeals for department or agency funding based on how that entity impacts the county and its residents along with whether there is money in the budget to fund the program, budget increase or request for financial support.

When making those decisions this year, the county will need to consider the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on the county’s coffers.

“I expect to see a decline in sales tax revenue and fees,” Fox said. “Some items may have to be delayed until we see the total impact.”

She also expects to see reductions in the amount of certain fees coming in.

Property taxes may also be impacted in the next year. 

“The current year property tax revenue is at 99.05 percent of the budgeted amount; at this point, I think the property tax revenue will be fine,” she said. “The bills will go out in August and won’t be considered past due until the first of January.”

When deciding what to fund, decision-makers would likely cancel capital projects or decline to fund new programs. Some may only need to be delayed a few months until the full impact of the pandemic is known.

Jackson County is fortunate that there is money in the fund balance to offset some of the losses, Fox said.

Appalachian Trail Groups Request Trail Closure

Admin., Smoky Mountain News

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has requested that the federal government officially close the 2,193-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the 31 official A.T. Maintaining Clubs, 29 — including the Carolina Mountain Club and Nantahala Hiking Club — joined the ATC in its request.

The formal letter asks that the trail be closed immediately through April 30, with managers then convening intermittently to decide whether the trail is safe to open again.

“We are alarmed at the incredible increase in usage at many of the ANST’s most popular sites and believe that uniformity in access (i.e. none) is the only way to provide the proper safety for our gateway communities, trail users and federal employees,” the letter reads. “It is now clear to us that the lack of uniformity across our connected units is causing confusion and preventing appropriate social distancing in addition to continuing to allow for the potential contamination of physical structures such as privies and shelters with no Service, Conservancy, or Club staff or volunteers available to keep them sanitized.”

The unprecedented request for closure comes on the heels of a surge in visitor use despite multiple social-distancing orders issued by state and local governments. The Trail, which spans 14 states and passes through 88 counties, is within a day’s drive for half of the U.S. population. Crowding at iconic and well-known A.T. locations became unsafe, as many believed they could avoid COVID-19 by journeying to public lands.

Prior to the request for closure, the ATC asked all staff, volunteers and visitors to voluntarily stay off the trail, and the National Park Service office closed all the shelters and privies it manages. The A.T. passes through several NPS units and national forests that have closed completely or otherwise removed A.T. access prior to sending of the letter.

www.appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.

“Greening up the Mountains” Spring 2020 Virtual 5K – April 14

Jackson County Parks & Rec

Are you discouraged by having your favorite events canceled? Well so are we! As you know, we annually host The Greening Up The Mountains Festival 5k Race. Unfortunately with the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has been canceled.

But you are in luck! We are hosting the 5k with a twist. It will be a virtual race!

The Spring 2020 Virtual 5k is open for registration‼?

Click on the link below for details. Remember…this can be done ANYWHERE! Greenway, road, trail, treadmill, run, walk, take your dog, push a stroller. ANYWHERE! Just remember to practice social distancing protocol!

You’ll have 48 hours (9am 4/24-9am 4/26) to post your results. All of those who register and post results will get a SWEET commemorative t-shirt for this virtual event. HannaCole’s is working on our design.

Local folks, we will set up a no-contact, easy pick up for your shirts. Out of town folks, we will mail your’s to you.

To sign up go to: Greening up the Mountains Run Sign up

(Yes, it says Greening Up the Mountains….but it’s not. Just click on it. ??)

Please email Jenifer Pressley at jeniferpressley@jacksonnc.org should you have any questions.

Jackson residents test positive for coronavirus – April 14

Holly Kays, Smoky Mountain News

Two full-time Jackson County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the Jackson County Department of Public Health learned today.

The residents have been in isolation, and the JCDPH will continue to monitor them throughout the duration of their isolation. The department is working to identify close contacts of these positive case and to determine how the individuals contracted the virus.

“We are in the beginnings of our communicable disease investigation,” said Melissa McKnight, deputy health director. “We are still gathering information on their close contacts and travel history to see if their exposure is due to those circumstances or if we have confirmation of community spread in Jackson County.  We do know that these are separate individual cases that are full time residents of Jackson County.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a close contact as being within approximately 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 infection for 10 minutes or longer. Based on information provided by the residents, staff will reach out to close contacts, assess their risk of exposure and determine if they need to take any additional measures.

“The identification of positive cases in full-time residents does not stop us from our proactive prevention efforts or our willingness to adapt to guidelines set by the state of North Carolina and the federal government,” said a press release announcing the cases. “However, this information stresses the point that everyone should be staying home as much as possible to reduce our chances of exposing ourselves or others to COVID-19.”

These confirmed cases make Jackson the 92nd county to have at least one verified COVID-19 case among its residents, but the virus has been present in the county since before March 23. On that date, a part-time resident of the county tested positive. However, because that person’s primary residence is not in Jackson County, the case was attributed to the person’s home state rather than to North Carolina. A total of two cases have so far been confirmed in part-time residents.

Case counts for both full-time and part-time Jackson County residents are posted at http://health.jacksonnc.org/covid19. A hotline for COVID-19 questions is open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 828.631.HELP

Jackson County Commissioners Meeting Review – April 7

Thanks to Gayle Barker Woody, Jackson County Commissioner

I am sharing some notes to address questions I have received from citizens during this CORONA-VIRUS crisis. This is NOT a comprehensive report on our meeting.

“What are you all doing to address the crisis?”

Well, as individual commissioners, we are each doing individual things. I think when folks ask this question – they want to know what our County Government is doing. We had a report Tuesday from the following:

1) Our acting County Manager and County Attorney, Heather Baker.
Mrs. Baker, by the way, is doing an outstanding job filling in for County Manager Don Adams. He is doing well recovering from a heart attack and by-pass surgery.
Mrs. Baker is overseeing all functions of County Government. All departments are open and serving citizens. Whenever possible, they are working remotely, and if that is not possible, they are taking all necessary precautions. Please CALL the County Department first if you require their services. (phone numbers are on the WEB site) They will let you know if you NEED to come to the Justice Center. Otherwise, they will help you over the phone.

2) Todd Dillard – Director Emergency Management Team
Mr. Dillard is doing an outstanding job coordinating our team and services. The Team has been operational since March 16 – 24/7 and is one of the reasons we have a low number of infections so far. They have addressed 398 health related calls so far. They have ordered large amounts of protective gear, including masks. They have purchased and deployed 4 new (making a total of 8 county wide) message boards which encourage following state and county directives. They can also post emergency updates as needed. The state of North Carolina evaluates each county with a “Preparedness Rating”. In 2017-18 Jackson County earned a “B” rating. In February of 2020, Jackson County earned a 100% rating – due in large part to the leadership of Todd Dillard. (that is according to Shelley Carroway, Health Director)

3) Shelley Carroway – Jackson County Department of Public Health – Director
Good data allows our county officials to make good decisions. Mrs. Carroway and her staff, including Mellissa McNight, Deputy Health Director, are working tirelessly to keep us updated and aware of current COVID-19 cases and results of testing as we move forward. She emphasized the importance of continuing the “stay home, stay safe” order. In fact, now more than ever as we reach a critical period of the outbreak “curve”. Ms. Carroway emphasized the need to keep social distancing and take it very seriously. We still have 2 known cases of COVID-19 in Jackson County, but there are test results continually coming in, so that number can change. For daily updates, go to the Health Department WEB site.

4) Chip Hall – Sheriff, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department
Sheriff Hall told us he is in daily communication with State officials and surrounding counties’ Sheriff Departments. He shared several recent changes to address current needs –
a) School Resource Officers have been reassigned duties in the community
b) There are increased patrols in southern Jackson County
c) There are increased patrols county wide
d) They are monitoring county businesses’ compliance with directives and orders
e) No fines have currently been assessed. So far, businesses are responding to officers’ concerns about non-compliance
f) No need for curfew at this time. The volume of traffic drops after 8:00pm when businesses close. This will continue to be evaluated.
g) The State of North Carolina does not recommend road closures. Jackson County has US Highways as well as State highways and our local roads. Essential traffic uses these roads throughout our county.

If you have questions about the above information, please email me at gaylewoody@jacksonnc.org. I do not reply to Facebook messages. It is all I can do to keep up with email and texts.

Thank you to ALL our public servants who are serving us so well during these difficult days.

May each of us do our part as well. Stay well and safe.
Gayle

 

It’s Farmers Market Time – April 1

Admin, Smoky Mountain News

(portion of larger article including additional counties)

While COVID-19 has caused cancellations and closures aplenty, many area farmers markets will open as normal this spring.

According to guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, farmers markets fall under the same classification as grocery stores and are considered an important source of food for local communities.

Farmers markets that stay open during the outbreak should follow the same state and federal mandates as grocery stores regarding social distancing and crowd size. In keeping with Executive Order 118, they also may not offer any kind of dine-in service.

Here’s a roundup of the markets that have confirmed their intent to open.

Jackson County Farmers Market, Sylva

  • Getting there: Market held year-round at Bridge Park. Hours are: April to October, Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, and Wednesdays, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.; November to March 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays only.
  • What’s happening: A variety of locally produced vegetables, meats, honey, plants and crafts. Plant starts, native plants, mushrooms, greens and other in-season veggies, spices, eggs, baked goods, occasional brick-oven fired pizza, goat cheese, flowers and local crafts such as pottery, soaps, jewelry, journals, toys, candles, bird feeders, note cards and more for sale by 30-35 vendors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, vendors will be spaced further apart and customers moved through to avoid congregating. Tokens will be sanitized, a handwashing station will be available and a doctor will be on hand to assist and even take temperatures.
  • Ways to pay: Cash, credit, debit and SNAP benefits accepted. Double Up Food Bucks for SNAP recipients available.
  • Contact: Lisa McBride, 828.393.5236 or jacksoncountyfarmersmarket@gmail.com. Online at www.facebook.com/thegloriousjacksoncountyfarmersmarket, or www.jacksoncountyfarmersmarket.org.

 

WCU’s Bardo Arts Center Offers Virtual Opportunities – April 9

Admin., Smoky Mountain News

Bardo Arts Center is excited to announce a new webpage dedicated to virtual opportunities — arts.wcu.edu/virtual. This page houses information regarding all the various online experiences and events being hosted by the WCU Bardo Arts Center and the Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts.

Highlights include a series of Thursday lunchtime webinar presentations, which will be streamed on Facebook and Youtube, as well as through the arts.wcu.edu/virtual website. The Thursday webinar series opens with a theatrical talkback, followed by three webinars related to WCU Fine Art Museum exhibitions. Each webinar will last between 45-90 minutes and will include a question and answer sessions. Details below.

April 9 at 12 p.m. | One Man, Two Guvnor’s Talkback

Watch the free streaming play on YouTube, One Man, Two Guvnor’s, beginning April 2 at 7 p.m. through April 9, presented by National Theatre Live. Then enjoy a talkback on Thursday April 9 at 12 p.m. with Dr. George H. Brown, Dean of the Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts. To watch One Man, Two Guvnor’s visit nationaltheatre.org.uk.

April 16 at 12 p.m. | Claire Van Vliet: Stone and Sky

The event features exhibiting artist, Claire Van Vliet, and WCU Fine Art Museum Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Carolyn Grosch. An interesting fact to note, the Museum holds the largest collection of vitreographs in the world, a printmaking medium that uses a glass plate to produce a printed image.

April 23 at 12 p.m. | Curious Terrain: WNC From the Air

Hear from exhibiting aerial photographer and pilot, Alex S. McLean, and James T. Costa, Executive Director of the Highlands Biological Station and WCU Professor of Evolutionary Biology. Curious Terrain features MacLean’s striking images of the seven western most counties of North Carolina and capture the unique qualities of the region’s-built environment while raising broader questions about humanity’s impact on the land.

April at 12 p.m. | Time and Again: Glass Works by Kit Paulson and SaraBeth Post

Enjoy a talk from exhibiting artist, SaraBeth Post, and WCU Fine Art Museum Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Carolyn Grosch. Funded in part by the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, this exhibition brought together two Penland-based artists—Kit Paulson and SaraBeth Post—whose works in glass explore ideas about time, history, memory, and the antique.

Discover more at arts.wcu.edu/virtual, such as gallery video tours, more streaming performance opportunities, and links to the Bardo Arts Center social media channels for daily content.

 

WCU Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts Update

Save the date for April 17 at 7 p.m. for a special virtual play reading of Love’s, Labour’s, Lost by William Shakespeare, featuring students from the School of Stage and Screen, directed by Dr. George H. Brown, Dean of the Belcher College. In addition, see a selection of work from students, alumni, and faculty by visiting the Belcher College social media channels for the School of Art and Design, School of Music, and School of Stage and Screen. Find links to the Belcher College social media channels and watching details for Love’s, Labour’s, Lost at arts.wcu.edu/virtual.

Beyond working on providing arts opportunities online to the public, the Belcher College had the exceptionally difficult task of transitioning all of their arts classes online. However, with the best creative brains on the job, the faculty and staff of the Belcher College came up with some of the strongest solutions for our students in order to ensure the academic integrity and educational experiences of their courses.

Please note that until further notice, the WCU Bardo Arts Center building is closed but will continue to provide access to the arts through these online experiences and opportunities.

 

Community Table more important – and more imperiled – than ever

By Dave Russell, Sylva Herald

The nonprofit working to feed Jackson County residents suffering from food insecurity finds itself asking the community for help of a different kind.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual asks – donations and volunteers – are not the Community Table’s biggest needs.

“The number one thing is for everybody to take this seriously,” Community Table Executive Director Paige Christie said. “People need to understand that this is real, this is dangerous and could kill the person standing next to them or that person could kill them.” 

The Community Table cannot become a “vector point” for COVID-19, she said.

“If we can’t get people to take it seriously and not gather in crowds down here, we’ll have to close,” she said. “Our biggest concern right now is maintaining the health and safety of our staff. If people are not taking this seriously and they get one of us sick, we’re done. We’re closed and we may not re-open. That’s worst-case scenario.”

Christie encountered three people last week who had not heard of the pandemic, she said.

Food costs are going up and monetary donations are essential. 

“We understand that’s getting harder as people lose their jobs,” she said. “We’re going to do the best we can for as long as we can. We’ve probably doubled the number of foodboxes we have given out in the last two weeks. We had to have an emergency secondary truck from MANNA Foodbank last week.”

Volunteers have been a mainstay of the Community Table, but not right now. 

“At this point, we are not taking on folks,” she said. “We’re running on a core staff of five who have been here from the start. We don’t know where people have been, we don’t know what they are doing outside of here. We don’t want them to endanger anybody and we don’t want them endangering us.”

The Community Table instituted drive-up pick-up earlier this week. 

Folks seeking a foodbox and meals should follow the cones and remain in their car to pick up food. 

Staff will speak to clients from a distance and bring a box and meals.

“We will bring them the food, set it on the ground and they can get out of their car and put it in their car and then drive away,” she said.

The service will be available from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. each weekday except Wednesday. Clients are limited to one visit per day.

Democratic candidates in WNC call for immediate Medicaid expansion – April 1, 2020

Cory Vaillancourt, Smoky Mountain News

As the greatest public health crisis in more than a hundred years continues to ravage both the physical and fiscal health of the world, the nation and the state of North Carolina, a group of 15 Democratic candidates is calling for the immediate expansion of Medicaid.

“It’s been critical for some time, and we have a General Assembly that basically just has refused to act on the issue,” said Brian Caskey, a Mills River Democrat currently running against incumbent Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards in the 48th Senate District. “Medicaid expansion for years has been the decent and moral thing to do, but right now it’s the necessary thing to do.”

North Carolina is one of just 14 states that haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage, which was made available via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

Beginning in 2014, states could choose to include people in Medicaid who earn up to 133 percent of the poverty level, with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost of the expansion population from 2014 through 2016, 95 percent of the cost in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019 and 90 percent in perpetuity thereafter.

North Carolina, like most of the South, declined to participate, citing the potential cost to states if the federal government ever decided to decrease or do away with the 90 percent funding level.

North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has also called for Medicaid expansion — something vehemently opposed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly; in fact, Cooper vetoed the state’s budget last summer over the failure to include Medicaid expansion, and nine months after the law requires a budget to be passed (July 1) Republicans still haven’t been able to override Cooper’s veto.

A press release issued by the Caskey campaign on March 30 cites the global Coronavirus Pandemic and the “unimaginable stresses” it will place on North Carolina’s health care system as big reasons for the collective call for Medicaid expansion.

Caskey is joined by a host of Western North Carolina Democrats, including Ed Hallyburton of Rutherford County (District 112).

“No matter what we look like, where we live or what’s in our wallets, getting sick reminds us that at our core we’re all just human,” Hallyburton said. “For too long, we’ve allowed a powerful few to profit by making life and health a product for sale. We must ensure that everyone can access the care that is needed, without fearing bankruptcy. This is a moment that we must stand with, and for, each other — across our differences and against anything and anyone who seeks to divide us.”

David Wheeler, Democratic nominee for the Senate seat in Polk, Rutherford, McDowell, Mitchell, Yancey and Madison counties (District 47) said that the lack of access to quality health care is “not acceptable in the most powerful country in the world and one of the most prosperous states in the country.”

In addition to Caskey, Hallyburton and Wheeler, N.C. Senate candidates Edward Phifer (Morganton), Julie Mayfield (Asheville) and Victoria Fox (Canton) also signed on to the release.

N.C. House candidates supporting the effort include Ted Remington (Marion) Cecelia Surratt (Morganton), Sam Edney (Brevard), Susan Raye Landis (Murphy), Alan Jones (Canton), Rep. Susan Fisher (Asheville), Rep. John Ager (Asheville) and Rep. Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville, who’s been campaigning on Medicaid expansion for some time now.

“Medicaid expansion is for low-wage workers in North Carolina, and our low wage worker community is taking the biggest hit,” said Queen. “They need health care. Can you imagine being without both a job and health care? We’ve already paid for it and the legislature is just wasting it. It’s way past time, and now the crisis is upon us.”

Moe Davis, the Democratic nominee to replace Congressman Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, has also indicated support for the demand, even though elected officials on the federal level have no say in the decision.

“Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina is not the solution to our broken health care coverage system, but it would toss a lifeline to thousands of people in this district who were already struggling to tread water before COVID19 broke open the dam,” said Davis. “If we really had ‘the greatest economy ever in the history of the United States’ as [President Donald] Trump said a month ago when he was in India, we should have been paying down our debt then so we had the capacity to incur debt now when we’re in a crisis. The poor and those who now suddenly find themselves out of work should not have to bear the burden for the revenue problem that began with a massive giveaway to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans.”

Expanding Medicaid would cover more than 400,000 North Carolinians who currently lack access to health care coverage, according to Caskey’s release.

In Western North Carolina, expansion would cover between 600 and 900 people in each of the region’s smallest counties like Clay, Graham and Mitchell.

In mid-sized counties like Avery, Cherokee, Macon, Madison, Polk, Transylvania, Swain and Yancey, that number is between 1,000 and 2,000 in each county.

In larger counties like Burke, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson and Rutherford, between 3,300 and 6,900 people would be covered in each county. In Buncombe County, WNC’s largest county, the number of people who would benefit is estimated to be nearly 17,000.

All in all, that’s almost 56,000 people throughout WNC. The economic growth associated with expansion is estimated by Caskey to be more than half a billion dollars.

“As of [March 30], 44 percent of the COVID19 cases reported are among the working poor, people aged between 25 and 49,” Caskey said. “These are the people who can’t afford to take off work. These are the very people most likely without health insurance and are the very ones bagging your groceries or handling your food in the drive-thru.”

Queen’s November opponent, Bryson City Republican and former Rep. Mike Clampitt, said that in light of the recent federal stimulus package — the largest in American history — as well as uncertainty over the financial impact of the pandemic on tax revenues, he was leery of winding up on the hook for the costs of Medicaid expansion.

“I think it would be a knee-jerk reaction, and with the cost to taxpayers especially in light of the loss of jobs and the tax revenue, we need to be good stewards of what money we do have at the moment and be very thoughtful as we go forward,” Clampitt said. “I’m for health care, but we need to take a step back, be rational, and look at the affordability.”

Davis’ opponent in the N.C. District 11 congressional race has yet to be determined — the runoff between Republicans Lynda Bennett, of Maggie Valley, and Madison Cawthorn, of Hendersonville, was recently moved from May 12 to June 23 as a result of the pandemic.

Bennett didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story, but Cawthorn doesn’t see Medicaid expansion as the right move.

“I don’t think it is,” Cawthorn said. “I don’t think the government does anything efficiently. What they should be doing is introducing more competition and deregulating a lot of the health care industry.”

Caskey’s opponent, Sen. Edwards, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but both Caskey and a quick Google search say that Edwards has been one of the greatest opponents of Medicaid expansion in the General Assembly.

“This is 100 percent of the reason why he’s wrong for North Carolina,” Caskey said. “I’ve been telling people at all my events that Chuck Edwards is simply a Raleigh yes man. He’s simply there to vote for the majority party in Raleigh. November is going to offer voters a choice.”

Stepping Up to Face the Challenges of a New Reality: “Sylva Herald” Changes

Editorial, Sylva Herald

Sylva Herald Announces Changes 

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have put an end to business as usual in Jackson County.

Simply put, the business of people in Jackson County is, well, people. Gatherings of people, to be specific, at places like restaurants and breweries, at churches, at venues like Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, the Jackson County Public Library, at Western Carolina University’s Ramsey Center and on and on.

In a time of pandemic, gathering together is possibly the most dangerous thing we can do.

Gov. Roy Cooper has shuttered restaurants except for takeout and delivery. The big venues of the area have gone dark.

Workers and employers are feeling the impacts. So is the Sylva Herald.

Advertising has taken a dive as businesses close or curtail operations. The lucrative months for a town that relies on spring and summer tourism to carry it through the dark months aren’t going to provide a buffer this year.

Beyond that, the lifeblood of this paper’s usual content – church announcements, gallery openings, book readings and high school and collegiate sports – has been poisoned by the coronavirus as well.

It’s hard to have a sports section when you don’t have sports. It’s impossible to report on community events when there aren’t any, outside of cyberspace.

But even though the community is hunkered down, it still needs a reliable source of information. We intend to continue to be that source.

But it’s going to look a little different.

We’ve reduced our normal operating hours, basically to Monday-Wednesday. Reporters and editors will work more from home and work in staggered shifts in an effort to protect from possible coronavirus exposure and to trim payroll. We’ve upped our online presence at our web page and Facebook site.

We’ll work to combine as many pages as we can, and may start printing papers of only one section instead of the normal two or three. Again, with spring sports on hold, that’s not a hard call.

This plan should keep us going into summer even if the pandemic situation doesn’t improve. It will allow us to continue to be the trusted source of information in these extraordinary times.

In the meantime, we offer the deepest thanks to our readers for offering news updates and tips and for invaluable help in shooting down the rumors that are spreading like wildfire in this age. We are truly all in this together, and the response from this community – pitching in, helping out, lending a hand to those in need – just reinforces what we’ve all known for a very long time:

This is a place worth fighting for.

We intend to keep swinging.

 

SMHS Announces Remote Learning Starts March 31

Smoky Mountain High School weekly newsletter:

Remote Learning Begins Tuesday
Remote learning for all Jackson County Public Schools students begins on Tuesday, Mar. 31. Teachers have been working hard to make contact with all of their students and to prepare instruction that will be delivered online and/or through printed packets. A website has been created that will contain contact information for all teachers, along with links to learning resources and other help. The address is: http://smh.jcpsnc.org/smhremotelearning/ A link for the site will be added to the student ClassLink homepage.
New information will be added to the site on a regular basis, but if you have any questions in the meantime about the new remote learning process, please call the school at 586-2177.

Food Delivery Update
Food delivery by school bus will be consolidated beginning this week. The times will be adjusted and may be different from previous delivery times. Please be patient with us as we work to make this system more efficient and better for our overall community. Our goal is to eventually have a consistent time this you can depend on.

If you or a family you know needs to sign up for food delivery, please complete the form at this link: https://www.jcpsnc.org/food If you are interested in volunteering to help with the food delivery program, please visit the same site and choose the appropriate link. If you have any questions about the food delivery program, please call the school at 586-2177.

Important Contact Information
Due to school closings, it is more important than ever that the school have up-to-date contact information for every Smoky Mountain High School student. Teachers have made contact with students with phone calls, texts, and/or emails, but not every student has been reachable. If you know any student who has not heard from the school or who has limited contact information, please call 586-2177 if you have contact information for them. We understand that not everyone has internet access, so it is especially important for us to be able to reach them by phone.

All students are urged to check their school email which can be accessed through ClassLink (Office365: Outlook) which does not require a sign in if students are logged into their school devices, or by going directly to outlook.com and signing in. Student email addresses are always their computer username followed by @student.jcpsmail.org Their passwords are the same as the password they use to login to their school computer. Students are also encouraged to download the Outlook app to their phones or devices. Outlook sends notifications whenever new email has arrived.

Any student who needs technical help can call the technology help desk directly at 586-2177, x1999.

Jackson’s Latest Local Information on COVID-19 Q&A -March 25, 2020

Sylva Herald

These are unsettling times. Jackson County and municipal leaders, public health officials, emergency responders and local law enforcement believe a continual flow of up-to-date information is critical.

As best we can, we are answering the community’s questions through a variety of formats.

This is our second Q&A (the first can be found at jacksonnc.org (click on “emergency declaration” at the bottom of the page) or go to @jacksonNCEM on Facebook and scroll to yesterday’s post (March 24).

Q: Why are part-time residents being allowed into Jackson County?
A: Because they have the right to access and use the property they own in Jackson County, and we don’t currently have the ability to prevent them from accessing their property. Local government and public health officials do encourage arriving part-time residents to practice self-distancing or to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. “More generally, we urge our seasonal neighbors to weigh the wisdom of travel and, additionally, of coming into a community with limited health resources,” Health Department Director Shelley Carraway said.

Q: When does the ban on short-term rentals start?
A: Today (March 25) at 5 p.m. no rentals of less than a month will be allowed in Jackson County. The restriction does not apply to people working in the area, staying for emergency shelter, sheltering for domestic violence protection or participating as COVID-19 medical-response personnel. Additionally, Gov. Roy Cooper ordered certain businesses to close today, too, as did Jackson County. (see: https://governor.nc.gov/news and www.jacksonnc.org (click on State of Emergency at the bottom of the page for a list).

Q: Why don’t you take more drastic action?
A: County, municipal, health and law-enforcement leaders are continually assessing the steps needed to protect this community. Local emergency management, law enforcement and medical responders participate in a daily conference call each morning about COVID-19 with Health Department officials, local government and Harris Regional Hospital representatives. During the conference call, up-to-date information is shared and a daily response plan is formulated.

Q: Why is the state listing a COVID-19 case in Jackson County when you said on Monday there is a single COVID-19 case that involves a part-time resident, meaning it would not be counted in North Carolina? Are there actually two cases?
A: No. Local public health officials are in contact with their state counterparts to correct this error. There is one COVID-19 case in Jackson County. To date, we have no evidence of community transmission in Jackson County. The Health Department updates the case count daily, by noon, on its website.

Q: What is community spread?
A: This is when a patient contracts COVID-19, but we don’t know how they contracted it, because they do not have a travel history or a known contact with a person with COVID-19. North Carolina had its first case of COVID-19 on March 19.

Q: Can I get tested for COVID-19 at the Jackson County Department of Public Health?
A: Yes, JCDPH can test patients for COVID-19, if they meet the current criteria and have a doctor’s order. Tell your healthcare provider to call JCDPH first so that we can be prepared. Bring your doctor’s order with you or have your provider fax it to us.

Q: How can I access up-to-date information?
A: You can call 631-HELP (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) at Jackson County Emergency Management Operations and ask questions. You can get expert COVID-19 medical information by emailing questions to: publichealthinfo@jacksonnc.org. Also, visit http://health.jacksonnc.org and follow the Health Department on Facebook: @JacksonCoDPH. You can follow the local emergency and law enforcement response by going to jacksonnc.org and scrolling to the bottom of the page. Click on Declaration of State of Emergency. Also, follow Jackson County Emergency Services on Facebook (@jacksonNCEM). On a state level, if you have questions or concerns, call the COVID-19 phone line toll-free at 866-462-3821. This helpline is staffed by North Carolina Poison Control 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

First known COVID-19 case in Jackson County – Mar 25, 2020

By Dave Russell, Sylva Herald

COVID-19, commonly called the coronavirus, has made its first known appearance in Jackson County. COVID-19 is a sometimes-fatal disease identified in late 2019 and declared a pandemic on March 11. 

As of Wednesday morning, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 504 cases and no deaths. Nationwide, cases number 44,183 and deaths 544 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Macon County Public Health was notified of the local case Sunday when the patient was admitted to Highlands-Cashiers Hospital.

“The patient is a resident of Maryland and traveled to their secondary residence in Jackson County, where they became ill, and then went to HCH’s emergency room for care,” MCPH said in a release. The Jackson County Department of Public Health was immediately notified of the positive results.

According to MCPH, the patient has been transported to Mission Hospital in Asheville.

The Jackson County Department of Public Health is working with other health officials to identify people who came in close contact with the patient. The CDC defines close contact as within approximately 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for 10 minutes or longer.

Based on information provided by the patient, health officials said they would reach out to close contacts, assess their risk of exposure and determine if they need to take any additional measures. The household members of the patient are in self-quarantine in Jackson County.

Since the patient is a part-time resident of Jackson County, the case will be identified as a Maryland case, not as a Jackson County case, according to the Macon County Public Health statement.

The number of positive cases in Jackson County will be updated daily by noon on JCDPH’s website at http://health.jacksonnc.org/covid19

Jackson County Emergency Management has set up a helpline at 631-HELP.

“Now that we have community transmission in North Carolina, we are in the mitigation phase,” Health Department Director Shelley Carraway said. “As a community, we should be staying home as much as possible to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Carraway said during the investigation stage of this pandemic, testing was of utmost importance. 

Potential patients can be screened and tested at the Health Department and by their primary care physicians.

Mountain Park Urgent Care & Walk-in Clinic in Sylva has administered between 15 and 25 tests for the virus, Contract Administrator John Miller said. The new business, at 90 E. Main Street, offers drive-up testing.

“We’re seeing all patients outside,” he said. “We don’t know, and a lot of people don’t know, what they’ve got. Sinus issues come in and they have the trifecta – the coughing, the shortness of breath and the high fever – and then we have to rule out strep and flu. So out of an abundance of caution to everybody involved, including us, we’re seeing all patients outside.”

Patients are asked to call when they arrive and have a phone assessment.

Harris Regional Hospital has been preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have implemented a few precautionary measures to protect our patients, staff and community including rescheduling elective and non-urgent surgeries and outpatient services for at least 30 days,” said Steve Heatherly, HRH president and CEO. “We continue to enforce our zero-visitor policy. An important element to our preparedness is minimizing the risk of exposure in any way we can as we navigate this rapidly evolving situation and prepare for what the next few weeks may hold.”

Jackson Requires New Arrivals to Quarantine

by Holly Kays, Smoky Mountain News

Jackson County is now requiring anybody entering from another state or country to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, along with all household members.

Anyone entering Jackson County from outside North Carolina borders is expected to bring enough supplies — such as groceries and medication — to last for the entire 14 days. Violation of the declaration constitutes a Class 2 misdemeanor.

The order came in a second supplemental amendment to a previous Declaration of a Local State of Emergency and is signed by County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan. It applies to the entire county, including the municipal limits of Sylva, Dillsboro, Webster and Forest Hills.

The order goes into effect at noon today (Saturday, March 28) and will remain in effect until rescinded.

It follows a March 23 declaration that went into effect Wednesday, March 25. That declaration banned gatherings of 10 or more and mandated the closure of a long list of business types of lodging facilities. The move came hours after the announcement that a part-time county resident had tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating in the county.

The March 23 order requires all rental programs or places where the lease extends for less than a month to close. This requirement does not apply if the lease or accommodation is due to work for business, medical, construction, emergency services or other related services in Jackson County. It also does not apply to people experiencing homelessness who are being housed through HERE in Jackson County, or to lodging facilities used to assist with the COVID-19 response.

Other provisions of that order, including business closures and a 10-person gathering limit, are now statewide restrictions following a March 27 executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper.

Clarification: A previously posted version of this story said that the declaration applies to people arriving from another state or county. It actually applies to people arriving from another state or country.

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