ONLINE OCTOBER 22, 2020 • VOL. 2,
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted
(click highlighted link to e-mail the editor)
A WELCOME SIGHT AT SOUTH SMITHFIELD ELEMENTARY: Children on the playground once again after more than seven months away from school because of the coronavirus shutdown last March. Students in grades K-2 returned on Monday; grades 3-5 will come back next week. And yes, they're wearing masks as required.
Back to school next week for 23,096
students; 13,715 will remain at home
For the week beginning next Monday (Oct. 26) Johnston County Public Schools expects 23,096 students in school classrooms as all grades return to campuses for the first time since mid-March, school officials said this week.
Students in grades K-5 and special-need students in all grades will attend school five days a week. The rest of Johnston's students --- in grades 6-12 --- will return two days each week in two shifts: Monday and Tuesday for some, Thursday and Friday for others, with Wednesday a day of online instruction at home for both groups.
That leaves 13,715 students at home who are signed up for virtual learning only.
Those numbers add up to an expected total enrollment of 36,811 --- below last year's enrollment of about 37,400 in Johnston County Public Schools.
Breaking down the enrollment numbers expected next week:
• 10,767 back in elementary schools, 5,786 in middle schools, 6,543 in high schools.
• Virtual learning at home for 5,086 elementary, 3,254 middle, 5,375 high schoolers.
As of last week, 350 teachers had requested the teleworking option instead of returning to classrooms, the Central Office reported.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended federal funding for free meals for all school children nationwide through the end of the 2020-21 academic year. Students who have returned to classrooms will receive both breakfast and lunch at their school. Both meals continue to be distributed curbside to anyone else at middle and high schools 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays.
Johnston cases up 299 in the past week;• 5,357 cases, 62 deaths, 21 hospitalized + 570 at home for a total of
will there be a jump in cases at schools?
Here's the County of Johnston's official report as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday:
591 active cases --- up from 551 a week ago, 4,704 presumed recovered.
• 2,826 female cases; 2,531 male.
• Cases by age: 770 ages 0-17 (740 last week); 737 18-24 (706 last week);
2,223 25-49 (2,090 last week); 1,020 50-64 (965 last week); 607 age 65+ (557).
• Cases by race: 3,095 white, 660 black, 824 other (778 not known).
• Cases by ethnicity: 2,130 Hispanic, 2,683 non-Hispanic (544 not known).
CASES REPORTED IN JOHNSTON COUNTY SCHOOLS
Here's what was posted at 9:44 a.m. today (Thursday):
STUDENT DATA: 34 confirmed cases among 18,063 students who have returned to face-to-face learning at school --- 8 in elementary schools, 9 in middle schools, 17 in high schools (last week's case total: 23 among 2,577 students in school).
EMPLOYEE DATA: 27 confirmed cases, 258 quarantined among approximately 5,000 employees including teachers, administrators, and support staff --- 11 cases in elementary schools, 5 in middle schools, 4 in high schools, 7 in Central Office administration (last week's totals: 18 cases, 153 quarantined).
Data is updated every weekday on the school system's website>
VIEW the current list of test sites and testing events in Johnston County>
READ about state's advisory to Johnston County officials on OBSERVATIONS>
HEALTH DEPARTMENT OFFERS HIGH-DOSE FLU VACCINE
The Johnston County Public Health Department has high-dose flu vaccine available for seniors age 65 and older. This vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen than a regular flu shot "and is associated with a strong immune response," the Health Department noted in its announcement. To schedule an appointment to get this shot, call the department at 919-989-5200.
Johnston County Board of Elections at work Tuesday afternoon checking absentee ballots before they're fed into the counting device. (Photo from meeting livestream)
More than 46,000 Johnstonians have voted
early so far --- on pace to set a new record
The Johnston County Board of Elections has been busy lately, meeting twice weekly to check each and every absentee ballot as they come in. Tuesday's meeting lasted almost three hours as the five board members looked over 1,730 ballots that had arrived since they met last Friday.
Tuesday's count raised the number of absentee ballots received and tabulated to more than 10,400. Added to ballots cast at seven early-voting sites, a total of 46,103 Johnstonians had voted by day's end on Wednesday, according to a daily report posted by the N.C. Board of Elections. That's 32.8% of Johnston's 140,480 registered voters --- and it's trending toward a total beyond the 54,888 ballots cast prior to Election Day in 2016.
Early voting continues Monday-Saturday through October 31. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, November 3. Meanwhile, voters may drop off their completed absentee ballots from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday (Oct. 24) as they drive through the parking lot of the Board of Elections office at 205 South Second Street in Downtown Smithfield.
Members of Johnston's board are Democrats Gordon Woodruff (chairman), Shirley Bell, and Deborah Hooker and Republicans John Shallcross Jr. and Deborah Zink. Their next meeting to count ballots is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday (tomorrow), with three more to follow before Election Day and three more after that to certify votes. Attendance in person is restricted because of coronavirus rules yet all meetings are live-streamed on the Board of Elections Facebook page>
VISIT the Johnston County Board of Elections website for more information>
DOWNTOWN BUSINESS UPDATE
THE GILDED PEAR BREW HOUSE
Gloria Brindle is proprietor of a newly opened coffee shop on Market Street --- in the former Rex Shoe Shop storefront. For the past 12 years she worked as a teacher at Neuse Charter School but said she had long desired to open a restaurant once her children were grown. For now, she's open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, specializing in breakfast and light lunch fare and a variety of coffee-based refreshments.
SALON 12/20 AND LADIES CLOTHING BOUTIQUE
Wanda Smith has moved her business to 129 North Second Street in Downtown Smithfield from Clayton, where she has operated the past 25 years. The name of her shop comes from her first grandson's birthday. She's open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9-6 Friday, and 9-4 Saturday.
(Photo from virtual ribbon-cutting hosted by the Triangle East Chamber)
212 E. Church Street • 919-934-1121 • email@example.com
County seeks COVID-19 grant to assist
households with subsistence payments
Following a brief public hearing last Thursday evening, Johnston's County Commissioners approved an application for a $900,000 federal COVID-19 Community Development Block Grant to help households suffering economic setbacks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Administered by the county's Department of Social Services, payments up to $2,000 over a six-month period would be made directly to utility providers, landlords, and mortgage lenders on behalf of qualifying households.
No one appeared in person at Thursday's hearing, but one citizen submitted written comments questioning how the county has used COVID relief funds up to now. Commissioners' Chairman Ted Godwin read the statement from Shannon Petersen of Clayton objecting to using these grants to pay already funded salaries of county employees as was done recently.
County Manager Rick Hester responded that a decision was made, based on rules in place at the time, to use previous COVID aid to cover salaries of Emergency Services and Health Department personnel bearing the brunt of coronavirus impacts on local services. "We didn't pay anybody twice," he emphasized.
The manager said savings to the county from that decision will be applied toward meeting a list of construction needs to be identified by a capital-improvements plan county officials are currently putting together.
FIVE GOALS FOR THE N.C. LEGISLATURE TO CONSIDER
Before adjourning Thursday's brief session, commissioners agreed on five legislative goals to submit to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners for consideration by the 2021 session of the N.C. General Assembly:
• Restoration of impact fees on real-estate development (the Legislature repealed those fees as an option for local governments in 2017).
• Expansion of high-speed Broadband Internet connectivity.
• Adjustment of the state's formula for reimbursing counties for educating special-need students in public schools (the current formula is costing Johnston County taxpayers about $8 million annually).
• Approval of a statewide bond issue for school construction.
• Reallocation of proceeds from the N.C. Education Lottery to give counties more money for local school needs.
Town Manager Scott gets 10% pay raise
Following a closed session to conduct an annual evaluation of Town Manager Mike Scott's performance on the job, the Smithfield Town Council voted to continue his employment along with an immediate 10% increase in salary --- to $121,014.40.