NCDHHS Officials Urge North Carolinians to Get Vaccinated as Flu Season Begins, Stress Added Importance During COVID-19
Health officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services are urging North Carolina residents to protect themselves, their families and those around them by getting vaccinated against Influenza as the state enters flu season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, with COVID-19 still spreading in our communities, it’s critically important to get your flu vaccine,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “Flu can be a serious, sometimes deadly, disease. It is important to get vaccinated against the flu to keep you and your family healthy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination against the flu for everyone 6 months and older with any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine. Vaccination against the flu can make illness milder and reduce the risk of more serious outcomes, making it especially important for those at higher risk of complications, such as people over 65, children younger than 5, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or obesity. Some of those same groups are also at high risk of complications from COVID-19.
“This flu season, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated against the flu. We will have both the flu and COVID-19 widely circulating this fall and winter, and we are learning that people can get both infections at the same time,” said State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson. “We want people to protect themselves from the flu and also avoid overwhelming our hospitals so people can get care if they need it.”
Flu vaccinations are available at hospitals, pharmacies, private medical offices, some federally qualified health care centers and local health departments. Visit vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine to find locations.
In North Carolina, flu infections are most common from late fall to early spring with activity usually peaking in January or February. The following precautions should be taken to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses like COVID-19:
More information about flu is available online through the Division of Public Health and from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/flu. For information about COVID-19 in North Carolina, visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov.
Weekly updates on flu surveillance data are posted online at flu.ncdhhs.gov. The flu report will be posted every Thursday beginning Oct. 8 throughout the flu season with updated data from around the state on flu activity and other viral respiratory illnesses.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has been awarded a $35 million State Opioid Response (SOR) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These funds will be used to continue the state’s efforts to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic by providing treatment and supporting North Carolina’s Opioid Action Plan 2.0. Previously, NCDHHS has received a total of $58 million in SOR grants, which to date, has provided more than 14,000 individuals with treatment and recovery services.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for people who struggle with substance use disorders, and this funding will help us reduce overdoses in our state," Governor Roy Cooper said. "But we know that the best way to ensure people without coverage can get the treatment they need is expanding Medicaid to 600,000 North Carolinians."
This most recent award is part of the SOR grant program totaling $1.5 billion (per year, over two years) in awards to states and tribes across the country to combat the opioid crisis. In North Carolina, the $35,149,381 awarded for the 2020 Federal Fiscal Year will provide treatment services to at least 3,300 additional individuals in the first year and go toward funding continuing care for those who have been receiving services under existing opioid response grants. Funding will be allocated, mostly through the LME/MCOs, to provide:
These funds are especially vital as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for some individuals to access treatment for substance use disorder, prompting a spike in opioid overdoses. There has been a 21% increase in emergency department visits relating to opioid overdoses from the prior year, even as overall emergency department visits have declined. The North Carolina General Assembly recently allocated $400,000 of CARES Act funds to purchase naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, which is currently being distributed to Opioid Treatments Programs (OTPs) across the state. Additionally, a portion of a recent $2 million emergency grant award from SAMHSA won by NCDHHS is supporting access to OTPs in areas of the state particularly hard hit economically by the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Carolina’s Opioid Action Plan was released in June 2017 with community partners to combat the opioid crisis. The plan was updated in 2019 with the release of the Opioid Action Plan 2.0, which aims to reduce opioid overdoses in North Carolina and is built on three pillars: prevention, reducing harm and connecting to care.
Murphy, NC— Sheriff Derrick Palmer announced the September 8, 2020 arrest of 29-year-old Charles Anthony Payne, and the September 10, 2020 arrest of 62-year-old Carol Lynn Bruce and 33-year-old Patricia Ann Waldroup for charges involving the abduction of a minor child.
On September 7, 2020 after 6 pm a report was made to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s that a minor child was missing and possibly had run away. As the investigation continued, information was made known that Payne and Waldroup were the last known persons to have seen the child in the early hours of September 7, 2020. Payne was arrested at this point and taken to the Cherokee County Detention Center and charged with Felonious Restraint and placed under a $20,000 secure bond.
On September 8, 2020 during the early morning hours deputies and detectives along with family members began searching the area where the child was reported to have been dropped off by Payne and Waldroup. Within a few hours of the beginning of the search the child was located and taken for medical evaluation.
During the investigation, additional information was made known that Bruce had made a threat to one of the witness in the investigation in an attempt to prevent the witness from testifying. On September 10, 2020 Bruce (mother to Waldroup and Payne) was arrested for Intimidation of a Witness and taken to the Cherokee County Detention Center and placed under a $20,000 secure bond. Additionally, Waldroup was also arrested on September 10, 2020 for Felonious Restraint and taken to the Cherokee County Detention Center where she was confined under a $20,000 secure bond.
Sheriff Derrick Palmer stated, “This investigation is far from over. We are continuing to pursue several leads and anticipate additional charges. We do want to thank Hanging Dog Fire Department, Cherokee County EMS and Mapping, Jackson County NC Sheriff’s Office, Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County and Bradley County TN Sheriff’s Offices, and North Carolina Wildlife, who responded with tracking animals and other tools to help us bring the child back to safety. Due to the age of the victim we will not be making any further press releases.”
To report suspicious activity and suspect violations of the law please call 828-837-1344 or submit a tip at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nearly $40 million to NC Connect Students and Communities to High-Speed Internet, Help Educators With Remote Learning
Today, Governor Roy Cooper announced nearly $40 million in funding for NC Student Connect, a new partnership created to address internet connectivity gaps that are a barrier to remote learning for many North Carolina students. When school resumed in August, superintendents estimated that at least 100,000 students still lacked a reliable internet connection at home.
Many North Carolina students are currently attending school remotely and need reliable internet access to be able to connect with their teachers and access their lessons. Students who are attending school onsite may also need internet access at home to be able to complete assignments.
“Long before COVID-19, expanding access to high-speed internet has been a top priority for my administration, and this pandemic has made the need even more urgent,” said Governor Cooper. “NC Student Connect will make critical investments in high speed internet access and remote learning that will help students, health care and businesses in our state.”
Today’s NC Student Connect investment includes:
“This announcement illustrates the state’s unwavering commitment in connecting all our students and all of NC,” said DIT Acting Secretary Thomas Parrish. “There’s no greater action than investing in our children, our future world changers. We are grateful to our private partners, and all those who are assisting in this effort; our tomorrow says thank you.”
“As a parent with a child that is remote learning at home, I can testify to the urgent need for devices with high speed connectivity,” said DNCR Secretary Susi Hamilton. “As a leader in State government, I can answer the Governor’s call to help school children by lending them devices through our State Library and add to their learning experience through outdoor and cultural programming that this department offers.”
“Today’s actions significantly advance Governor Cooper’s commitment to quality, accessible high-speed internet for every North Carolina school district. Our Remote Learning Working Group continues to produce meaningful solutions for our most marginalized students. The time is now for bold, innovative, and collaborative solutions that deliver high-speed internet to every North Carolina home,” said Jeremy Collins, Director of Innovative Connectivity with Hometown Strong.
"Google is proud to work with our state, local, and corporate partners to provide innovative connectivity solutions—such as our Rolling Hotspots program in North Carolina—to help students access Wi-Fi. NCBCE's Remote Learning Working Group is thrilled that the state will invest in the NC Student Connect Program and provide professional development for educators as part of a collective effort to make it possible for more students to engage in school work remotely,” said Lilyn Hester, Head of External Affairs - Southeast, Google, who serves as vice chairwoman of NCBCE and Chairwoman of the NCBCE Remote Learning Working Group.
Initial private sector investments in remote learning and NC Student Connect include, AT&T, Duke Energy Foundation, Fidelity Investments, Google, Smithfield Foundation, Verizon Foundation, and Wells Fargo Foundation.
Governor Cooper announces additional funding to connect more North Carolinians to high-speed internet
Grants will fund projects Columbus, Duplin and Graham counties
Five new projects will expand high-speed internet access for residents in three rural counties, Governor Roy Cooper announced today along with the N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) and its Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO). The projects are made possible by more than $4 million in supplemental GREAT grant funding through the COVID-19 Recovery Act.
The projects are expected to connect 3,074 households and 191 businesses, agricultural operations and community anchor institutions in Columbus, Duplin and Graham counties to high-speed internet. The COVID-19 Recovery Act allocated supplemental funding for eligible projects not initially funded through the GREAT Grant program.
“It’s critical that we get more North Carolinians connected to high-speed internet, especially during this pandemic. For residents of these three counties, these projects will help them access work, education and healthcare within and beyond their communities," said Governor Cooper.
The news follows Governor Cooper’s announcement earlier this month of more than $12 million in 2019-2020 GREAT grants and COVID-19 Recovery Act funding to expand broadband infrastructure. With the addition of these grants, a total of more than $16 million has been awarded this year to expand access in 11 Tier 1 counties across the state through the GREAT grant program and the supplemental funding.
The COVID-19 Recovery Act, recognizing the increased importance of broadband expansion in light of the pandemic, allocated supplemental funding for eligible projects not initially funded through the GREAT Grant program.
“As more and more of our day-to-day life, business and services have moved online to adapt to the pandemic, many North Carolinians are faced with the added challenge of not having access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet,” Acting NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Thomas Parrish said. “These grants will help lessen that disparity and bring the necessary infrastructure and connectivity to our communities and to thousands of residents who desperately need it.”
Five providers were awarded $4,234,312 for projects in the following three counties:
County Provider Grant Amount
Columbus Service Telephone Co. $761,788.80
Duplin ATMC $1,230,916.85
Duplin Cloudwyze, Inc. $1,245,140
Duplin Eastern Carolina Broadband $652,020
Graham Sky Wave, Inc. $344,447
Applicants are scored based on three criteria: 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.
Since the GREAT grant program launched in 2018, the state has invested nearly $26 million in 26 Tier 1 counties, connecting more than 21,000 households, businesses and agricultural operations to high-speed internet. The state funding has been matched by more than $20 million in private investment. 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 and serves as a statewide resource for broadband access, first responder communications and state-led classroom connectivity initiatives. 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
The Board of Directors of Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) names Erik C. Brinke as Interim General Manager. Brinke will succeed Outgoing General Manager Jeremy Nelms, who has accepted a position as CEO of Flint Energies in Warner Robbins, Ga. Nelms’ last day with BRMEMC is Friday, Sept. 25. Brinke will serve in this interim position while the Board develops a plan for naming a permanent replacement.
An 18-year employee of BRMEMC, Brinke was hired by the Co-op to establish its first formal economic development department, and to support broadband deployment across the region. More recently, he has served as Director of Administrative Services and External Relations, managing the Co-op’s fleet, garage, facilities and maintenance, information systems/IT, communications and economic development efforts.
BRMEMC Board President Ray Cook said, “I am encouraged that we have been able to call on one of our own to continue the Co-op’s important work while the Board develops a plan for hiring a new General Manager. We are confident that Mr. Brinke’s extensive co-op experience will afford us the time we need to make the best choice for our Co-op’s future leader.”
“I feel blessed that the Board has placed its confidence in me for this interim role, and my hope is that I lead the Co-op well in its critically important work, while allowing the Board the time needed to ensure a smooth and efficient transition to our next permanent Manager,” said Interim General Manager Brinke.
A graduate of Murphy High School, Brinke holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is an NRECA Certified Key Account Executive (CKAE), and serves his community on numerous Boards and Commissions.
Brinke resides in Murphy with his wife, Paige, and their two children, Asher and Anna.
About Blue Ridge Mountain EMC
Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation is a member-owned electric cooperative headquartered in Young Harris, Georgia, serving nearly 47,000 members in Cherokee and Clay Counties in Western North Carolina, and Towns, Union and Fannin Counties in Northeast Georgia. Organized locally in 1937, BRMEMC has invested well over $280 million in physical infrastructure in its mission to provide reliable electric and broadband services to its members where those services would not otherwise have been available. Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.
To encourage proper etiquette during a pandemic and help others adapt to the new normal on campus, a student-led program at Western Carolina University is using positive reinforcement to remind fellow students of strategies to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
A group of 21 undergraduates known as “Catamounts Care Ambassadors” will reward fellow students who “get caught” doing the right things for helping stop the coronavirus spread. They will distribute Catamounts Care stickers to recognize positive behavior, such as wearing face coverings, exercising proper physical distancing and other campus protocols. The stickers then can be converted into prizes. The ambassadors also will develop a social media effort and other programs designed to keep fellow students informed, including setting an example and positively reinforcing the Catamounts Care culture.
The effort is made possible through a $31,000 grant from a partnership with the University of North Carolina Asheville from funding provided by the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory to support healthy campuses during the pandemic. Each ambassador will receive a $1,350 educational stipend. “Catamounts Care” is the name given to the university initiative to help members of the campus community stay healthy.
“These students stepped up and stepped in to become a part of our campus solution,” said Lane Perry, executive director of WCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. “We know that safe peer-to-peer communication and discussion is a highly effective way to disseminate information and encourage positive action.”
The wearing of face coverings in public settings, proper hand-washing or use of hand sanitizers, and physical distancing are important steps. Everyone returning to campus was given reusable cloth face coverings, a large container of sanitizing wipes, a refillable bottle of hand sanitizer, a thermometer and a copy of WCU pandemic standards.
“Serving as a Catamounts Care Ambassador has allowed me to continue to propel a culture of love, education and respect, rather than hate, on our beautiful campus, with our beautiful people,” said Daniel Tizon, a senior who also serves as director of community engagement for the Student Government Association and assistant chief of training with the WCU Emergency Medical Services. “Through positive reinforcement, our work creates ripples of hope that remind us that all of us are stronger than any one of us. Through taking ‘Catamount Pride’ seriously, together is how we will tackle the virus.”
Many of the student ambassadors completed the university’s pandemic preparedness mini course offered earlier this summer. They were among the nearly 60 participants made up of community members, faculty and staff who learned the history of pandemics, policy and its associated implications with COVID-19, health precaution basics, civic and community engagement and how to exemplify positive behavior. The mini course was taught by Kae Livsey, associate professor and director of community relations and scholarship for the School of Nursing; Patrick Baron, assistant professor and director of the Health Sciences Program; Amy Murphy-Nugen, associate professor of social work; and Perry.
“The mini course was a great success. Students, staff and faculty all engaged with the program we developed. Everyone, including myself, learned more about how to constructively engage our own community in order to promote health and prevent the avoidable negative consequences of this pandemic on our campus,” said Baron. “We hope the value of this kind of instruction is to raise awareness about the real issues we are confronting and to increase community preparedness by providing concrete, actionable information and models of positive roles and health-promoting behaviors for every community member. Personally, I aimed for every participant to come away with a better understanding of how interconnected our lives really are, for better or worse. We aimed to help inspire and enable a sense of collective responsibility for our mutual wellbeing.”
Moving forward, the Catamounts Care Ambassadors program will help to spread additional important information and messages and will be a vital part of the ongoing response to COVID-19, as it also develops new educational opportunities directed toward campus and the broader community in the future.
“I was reminded through the delivery and discussion of this course content that we fight fear, not only with a dose of faith, but with an IV of knowledge and research,” Perry said. “The more informed we are as members of our community the more likely positive behaviors and actions will beget more positive behaviors and actions. In turn, knowledge compounds faith and belief.”
Autumn leaves and the natural beauty of fall colors across Western North Carolina are a seasonal sensation that draw thousands of visitors and locals alike - and prompts an annual prognostication by Western Carolina University biology professor Beverly Collins.
“In short, for 2020 we can’t expect an extra bright, full-color display everywhere and there might be a less dramatic color peak, unless we get a stretch of sunny days and cold nights in late September and early- to mid-October,” said Collins, who combines her knowledge of forest ecology with observations of weather trends to assess the potential for vibrant leaf colors.
She explained the means behind the methods of her prediction, while acknowledging that, as with any forecast, there are margins for variations. “As we know, local light and temperature conditions vary widely in the mountains over elevation, slope exposure and vegetation type, and there certainly will be areas where colors are brighter or arrive earlier or later,” Collins said. “Sites that typically ‘turn earlier’ are likely to do so again, and colors will progress down the mountain and north to south as they have done in the past.”
Collins said predicted weather patterns can affect fall colors in two ways: First, fall colors may be subdued because there is little stress or cold temperatures to promote abundant yellow, orange and, especially, red pigments. Second, the colors may be spread out or lag over the season and landscape.
“The warm, rainy summer caused little drought or ‘hot sunny day’ stress and promoted a lush, full, green leaf canopy,” Collins said. “This is true even in some species we don’t want around. For example, kudzu seems to be overtaking road signs and covering trees at a faster clip than in years past. The long-term forecast for September and October is for warmer than average temperatures and average precipitation through October; low temperatures around Cullowhee are not predicted to reach the 30s until the last week of October. This suggests our summer weather pattern might hang around longer than normal.”
Collins explained that fall colors are a mixture of yellow, orange and red pigments that are revealed as photosynthesis and chlorophyll production wind down and ultimately stop when the weather turn colder. These pigments – especially the yellow and orange pigments – play a role in photosynthesis and help protect the plant from stresses; for example, when there is drought, when it’s bright and hot, or under high UV conditions. The pigments are always there in the leaf, but may be relatively less abundant when conditions are wet and warm. The red pigments, called anthocyanins, are also produced more in fall when the weather turns cool.