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Local representatives, organizations respond to protests, violence at Capitol Hill
Rep. Foxx tweets she's safe as protestors roamed the halls

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Watauga County representatives and local party leaders are condemning the violence that broke out on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.

Philip Lewis, a senior front page editor at the HuffPost, tweeted out a video of protestors pushing and shoving past Capitol Hill police officers to get to the building.

Earlier that day, President Donald Trump held a Stop the Steal rally with his supporters where he claimed the 2020 election was fraudulent and urged them to march to the Capitol building where they showed up en masse as Congress was voting to certify the presidential election.

Trump tweeted out at 3:13 p.m. to “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”

The Associated Press reported at 3:30 p.m. that Senators were evacuated and people were told to shelter in place and don gas masks after tear gas was deployed in the Capitol Rotunda. One person was reportedly shot at the Capitol according to the AP.

Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, tweeted at 3:30 p.m. that the National Guard was on its way to the Capitol at the direction of Trump.

At 4:15 p.m., Trump tweeted out a video talking to his supporters and telling them he knows their pain, but “we have to have law and order.”

“This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people,” Trump said in the video. “We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.”

Early in December, the AP reported that Attorney General William Barr said U.S. Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, who represents North Carolina’s 5th Congressional District including Watauga County, was at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Violence like what we’re witnessing in the United States Capitol is unacceptable,” Foxx tweeted at 2:49 p.m. as supporters roamed the halls of the Capitol. “People have the right to peacefully protest, and there is absolutely no reason to resort to destruction. God bless the brave men and women of the United States Capitol Police for protecting us.”

She later tweeted at 4:18 p.m. that she was safe and that law and order must be upheld.

”I am safe,” Foxx tweeted. “Members of my staff are safe. The protestors within the Capitol must immediately back down. Senseless violence accomplishes absolutely nothing.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper went as far as to call the events on Capitol Hill terrorism.

”The peaceful transition of power is the hallmark of our democracy,” Cooper tweeted. “Today’s terrorism is not who we are. This attack on our country must be overcome. America is better than this.”

On Jan. 7, the United States Capitol Police announced that Officer Brian Sicknick passed away due to injuries sustained while on-duty. According to a press release from the USCP, Sicknick was responding to the “riots” at the Capitol when was injured while physically engaging with protesters.

His death will be investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch, the USCP and its federal partners.

Rep. Foxx released a statement on Facebook after his death was announced.

”U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died while protecting this institution and the many people who work here,” Foxx wrote. “My prayers go out to his loved ones. His service will never be forgotten.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein tweeted Jan. 8 that his office is supporting federal law enforcement agencies investigating North Carolinians who participated in the “raid at the U.S. Capitol.”

”If you have any information about a North Carolinian who participated in this lawless insurrection, please email investigationtips@ncdoj.gov,” Stein tweeted.

Rep. Ray Pickett (R-Blowing Rock) condemned the violence that took place.

”I believe that peaceful and respectful protests are a part of the freedoms that we all enjoy, but violence is not the answer,” Pickett said. “I hope that everyone will regain their composure and no one else gets hurt. My prayers go out to those who lost their life.”

Pickett is referring to the reporting by the AP that a woman who was shot inside the Capitol had died.

The morning after the events on Capitol Hill, Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) posted a statement on her Facebook. In it, she said the events gave her an a sense of “overwhelming sadness, frustration, anger.”

”But I am buoyed by the bravery and courage of our law enforcement and first responders in the midst of the violence and chaos,” Ballard wrote in her statement. “I know those responsible will be held accountable and am thankful our elected officials were able to safely finish performing their Constitutional duties early this morning. The electoral certification result is final — we have a new President of the United States. It is a new day. Let’s go to work, listen and respect one another, hug our families tighter, pray for our nation and its leadership, disagree without hate and move forward.”

Kim Brackett, a Boone area resident, helped organize a bus from Boone to attend the rally after she said there was a lot of interest from people in the High Country.

Brackett said she went to join other Americans in support of Trump and for “free and fair elections.”

”Our group, as were most, were unaware of what had happened and most were already starting the long walk back for scheduled pick up before the violence started and departed on time,” Brackett said. “We condemn violence, support law and order and those responsible held accountable. Those that caused the violence do not represent the tens of millions of law abiding, hard word working, tax paying citizens and families that were there.”

Brackett said nine buses left from North Carolina and the one from Boone represented four counties. An invite from the North Carolina Values Coalition, which helped organize the event, stated there were 55 seats on the bus and seats were expected to go fast.

The North Carolina Values Coalition describes itself as non-partisan, nonprofit education and lobbying organization with a statewide grassroots network. In a Facebook post, the organization said those from North Carolina who traveled arrived back safely.

”Violence is wrong,” the Facebook post said. “We can do better. We are one Nation now on a different course.”

The Watauga County Democrats posted on Facebook that, “This Is a moral abdication on the part of the President.” A request for further comment had not been returned at the time of publication.

Charlie Wallin, chair of 5th District Democrats and Watauga County commissioner, condemned the violence at the Capitol. He said he was “shocked” and “disgusted” to see what happened on the Capitol.

”I am a firm believer of both the First Amendment and people’s right to peacefully assemble,” Wallin said. “Once people broke through barricades, broke windows and stormed the Capitol it ceased being a peaceful assembly. To forcefully enter the sacred chambers of the House and Senate where you earn the privilege to walk the floor and where leaders have gathered to mold and shape this nation is despicable.”

Wallin also said his thoughts and prayers are with everyone in DC, including the law enforcement and fire personnel.

The chair of the Watauga County GOP, Ann-Marie Yates, said in a statement that it was sad to see the “disintegration of the country before our eyes.”

”We denounce violence at every event but support one person one vote,” Yates said. “In an effort to restore unity as stated by President-elect Biden, we strongly encourage an investigation from the Justice Department regarding the questions surrounding the 2020 election and subsequent runoff elections of fraud allegations.”

Michael Davis, App State senior and student body president, worked on Capitol Hill as an intern for North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr in 2019.

”A peaceful transition of power has been a tradition that America has prided itself on for quite some time,” Davis said. “It is both sad and frustrating to see violence and misinformation continue to plague our democracy. I hope those that committed and aided today’s storming of the Capitol are held accountable, and that we will move forward as a nation and have a better start to the new year.”

Appalachian State Chancellor Sheri Everts also responded to the events that occurred. She posted a statement on Twitter that said the “violent attack” was reminder of the value of truth, civil discourse, and the respectful exchange of ideas and beliefs.

”As educators, it is our responsibility to and privilege to advance these fundamental principles,” Everts said in her statement. “As Mountaineers, we must be part of forging a future in which we recognize the humanity in none another to sustain the democracy we so deeply value.”

The AP reported that president-elect Joe Biden had called the violent protests on the U.S. Capitol “an assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: the doing of the people’s business.”

Phillip Ardoin, the chair of the political science department at Appalachian State, said the events occurring on the Capitol is something “we have not seen in contemporary American Politics.”

“Not only was today disturbing because of the symbolic intrusion into the U.S. Capitol, but these individuals were encouraged by a sitting president and his partisan supporters,” Ardoin said.

Five professors from Appalachian State have signed onto an open letter from political scientists calling for the removal of Trump through impeachment of the 25th Amendment. Those professors include

Ardoin said that he is an optimist and hopes that what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 will bring the country together.

“Perhaps we will see that we can’t keep thinking of our country as red America versus blue America,” Ardoin said. “We are the United States of America and if we want to move forward and address the critical challenges facing our country we must figure out a way to unite as a country.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking information that will help identify individuals who took part in the violence in Washington, DC. The FBI is accepting tips and digital media depicting rioting and violence in the U.S. Capitol Building and surrounding area on Jan. 6.

The AP reported on Jan. 12 that the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia has brought federal charges against about 20 people, while 40 others have been charged in D.C.’s Superior Court.


Watauga: what officials anticipate in 2021

The Watauga Democrat staff asked local leaders to give readers their best predictions for the issues, projects and events that are upcoming in 2021.

Watauga County

Watauga County will have many projects continuing and beginning in 2021, said County Manager Deron Geouque. He said first and foremost, the county will continue assistance to AppHealthCare and Appalachian Regional Healthcare System in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The vaccination process has begun and will continue well into the year. Modifications to county facilities have been ongoing to protect and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to the public and staff.

The opening of the new Watauga Community Recreation Center will occur once COVID-19 restrictions are reduced and the impact to the local health care system and community are lessened, Geouque said. He added hat the county is excited for the opening of the facility and it will be a welcomed event after all the community has experienced during 2020. The construction of a basketball, tennis, and pickleball courts will complement the new center and is scheduled for completion in late summer 2021.

The county recently purchased property in the Sampson area — a joint venture site with the NC Viper System — to continue the enhancement of emergency communications. The proposed tower construction is currently under federal review and is expected to begin in the spring. The project is. Additionally, a site is undergoing evaluation in the Foscoe area. Equipment has been upgraded and purchased to meet state requirements for interoperable encryption and will be installed in the coming year. All of these measures will increase efficiency and coverage of the county’s emergency communications system.

Multiple upgrades will progress through 2021 and 2022 at the Watauga County Sanitation Department, Geouque said. The implementation of an in-bound and out-bound scale along with increased signage to enhance the traffic flow in and out of the facility is ongoing. County composting will be further reviewed to determine its viability and sustainability at the landfill site.

In conjunction with exploring composting, the county recently submitted a GoldenLeaf grant to fund the High Country slaughter/chill facility for a six-county region (Ashe, Alleghany, Watauga, Avery, Caldwell and Mitchell). Watauga County is the grant applicant and was invited to submit a full proposal due Feb. 11. The byproducts from the facility would be utilized in the county’s composting operations if the analysis deems the operation feasible.

Watauga County Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman said when his office remained busy during the shut-down in spring 2020, he began to believe that people would soon seek to move to Watauga County and all of western North Carolina to escape densely populated urban areas.

“That has begun to occur sooner than I anticipated, and I believe the trend will continue into 2021 and the foreseeable future,” Furman said. “People will be seeking less dense, safer areas that also have more opportunities for outdoor activities. Many have discovered they can work effectively from home, and would like for their home, or second home, to be in such rural areas.”

Tangible evidence of that in 2020 included not only an increase in building permits, but also an increase in new residential developments, and the significant increase in sales of existing residences resulting in the lowest inventory of residences for sale in years. Furman said he is convinced the area will continue to see more of the same moving forward.

Furman added that the shut-down caused by the pandemic exposed a lack of adequate broadband throughout the county, and it remains to be problem. While he can’t predict that the situation will improve in 2021, he said he hopes for advancement in the area.

He also predicted “with confidence” that more of the Middle Fork Greenway will be built in 2021 with the incoming construction of Phases 1 and 4, particularly the section between Niley Cook Road and Tweetsie Railroad.

Boone

John Ward, the Boone town manager, said Boone will continue to focus on customer service, community safety and community resiliency in 2021. Due to COVID-19, Ward said operations may still look different.

Projects that were delayed, like the Howard Street Project and the sale of the Boone Police Department property, will resume. Other projects — like the replacement of a new $2 million water tank on Deck Hill Road, the renovation of the historic Rivers House on Rivers Street and the continued streetscape improvements to our historic downtown — will begin.

Ward said the 2020-21 budget for the town of Boone, which started July 1, was adopted during the pandemic so the start of 2021 will see a review of the financial history of the previous six months to make plans for the 2021/2022 budget.

“Trends and modeling were utilized in the preparation of the current budget and significant adjustments had to be discussed and made,” Ward said. “We expect to have to do this again. Impacts to revenues projects and capital expenses had to be delayed or cancelled but overall town operations have continued without disruption.”

Ward said town finances are currently in good shape.

A new face will start working for the town of Boone as George Santucci will take over as sustainability and special projects manager which will be charged with focusing on the town’s sustainability goals and objectives.

“While 2020 was abnormal, to say the least, 2021 has the potential to be a great year,” Ward said. “It is my hope that as we move into 2021 and as COVID-19 vaccines become available that we will see a return to more normal operations for everyone. It is my hope that the pressures that have been imposed on all of us begin to subside and that everyone remembers that we are all in this together. It is my hope that we all see the benefits of unity, cooperation and compromise in all things.”

Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain and Seven Devils

Blowing Rock Town Manager Shane Fox said 2021 will feature the start, continuation and end of numerous projects around the town.

Fox said the sidewalk to Bass Lake project is expected to be complete by the summer. The town is also working with N.C. Department of Transportation on three crosswalks, signalized crosswalks at the intersections of Sunset Drive and Main Street and U.S. 221 and Main Street, in addition to a non-signalized crosswalk at the intersection of Chestnut Drive and Main Street. Fox noted a formal bid package for the project will be introduced in January.

Fox said he was excited about a sustainability tourism plan, which was ordered by the town’s Tourism Development Authority, and should be finished by the end of the year. He said the town is working with Roger Brooks International, who has assisted hundreds of communities and small towns in branding and tourism development.

Another project that will begin construction in the spring will be landscaping around Sunset Drive, North Main Street and South Main Street. The project will be totally funded by the TDA.

A key part of the town’s development for Fox is keeping the town’s “small-town” spirit alive. Fox said that due to the amount of people who live in and visit Blowing Rock, it is important for the town to continue to improve and be able to hold everyone, while also not losing what makes the town special.

According to Beech Mountain Town Manager Robert “Bob” Pudney, a major focus for the town in 2021 will be its water system. Pudney said the town plans to continue working on their water distribution and sewer system, which has been going on for some time now.

Pudney added that while the COVID-19 pandemic was a hit to the town’s tourism numbers, those numbers have been picking up around the turn of the year. The self-proclaimed optimist said the town’s tourism is “on the right track” and real estate numbers have also been on the upswing.

Requests for comment from the town of Seven Devils were not returned by press time.

Watauga County Schools

In the coming year, Watauga County Schools is set to continue it’s planning and preparation for the construction of a new Valle Crucis School. Late last year, the Watauga Board of Education finalized its purchase of a tract of land in the Valle Crucis community known as the Hodges Property that will house the district’s newest K-8 school.

After completing a period of due diligence and viability testing on the tract of land, the board hopes to move forward with planning, design and construction of the facility. The Watauga County Board of Commissioners are currently in the process of selecting an architect for the design of the new school, according to Watuaga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott.

In addition to planning for the replacement of Valle Crucis School, the board of education is also set to continue work on the significant list of repairs and renovations at its existing facilities identified by the system’s 2017 architectural study. WCS will continue its work to improve parking lots, roofs, HVAC and security systems, Elliott said.

In the coming year, Elliott said WCS also hopes to work towards resuming normal school operations when it becomes safe to do so. To help move the district towards that goal, school officials have already implemented extensive social distancing and sanitation protocols that have helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in school facilities.

“School officials are constantly monitoring community spread and positive test rates so schools can operate as safely as possible,” Elliott said.

As vaccinations become more widely-available in the new year, WCS will continue to be in close cooperation with AppHealthCare, local healthcare providers and emergency management officials to train school nurses and staff in the administration of the vaccine. Watauga County Schools will also be working with AppHealthCare to use school facilities as community vaccination sites in which community members can be vaccinated in drive-through events.

Appalachian State

Because of rising COVID-19 numbers in the state and county, Appalachian State will start the spring 2021 semester completely online until Feb. 1. After that, classes will be a mix of face-to-face, hybrid and online.

All students moving back into the residences halls will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before moving back into the dorms.

According to Appalachian State spokesperson Megan Hayes, the university has an agreement in place with AppHealthCare to serve as a distribution site for COVID-19 vaccines for students, faculty and staff. The university will not independently procure, store or distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

Pending COVID-19 vaccine distribution, face-to-face classes are set to take place in fall 2021 according to Hayes.

The university will also continue providing free COVID-19 testing events in 2021 for current students, faculty and staff. The university is also starting to test wastewater from residence halls to help identify potential COVID-19 cases. According to the Centers for Disease and Control, wastewater testing has been used as a method for early detection of other diseases like polio.

Hayes also said efforts to support student wellness will continue in 2021, especially with continuation of the pandemic.

“We continue working on ways to minimize feelings of isolation and facilitate the community connections our students need while also following safety guidelines,” Everts said in an email to the campus on Dec. 4. “Upon their return to campus, students will find outdoor campfire locations. These will allow them to gather, roast hot dogs and marshmallows, listen to music and enjoy the outdoors, while staying physically distanced, but socially connected.”

Work on other major projects will also continue in 2021. Classrooms in Sanford Hall, which is in the process of being renovated, and common areas on the first floor will open for spring 2021 classes.

Appalachian State’s next residence hall, Laurel Creek Hall, is scheduled to open in the fall with 640 dorm beds. Design is also underway for New River Hall, which will replace Justice Hall in Fall 2022, according to Hayes.

The university’s Comprehensive Diversity Plan, currently being vetted by focus groups across campus, and the universities Climate Action Plan will be shared in early 2021.

Planning for the Appalachian State innovation campus will also continue through the year. The innovative campus “will enhance the university’s curriculum while strengthening the region’s economic development,” according to Hayes.

Law enforcement

Watauga Sheriff Len Hagaman said the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office will continue to do what it does in 2021, saying that the plan for the year is to make incremental improvements while keeping up with incidents around the county.

Hagaman said the office’s call line has gone “way up,” pointing to people being stuck at home more often due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the problems that arise from those situations.

“We’re in good shape,” Hagaman said. “Watauga’s a great place, but we’ve been inundated with people and that’s no surprise, drive around and look at the amount of traffic.”

The WCSO is looking to add a few new faces in 2021, filling out the staff to make work load management easier. The office is also looking to add record management to patrol cars in 2021, with Hagaman noting that officers have to go back to the office just to file reports, where they would prefer to get them done on the spot in the field.

According to Boone Police Chief Andy Le Beau, the Boone Police Department has undergone quite a change since the retirement of Dana Crawford in May 2020.

“We’ve done a restructure at the police department in a way that really reduces the span of control and leadership,” Le Beau said. “We’ve done this to provide greater oversight and to enhance our professionalism in all areas. We’re just continuing to work to make our police department, better and better and the service we provide to our community.”

Le Beau said that instead of having a chain of command which was dependent on just the chief and captain, the new group at the top is a chief, major and two captains.

“The process of improvement never ends,” Le Beau said of the restructure. “We always keep that as a goal before us to get better, because I just don’t believe you can stay at the status quo, you’re either moving forward or backwards.”

Le Beau said one thing the BPD continues to work toward is greater community involvement and relationships.

“2020 was a very interesting year in terms of the protests that occurred, starting in May, and also of course dealing with COVID-19 at the same time,” Le Beau said. “So, one of our real pushes that we’ve been making, and that we’re continuing to make, is developing relationships and building trust with the community. Some segments of our community feel totally comfortable with the police, and that’s great, but we’ve learned that there’s other segments of the community that didn’t feel as comfortable with the police, particularly dealing with minority communities. So we’ve had a big push, and are continuing to build relationships and developing trust with minority communities.”

Le Beau said one of the most exciting things about 2021 for him is the development of a community police committee. The committee was approved by the Boone Town Council in October and will look to build relationships, understanding and transparency between law enforcement and the community.

“My hope is by working with this community-lead group, we will really reach a lot of a lot of folks out there with what we’re doing, and help be leaders in this area that we’ve been working in,” Le Beau said.

Transportation

Five projects from the N.C. Department of Transportation are slated to finish up in 2021, according to Division 11 District Engineer Ivan Dishman.

Bridge replacements on Aho Road and Tweetsie Railroad Lane are both expected to be complete in the spring. The replacement on Tweetsie Railroad Lane will also involve a realignment.

Paving projects for Hardin Road and Sampson Road are expected to be complete in 2021, according to Dishman. The Sampson Road project also includes widening the road.

While the interstate’s widening has been completed in Watauga, there is still some work left to be done on U.S. 221. Dishman said that minor reforestation needs to be conducted around U.S. 221, and any lane closures will be short lived.

According to AppalCART Director Craig Hughes, AppalCART plans to begin the installation of an electric vehicle charging station in the spring, once a grant agreement with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is approved and signed.

“We will also be submitting our order for an electrical bus when authorization from NCDEQ is received,” Hughes said.

Hughes added that AppalCART is “tentatively considering” the addition of two fixed routes to support demand if Appalachian State University is able to resume in-person classes.

Business

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce is placing a high priority on pandemic recovery for the businesses in Boone.

“It’s still going to take a while for tourism to return to normal with more predictable travel patterns,” said David Jackson, CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “I think those businesses will continue to hang week to week to a degree as we move through the early part of the year. Hopefully we can see the vast majority of businesses be able to survive.”

Outside of recovery, Jackson said he expects to see some movement on the Howard Street revitalization project which would see improvements to Howard Street including making it a one-way westbound street for two blocks.

In 2021, Jackson said a number of small businesses are going to launch in grander form.

“I think we’re going to see some businesses that are going to come out of this as a direct byproduct of the time spent focusing on other things that maybe we traditionally haven’t had a chance to,” Jackson said. “We’ll see some retail turnover on King Street in the early part of the year. Nothing too major, more businesses going in than coming out.”

Depending on how Christmas week went for some local businesses, Jackson said they will keep an eye out on unemployment as some could close up the first part of the year.

Jackson said the first six months of 2021 is going to be important especially as government subsidies run out.

“That’s another group that’s been good at getting creative at administering their work. None of them have slacked off in the services they provide,” Jackson said. “The nonprofit community is a significant piece of our local economy. Hopefully we’ll get to a more normal mode of operation where they can fundraise appropriately.”

Jackson said he thinks this is a good opportunity to learn from the experience pandemic has brought and apply it to business operations moving forward.

“For people that are event centric, I think there’s a necessity for still catering to a part of our community that may not have access to things like vaccines, and to maintain our flexibility and delivering events in an alternative way, and reaching out to customers in alternative ways. I think the businesses that are invested in their online platforms, I don’t see that going away any time soon,” Jackson said.

In 2021, Jackson said another key is for the municipal governments to get along with one another. He said local governing bodies — specifically Watauga County and the Town of Boone — need to understand they play a significant role in how the community responds to the pandemic.

For the outdoor economy, Jackson sees a more regional conversation instead of just Watauga County. If the community can think more as a region, Jackson said that can benefit the county even more and help the region collectively move forward.

“I think we’re going to see that be a major part of the conversation as we’ll be adapting to travel trends that we’ll see evolve as the year goes on and how we can best position our regional assets to be a playground for people so they don’t feel like they’re going to the same place doing the same thing all the time,” Jackson said.

The new year means the start of a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic response for AppHealthCare. Jennifer Greene, director of health for AppHealthCare, said just like at the start of the pandemic in early 2020, they are still busy in early 2021.

“We’re in this exciting place of having a vaccine to deploy,” Greene said. “We’re still responding to cases. We’re doing case investigations. We’re still doing contact tracing. We’re still doing testing. Now we have a new goal of vaccinating the community as we can through the phases. It’s a challenging place, but it’s exciting.”

Greene said she is excited for more prevention work in 2021, and linking people with peer support for people who struggle with a substance use disorder. Recently, AppHealthCare has hired a team to work on infection prevention in long-term facilities across the region.

A new Community Health Needs Assessment will also be released in 2021. The assessment is updated every year, but a full one is released every three years.

“That’s going to help give some highlights to what needs are,” Greene said. “We’ve had to sort of put some things aside a little bit more this year, but that Community Health Needs Assessment is going to help us really refocus our energies. And hopefully, we will be through the majority of our response at that point.”

For the next six months, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is planning to continue caring for COVID-19 patients as well as mobilizing efforts to vaccinate the 200,000 people in its service area, according to senior vice president for system advancement for ARHS Rob Hudspeth.

One of ARHS’ main goals is to build immunity within the community.

“What immunity can only take place by getting vaccinated,” Hudspeth said. “One of our main goals will be to get a vaccine to everyone who wants one. Over the next few months we’ll be doing all we can to educate people about the effectiveness of the vaccine and then in partnering with community stakeholders (such as the health department) to roll out rapid response vaccine clinics.”

Outside of COVID-19, Hudspeth said some of the construction projects related to Watauga Medical Center have been delayed. Plans to relocate the intensive care unit are delayed because ARHS does not have the flex space to move patients in the ICU.

“We’re still moving forward on our Central Energy Plant but the new 48-bed patient care tower — which was scheduled for fall of 2022 completion — has been rescheduled for March 2023,” Hudspeth said.

In 2021, Hudspeth said a new service ARHS is offering is related to its new Heart and Vascular Center. For the first time, ARHS will offer Percutaneous Coronary Interventions 24 hours a day, seven days a week in its catheter lab.

PCI was formerly known as angioplasty with stent is a non-surgical procedure that uses a catheter to place a stent to open up blood vessels in the heart that have been narrowed by plaque buildup, according to Hudpseth.

“Plaque build-up can lead to heart attack and loss of heart muscle,” Hudpseth said. “In 2019 ARHS completed 117 PCIs locally but transferred over 300 off the mountain. Now that the cath lab is open 24/7, 365 days each year we have the ability to treat people here without transferring them. This service will truly save lives.”

Arts and recreation

One of the primary goals of Watauga County Parks and Recreation for 2021 is to open its new facility located at 231 Complex Drive in Boone, according to its director, Stephen Poulos. This, of course, will be dependent on COVID-19 protocols going into the coming year and the ability to socially distance.

“Obviously, trying to get this recreation center opened up is front and center of our goals this year,” Poulos said. “A couple of months ago we did have a Trunk-or-Treat, and we held a Christmas Parade. We’ll probably try to roll something out here in the next few days.”

Watauga Parks and Recreation is also hoping to host recreational sports for High Country children this year, however, this will also depend on whether or not the state eases its COVID-19 restrictions this coming year.

“Again, we’re going to try to get the facility open and try to run some basketball, volleyball, baseball (and) softball, right now with everything that’s going on everything is up in the air,” Poulos said. “Any program that we can run safely that we feel comfortable doing, and that the community wants to come out to, we plan to do that. But, the big thing is to be able to do it you have to have facilities, and right now we’re somewhat limited.”

Those seeking updated information regarding Watauga County Parks and Recreation Events can call (828) 264-9511 or visit www.wataugacounty.org/App_Pages/Dept/ParksRec/home.aspx.

Moving forward, The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country hopes to continue their virtual programming such as the Boone Docs documentary films series and virtual concerts which began following the cancellation of live performances during the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, the ongoing pandemic has cast a shadow of uncertainty on many in the arts world regarding upcoming public events.

“January is a pivotal planning month for performing arts groups across the country, but the uncertainty of the pandemic has really cast a monkey wrench into the machinery,” said Laura Kratt, executive director of the Appalachian Theatre. “The next big project for the theater is wading through the new pandemic funding bill which includes support for independent venues like the Appalachian Theatre to see if we are eligible and can apply.”

Currently, the Appalachian Theatre is also working to match a $100,000 challenge grant which was introduced this past December. According to past board chair John Cooper, the Appalachian Theatre is at 70-percent of its goal to match the $100,000 challenge grant that will go towards new contributions to the historic venue.

“We are confident that the remaining $30,000 will be donated by our generous patrons by the Jan. 31 deadline,” said Cooper said.

Another event includes the 5th Annual High Country Economic Kickoff Live from the Appalachian Theatre which is scheduled to take place on Jan. 28. The event will be co-hosted by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.

“We hope to build on the success of our recent Silver Linings event in December, which was recorded live from the Appalachian Theatre,” said David Jackson, President and CEO of the Boone Chamber.

For more information about upcoming events at the Appalachian Theatre, visit www.apptheatre.org/new-events.


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Gov. Cooper extends stay-at-home order for three weeks as virus surges

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced Jan. 6 that the modified stay-at-home order will be extended for three weeks as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the state. The order was originally announced Dec. 8 and was set to end Jan. 8.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 3,893 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of Jan. 6. Nearly 7,000 COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Jan. 6.

Under the order, which requires people to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited for on-site consumption between the hours of 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Businesses including restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, personal care businesses, most retail stores and others, have capacity limits and are required to close by 10 p.m.

“The numbers paint a dark and difficult picture,” Cooper said at the Jan. 6 press conference. “We are at a critical point in our fight against this virus.”

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen also issued a secretarial directive to stay at home except for essential activities. Cohen issued the directive as 84 North Carolina counties report a critical level of viral spread.

“There is an alarming amount of virus everywhere in our state. We are in a very dangerous position,” Cohen said. “Every single North Carolinian needs to take immediate action to save lives and protect themselves and each other.”

The secretarial directive aligns with recent recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Governor’s Executive Orders on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 County Alert System for North Carolina. North Carolinians are directed to:

  • Only leave home for essential activities such as going to work or school, for health care purposes, to care for family members or to buy food.
  • Avoid leaving home if over the age of 65 or at high risk for developing serious illness. Use delivery services or alternative pick-up methods for food and retail.
  • Avoid gathering with people whom they do not live with.
  • Wear a mask and keep distance from people when leaving home.
  • Avoid any indoor public spaces where people are not wearing masks.
  • Stay away from crowds. Avoid places where people may gather in large numbers.

More information on the secretarial directive can be found at files.nc.gov/covid/documents/NCDHHS-Secretarial-Directive-January-6-2021.pdf. More information on the modified stay-at-home order can be found at files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO-181-FAQ.pdf.


Watauga
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Boone Area Chamber of Commerce hosts COVID-19 vaccine panel with local health experts

BOONE — With questions swirling around the COVID-19 vaccine, the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion with community health experts and leaders to answer vaccine related questions.

The Jan. 12 webinar featured AppHealthCare health Director Jennifer Greene, Sean Burroughs of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, Spencer Hodges of Boone Drug Inc., Scott St.Clair of Blue Ridge Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott.

“Everywhere you go it seems like people are talking about the COVID-19 vaccine,” said David Jackson, president/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “We are fortunate to have members and local businesses that have been studying these protocols and procedures for months. We hope that getting these panelists together in an environment where people can ask questions, and get credible responses, will help ensure our community is prepared for their opportunity to receive a vaccine when the time comes.”

The full panel discussion can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPEv6IC7juw&feature=youtu.be.

As of Jan. 12, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports that 1,021 people have been given the first dose of the vaccine in Watauga County and 17 have had both doses. As of Jan. 11, AppHealthCare has given out 500 vaccines.

AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey said the department hopes to vaccinate 1,000 individuals at a mass testing event at Watauga High School Jan. 16 in partnership with ARHS and other local partners.

“This event is by appointment only. We will be using the information people have already provided in the COVID-19 interest form to schedule appointments for Saturday’s event and are reaching out to those individuals now,” Bracey said.

AppHealthCare hopes to have vaccinated 1,700 people by the end of this week.

Many questions for the Jan. 12 panel were related to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. One of the first questions was about how long the vaccine will be effective in the body.

“The easiest answer right now is we’re not sure,” Burroughs said. “We need more data, we need more time.”

According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, the COVID-19 vaccination works by teaching the immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19, and this protects you from getting sick with COVID-19.

Some asked the panelists if it was safe to take the vaccine especially if they had a reaction in the past.

“What we’ve seen so far with vaccinations is that those folks that have had a previous reaction to vaccinations are at highest risk for having a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccination,” Burroughs said.

If the reaction was a life threatening response to a MMR vaccine or flu vaccine, Burroughs doesn’t feel comfortable saying it would be a good idea to get the vaccine.

“If it was something that was manageable, then that’s probably something you need to talk with your health care provider,” Burroughs said. “It just depends on the severity of it and what your comfort level with it is.”

The CDC recommends people who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, should not get either of the currently available mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

The overall safety of the vaccine was another concern for some. Greene said she doesn’t want people to think there were safety protocols skipped over as there is a rigid process before something is rolled out.

“As a public health director, I don’t have concerns,” Greene said. “I do think it’s going to be one of the best tools we have in our toolbox to get to the other side of this pandemic.”

Other people had questions about children getting the vaccine which would currently happen in phase three of North Carolina’s vaccination plan.

St. Clair expects data on children and the vaccine to be released soon.

“And essentially, what they’re going to be doing is, once they get the data back on 12 (year olds), that’s going to be presented to the (Food and Drug Administration),” St Clair said. “If it looks favorable, and similar, the lower age limit is going to move down. And they’re just going to keep doing those studies until they get down to the youngest spot.”

The Pfizer vaccine trials went down to the 16-year-old range and the Moderna vaccine went to 18 years old.

Moving forward through the phases, Greene said it depends on the amount of vaccines they receive.

“I do believe we are working very hard to have partnerships that will, in effect, have infrastructure for us to roll out vaccines as quickly as we can,” Greene said. “It’s hard to say a timeline.”

At a Jan. 12 press conference, Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is continuing to see an increase of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is working with several local communities to stand up large-scale vaccination events in the coming days that can help get these doses out efficiently into our communities,” Cooper said.

North Carolina has vaccinated 173,928 people with the first dose and 20,608 with the second dose as of Jan. 12, according to the NCDHHS.

“As the governor mentioned, we continue to accelerate vaccinations,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said. “We had a 113 percent increase in vaccinations over the past seven days, compared to the week before. Over 100,000 doses were given in just the past seven days.”

Watauga County is in phase 1b Group 1 of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine which means those who are 75 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation, are eligible for the vaccine.

New guidelines from the federal government came out Jan. 12 saying states should expand the vaccine to those 65 and older, which North Carolina is not doing as of Jan. 12. Cohen said NCDHHS would review those guidelines — which they have not yet seen in writing — and see how it fits into what the agency is currently doing.

More information on vaccines from the CDC can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html.

More information from AppHealthCare can be found at www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/.

More information from ARHS can be found at apprhs.org/vaccine/


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