PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. – Due to state government orders for the month of September in regards to social distancing and crowd limits, NQC 2020 has been suspended. The alternate event, the NQC Fall Festival, will now take place from September 27 – October 3, 2020 at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, TN.
“It breaks our heart that, after 63 straight years, NQC will not occur in 2020,” states Clarke Beasley, Executive Vice President of the National Quartet Convention, Inc. “Though we are saddened by this, we are thankful that existing orders will allow us to do the alternate Fall Festival event for the benefit of the artists and Gospel Music fans, who still plan to come to Pigeon Forge from all over the country.”
Details for the NQC Fall Festival event are as follows:
NQC - the National Quartet Convention - was founded in 1957 by gospel music legend and former backup vocalist for Elvis Presley, J.D. Sumner who co-produced the event with James Blackwood. The annual convention was moved in later years to Nashville, TN and then to Louisville, KY where it was held for 20 years.
Murphy, N.C. – Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital (EWCH) will offer cardiology consultation appointments on Fridays beginning in September.
Dr. Harish Manyam, Erlanger’s Chief of Cardiology, and Dr. Jonathan Powell, the newest addition to the Erlanger Heart and Lung Institute, will rotate appointments on Fridays to provide cardiac consultations, including diagnostics, EKGs and device checks. Appointments are by referral only.
“Patients of western North Carolina will no longer need to travel long distances to receive a heart consultation,” said Erlanger Medical Group Senior VP Meridith O’Keefe. “We’re excited to be able to offer these services closer to home and welcome two of Erlanger Heart and Lung Institute’s finest cardiologists to the area.”
As an electrophysiologist, Dr. Manyam specializes in cardiac rhythm management. This specialty includes the management and treatment of complex heart arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation (also known as AFib) – an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
“Our medical community is thrilled to see additional specialty care coming to our region, which continues to benefit from being part of the Erlanger family,” said Dr. Thomas Clayton, EWCH Chief of Staff.
Individuals interested in making an appointment should discuss the referral process with their primary care physician or other provider. For more information, call 423-778-5661 or visit erlanger.org/heart.
The following press release is from the Office of Governor Roy Cooper.
“Support for a Determined North Carolina” lays out a path to weather the pandemic while boosting the state in the long term
Read the budget
Governor Roy Cooper today shared a recommended budget, Support for a Determined North Carolina, which outlines how to use the state’s remaining federal coronavirus funding and make responsible investments in the state’s future.
"Today I am sharing a recommended budget that offers Support for a Determined North Carolina," said Governor Cooper. "The budget I propose takes on the challenges of today while building for the promise of tomorrow. We have to rise to the occasion of this pandemic response now and focus on ways to emerge from this crisis stronger than before."
North Carolina has more than $900 million left in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds from the federal CARES Act. Governor Cooper’s budget lays out a plan to use this money to continue the state’s response to COVID-19.
Supporting North Carolinians Out of Work
Governor Cooper’s budget also proposes a responsible expansion of the state’s unemployment benefits program, which is currently among the stingiest in the nation. North Carolina provides among the lowest maximum benefits and is dead last in number of benefit weeks. Cooper’s proposal would increase the duration of available benefits from 12 weeks to 24 weeks and increase the maximum weekly benefit to $500. The budget would suspend any formula-driven unemployment insurance tax increases through 2022.
This proposal would keep the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Balance above $2 billion. There is currently $3.05 billion in the fund.
“This pandemic has put many North Carolinians out of work through no fault of their own, and we can do more to support them and also support our local economies,” said Governor Cooper.
Closing the Health Care Coverage Gap
Governor Cooper’s budget recommends expanding Medicaid to cover 600,000 more North Carolinians who are currently in a health care coverage gap. Expansion is 90% funded by the federal government with the remaining cost paid by health care providers and insurance companies, leaving the state with no additional cost.
“Medicaid expansion is perhaps the most important decision we can make right now to save lives, protect people’s health, boost our economy with billions of federal dollars, and save our rural hospitals, and it won’t cost the state anything,” said Governor Cooper. “North Carolina is one of only 12 states that still hasn’t expanded Medicaid – even Indiana did so when Vice President Mike Pence was their governor. As people find themselves suddenly without a job, underemployed, without the health care they counted on, we have a solution.”
Investing in Critical Infrastructure
Through the use of bonds, North Carolina can take advantage of historically low interest rates to improve the state’s health care infrastructure and response to COVID-19 as well as make other critical investments in schools, water and sewer systems and affordable housing.
The Governor proposes a $988 million health care infrastructure limited obligation bond to support health facilities, public health labs, vaccine development and more. In addition, his budget recommends placing a $4.3 billion infrastructure general obligation bond on the November 2021 ballot that would invest:
In April, the Governor directed the Office of State Budget and Management to issue directions to state agencies and universities to reduce expenditures, including not filling vacant positions, freezing salary adjustments, limiting purchases and limiting travel.
The Governor’s budget proposal finds additional savings by taking unused money from the private school voucher program. Any student currently receiving a voucher would continue to do so, but new students would not be added to the program.
CULLOWHEE – Thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise at Western Carolina University is conducting an analysis of the economic impact of the pandemic in the region.
The study intends to present a comprehensive policy analysis of the COVID-19 aftermath, along with leading results on rural economic development in the 23 western counties. The area has many small businesses with some degree of dependency on travel and tourism, hospitality and entertainment, including outdoor recreation and seasonal residents.
More than $109,000 has been provided for the project by the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, which was established by the General Assembly in 2016 for University of North Carolina System institutions to provide research data for practical use by state and local government.
“Academic quality and excellence are hallmarks of Western Carolina University and this grant award is a testament to your contribution to WCU’s robust community of scholarship,” said Chancellor Kelli R. Brown to the center’s primary investigators for the project. “Moreover, research and scholarship such as yours will create a high impact on your students, through their research engagement and your teaching. Collectively, our community benefits from the impact and results of your research.”
Part of the analysis includes WCU itself, as an employer and economic driver. The study will examine both dollars and jobs dependent on the many capacities and functions of the university. The university holds open-to-the-public concerts, theater and other events, such as the annual cultural appreciation festival, Mountain Heritage Day, and intercollegiate sporting events.
“We know from local news articles and from talking with our neighbors that COVID-19 and the executive orders in response to the virus have both helped and harmed the livelihoods of our friends and neighbors,” said Sean Mulholland, professor of economics and associate director of the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise.
The analysis will compare how local counties fared when compared to others in the state, as well as counties in neighboring states. It will also examine how the region responded to executive orders and the predicted effects of relaxing pandemic restrictions.
“Our goal is to find which Western North Carolina industries have suffered the most relative to industries in neighboring non-North Carolina counties,” Mulholland said. “Comparing North Carolina’s response to those in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee will give us insight about which polices were most helpful and most harmful.”
As the pandemic is ongoing, part of the study will be scenario-based, said Steve Ha, professor of economics and faculty affiliate of the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise. “This study will be one of the first to estimate how the regional economy will be adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic when colleges and universities are not fully operational,” he said. “According to the University of North Carolina System-wide study conducted in 2015, the 17 institutions created $27.9 billion income, which is the equivalent to 426,052 jobs. Considering the fact that there are about 5 million jobs in the state, that means almost one in 10 jobs in North Carolina is related to the UNC System universities directly or indirectly.”
Researchers also will contact faculty, staff and students, and local businesses, by an email survey about possible changes in local spending during the pandemic, to estimate both primary and indirect effects of consumer habits in and around the Cullowhee campus.
The policy analysis, taken from data of economic development in both social and geographic contexts, is intended to be comprehensive and guiding in its findings.
“We’re excited to receive this funding. It lets us study the economic impacts of the pandemic and shine light on what is needed to support bottom-up post-COVID-19 recovery,” said Edward Lopez, director of the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise, who holds the BB&T Distinguished Professorship in Capitalism. “Overall well-being depends crucially on economic well-being and we look forward to sharing the results of our studies with the public.”
Governor Cooper Announces $175 Million to Assist with Rental, Utility Payments for North Carolinians
Funding covers three new initiatives to help North Carolinians
Governor Roy Cooper today announced $175 million to help North Carolinians with rental and utility payment support in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 has strained family finances across North Carolina, and many people are struggling to make ends meet,” said Governor Cooper. “People need a safe, stable place to call home, especially during this pandemic, and we must help keep people in their homes and keep their utilities on while our economy recovers.”
Today’s announcement includes three programs designed to work together to help people avoid eviction and pay their bills, per the Governor’s direction.
Eviction Prevention and Utility Payments: Approximately $94 million of the funding will be disbursed by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) to support rental and utility payments and prevent evictions for those with a demonstrated need. The funding will be distributed to eligible community agencies around the state that will work directly with North Carolinians on an application and disbursement process. The fund includes $28 million from federal Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funding and the remaining $66 million from CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) money.
Crisis Response and Housing Stability: About $53 million of the funding is designated for the Emergency Solutions Grant-Coronavirus (ESG-CV) Program through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). The federal ESG-CV money is intended for families experiencing homelessness or who face a more immediate risk of homelessness and will be distributed by similar community agencies handling NCORR’s program. This innovative model will help streamline the process for families. Once a person applies, local community agencies will determine which program they are eligible for and then complete the application quickly.
“Families in crisis don’t have time to spare, and our state agencies are coordinating a plan to make it easier for people to get the support they need,” said Governor Cooper.
Information about how people can apply for the NCORR program and the ESG-GV program will be shared once the programs have launched in the coming weeks.
“During this crisis, it is more important than ever that government work smarter and faster to deliver relief to people facing eviction and utility disconnection. NCORR is proud to be partnering across agencies to make the most of federal funds in North Carolina,” said Chief Operating Officer Laura Hogshead.
”Having a stable, safe place to live is fundamental to well-being and health. We continue to prioritize supporting people in meeting basic needs as part of our COVID response,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen.
Local Government Funds: Another $28 million of federal funding will be administered by local governments through the North Carolina Department of Commerce. This money also comes from the federal CDBG-CV program and will be administered by incorporated municipalities under 50,000 residents and counties under 200,000 residents that apply to participate. Local governments are encouraged to prioritize the money locally to help their residents pay rent and outstanding utility bills. In addition, the funds may provide support for internet access, food distribution, COVID-19 testing and diagnosis and employment training for health care workers.
“The Commerce Department has a long history of collaborating with our local government partners to administer federal resources during times of crisis,” said Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland. “As a ready conduit for vital assistance to North Carolina communities, our CDBG program has proven its value many times over.”
The application process for local governments to apply for the Commerce-administered funding has opened. Eligible local governments who would like to apply for the Commerce CDBG-CV program can click here to learn more.
Governor Cooper Announces More Than $12 million to Expand Internet Access
Projects in 11 rural counties awarded GREAT grants and COVID-19 Recovery Act funding
People living and working in 11 rural counties will get expanded high-speed internet service thanks to more than $12 million in grants awarded by Governor Roy Cooper’s administration. Governor Cooper, along with the NC Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) and its Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO), announced today the award of the 2019-2020 Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant and COVID-19 Recovery Act funding.
The winning projects are expected to connect 8,017 families and 254 businesses, farms and community institutions to high-speed internet.
“With this pandemic, high-speed internet access is even more important for remote education, telemedicine and small businesses,” Gov. Cooper said. “These projects will help bridge the digital divide in 11 rural counties, so these communities can access important services and participate in our increasingly digital society and economy.”
The announcement comes during Rural Broadband Week, which Gov. Cooper declared to encourage efforts to get more rural North Carolina communities connected to high-speed internet.
Building on the success of its inaugural round of grants last year, the GREAT grant program provides matching grants to internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives that compete for funding to expand high-speed internet service in Tier 1 counties.
Additionally, the COVID-19 Recovery Act, recognizing the increased importance of broadband expansion in light of the pandemic, allocated funding for eligible projects.
“Too many North Carolinians lack access to the lifeline that high-speed internet connectivity offers. This divide is especially stark, currently, when residents are being asked to work, learn, access services and interact online more than ever,” acting NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Thomas Parrish said. “Because of the GREAT grants, thousands of households and hundreds of businesses in our state will finally have more options to connect, compete and thrive.”
Eleven providers and cooperatives were awarded $10,244,195 for projects in the following 11 counties, connecting 6,860 households and 243 businesses, agricultural operations and community anchor institutions to broadband. GREAT grant recipients include:
County — Applicant/Provider
County — Applicant/Provider
Six more last-mile broadband projects, located in Columbus, Duplin, Graham and Swain Counties, are under consideration for COVID-19 Recovery Act funding.
An announcement regarding those projects will be made in the coming weeks.
Applicants are scored based on the number of households, businesses and agricultural operations they propose to serve, the average cost to serve those households and the speeds offered. Applicants receive higher awards for agreeing to provide higher speed service, defined as a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. All awards are contingent on final executed grant agreements with these broadband provider partners.
Launched in 2018, the GREAT grant program previously awarded nearly $10 million for 20 projects in 18 Tier 1 counties to connect more than 10,000 households, businesses and agricultural operations. The program will expand to include Tier 2 counties in the upcoming grant cycle.
About the Broadband Infrastructure Office
NCDIT’s Broadband Infrastructure Office leads the statewide initiatives to expand high-speed internet access, adoption and use for all North Carolinians. In 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 91 (EO91), which lays out clear directives to expand broadband across the state through a task force comprised of cabinet agencies, which the office facilitates and supports.
Governor Roy Cooper Signs Executive Order to Improve Fair Hiring Practices at North Carolina State Agencies
Executive Order No. 158 Eliminates Employment Barriers for Individuals with Criminal Records
Read the Executive Order
Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 158 to implement fair chance policies at state agencies to increase employment opportunities for people with criminal records. The Order is effective immediately and will be implemented by November 1, 2020.
North Carolina will join 35 states and more than 150 cities and counties, including more than 10 in North Carolina, in reducing employment barriers for people with criminal records. This Order affects the more than 1.7 million people in North Carolina who have a criminal record and may face barriers to employment because of that record.
“People who have made mistakes often deserve a second chance, and having a job helps turn lives around,” said Governor Cooper. “Not only will this help reduce recidivism, it will give state government access to more qualified job applicants who now don’t even get the chance to show what good employees they would be.”
According to the National Employment Law Project, access to employment is vital for successful reentry to communities after imprisonment. Removing the criminal history question from the state’s employment application and implementing fair chance hiring policies will allow those with a criminal history to be more fairly considered based on their qualifications.
Governor Cooper encourages all state, county, and municipal government agencies and private employers to implement this change as well.
Executive Order 158 will also:
Read the full Executive Order and frequently asked questions about how it reduces employment barriers for qualified job applicants.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging North Carolinians who are enrolled in the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to use their food benefits during COVID-19 to support good nutrition for their families. All WIC participants are getting monthly food benefits automatically added to their eWIC account because of the pandemic.
Many of the WIC beneficiaries in North Carolina have not used their full food benefits each month since May 22, when the state’s initial Stay At Home Order in response to COVID-19 went into effect. Because WIC allowances do not roll over, beneficiaries lose any food balance they do not spend during a family issue month.
On March 20, 2020, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) waived the requirement for participants to attend appointments in-person at a local WIC clinic to renew their families’ food benefits each month. This change allows both WIC beneficiaries and WIC clinic staff to avoid unnecessary in-person contact during COVID-19, supporting states’ efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
NCDHHS is working to increase awareness that WIC food allowances are being auto-issued each month on participants’ family issue date so that North Carolinians can get the full benefits of the federal program. Families enrolled in WIC can download the Bnft® App, available in the App Store or on Google Play, and enable notifications to ensure they never miss an update to their eWIC account.
More information and tips for WIC participants can be found on the department’s new Use Your WIC During COVID-19 digital flyer, which is available in English and Spanish.
For beneficiaries who require further assistance navigating the program, local WIC clinics remain open and ready to serve, even if some have altered hours or locations due to COVID-19. Many of the services offered by WIC clinics can now also be managed over the phone. To find the contact information for a WIC clinic in North Carolina, search the WIC County Directory: www.nutritionnc.com/mywic/index.htm.
Visit nutritionnc.com/wic/pdf/covid-19/WICDuringCOVID-19 or nutritionnc.com/wic/pdf/covid-19/WICDuringCOVID-19-SPANISH for more information for beneficiaries about using WIC during COVID-19.
$15 million available from the new Job Retention Grant Program (JRG)
Businesses and nonprofit organizations in North Carolina that have experienced interruption due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic could qualify for up to $250,000 from a new state grant program, Governor Roy Cooper announced today. The Department of Commerce is now accepting applications for the Job Retention Grant Program (JRG) through the agency’s website.
“The Job Retention Grant Program offers another way for employers hit hard by COVID-19 to gain some relief,” said Governor Cooper. “This program aims to help employers keep employees on the payroll.”
The JRG initiative is supported by $15 million in federal COVID-19 funds, which the General Assembly appropriated for this use (S.L. 2020-80). Both for-profit and certain types of nonprofit employers may apply for grants through the program, which has a strict application deadline of September 1, 2020.
To qualify for a grant award, applicants must meet certain eligibility requirements, which include:
Applicants are eligible for a grant up to 125 percent of two months of its 2019 average monthly payroll costs, up to a maximum of $250,000. All applicants that apply and are eligible may expect to receive some level of assistance, but the actual amount of the grant will depend on the total number of eligible requests received by the program. If requests exceed the $15 million that’s available, then individual grant amounts will be lowered on a prorated basis.
The Department hopes to award grants by early October. All grantees will have to comply with federal and state reporting requirements as a condition of the grant.
The Department is conducting two educational webinars to support people interested in learning more about the JRG program and how to apply for funding. The first session took place Thursday, August 13 and had more than 100 participants. The next session will be held Monday, August 17 at 11 am. Registration is required to attend these hour-long sessions, and reservations are being accepted for the following dates by visiting this website.
More information about the Job Retention Grant Program, including access to the program’s online application form, can be found at the Department of Commerce website at nccommerce.com/jrg.
NCDHHS Corrects COVID-19 Testing Totals After Identifying LabCorp Reporting Discrepancy; No Impact to Key Metrics
Positive Cases and Percent Positive Tests Remain Unchanged
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services today announced corrections to the state’s daily and cumulative completed COVID-19 test counts after discovering a discrepancy between electronic and manual reporting of testing data that had been submitted by LabCorp. The LabCorp data error resulted in a higher count of total COVID-19 tests performed. The reporting error does NOT affect the key COVID-19 NC Dashboard trends North Carolina uses to monitor this pandemic, including the number of new positive cases and percent of tests that are positive. This error did not impact reporting of results to patients or doctors.
"Although this reporting error impacts our count of total tests completed, it does not alter our key metrics or change our understanding of COVID-19 transmission in North Carolina, which shows stabilization over the last few weeks," said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D.
The error reduces NCDHHS’s official count of cumulative tests performed from 2,044,727 to 1,823,283. It did not impact the case count total or the percent positive calculation that NCDHHS reports. Going back to the beginning of the reporting error, the data will be updated to reflect the accurate number of tests performed.
"Last week, NCDHHS informed us they had identified an inconsistency across LabCorp data submissions, which are provided to the state through both an electronic reporting system that is established through state regulations and a separate manual process as requested by NCDHHS," said Brian Caveney, Chief Medical Officer and President of LabCorp Diagnostics. "We determined that from late April until last week, Pixel by LabCorp at-home test collection kits that originated out-of-state but were processed in North Carolina were inadvertently included in the manual data submission to the state. We quickly corrected the issue and provided the updated manual reports to NCDHHS. LabCorp’s daily electronically reported data was accurate and unaffected by the error, and this issue does not affect other states or any results reported to patients or their providers."
In addition to working closely with LabCorp to correct this data reporting issue and ensure consistent data going forward, NCDHHS is taking proactive steps to increase data quality control and verification processes – including improving underlying data collection processes to reduce separate manual reporting requests and adding additional personnel to the Division of Public Health data team.
"NCDHHS is committed to data transparency and data accuracy as part of our COVID-19 response. The department is continually improving our data systems and engaging in regular quality control measures and is transparent when errors are detected," Secretary Cohen said. "We will continue to work closely with our many partners who submit data to us to help track this pandemic, including hospitals, laboratories, local health departments and many others."
As the pandemic has stretched on, NCDHHS has worked to improve data reporting systems. Currently, the state receives data on total tests and test results in two different ways. Below is background to understand why the LabCorp reporting error does not affect the key metrics of total confirmed cases or percent positive. This information has also been available on the NCDHHS COVID-19 dashboard.
How do labs provide testing data to the state?
Labs submit testing data to the state two ways: at the patient-level and in aggregate.
The percent positive rate is calculated using only patient-level electronic data in NC EDSS in order to accurately match up the total positive and negative tests run each individual day. Aggregate reports of total tests and the manually entered patient-level testing data are not included in the calculation.
So, while the reporting error affected the total tests, it did not impact the critical COVID-19 NC Dashboard metrics of total confirmed cases or the percentage of positive tests.
What is the difference between “tests” and “cases,” and how are they calculated on the COVID-19 NC Dashboard?