ONLINE JUNE 17, 2021 • VOL. 3,
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted
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PATRIOTIC PLACE FOR A REFLECTIVE WALK
"Flags For Heroes" put out by Johnston County Rotarians grace the walking trail in front of Johnston Health in Smithfield. Sponsors made donations to buy the flags in honor of a health-care worker, first responder, military veteran, or a personal hero. A similar display is in place at Johnston Health's Clayton hospital. They've been up since last weekend (June 14 was Flag Day) and will remain through this Sunday, which is Father's Day.
County's school funding remains unsettled;
Critical Race Theory off the table for now
At Monday's county budget session, Commissioner Fred Smith renewed his call for a Board of Education policy prohibiting the Critical Race Theory from being taught in Johnston's schools. "I'm not going to vote to increase your budget until the Board of Education adopts a policy," he told Superintendent of Schools Eric Bracy.
Commissioners' Chairman Chad Stewart said he agrees with Mr. Smith's opposition to CRT, "but I'm not going to let our teachers, bus drivers, and students go unfunded because of a policy being adopted or not," he declared. "We don't have time."
School Board Chairman Todd Sutton said the issue, which he described as "politically polarizing," would first have to clear his board's Policy Review Committee followed by deliberation and approval by the full Board of Education --- a process that would take at least 30 days. He told commissioners he would "be glad" to ask the committee to consider the issue.
Chairman Stewart said it's his intent to have the 2021-22 county budget ready for adoption when commissioners meet again on Monday (June 21).
The school board's budget request to commissioners for the fiscal year that starts July 1 seeks $79.9 million for operating expenses and $2.9 million for a list of capital projects. County Manager Rick Hester's proposed budget as it now stands allocates $72.5 million for operations and $1.2 million for capital outlay. Commissioners gave no indication at this week's session what the final numbers will be.
Responding to Commissioner Smith's demand for a policy against CRT, Superintendent Bracy said he's not aware of anyone teaching its elements in Johnston's schools. If it is being taught here, he said, "let me know... and I'll have a conversation with that principal."
Following the exchange between commissioners and school leaders, John Saluppo of Clayton came to the podium to state that "it's in our system" (referring to CRT) and that Dr. Bracy "needs to do a deep dive into this."
According to the journal Education Week, "Critical Race Theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies."
READ MORE about other budget requests heard during Monday's meeting>
VACCINES FOR HISPANICS AT ST. PAUL'S CHURCH
A team from Carroll Pharmacy administered COVID-19 vaccines to 125 Hispanics Sunday afternoon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church: (pictured left to right) pharmacists Julie Markovich and Alan Carroll supported by technicians Alma Frayre and Samantha Martinez. It was the second clinic by Carroll Pharmacy in recent weeks at the church, which has an active Latino ministry and works closely with the Episcopal Farmworkers Ministry and the N.C. Department of Commerce in meeting basic needs of migrant laborers in our region. Mr. Carroll said about 30 of Sunday's doses went to youngsters 12-17 years of age.
Health Department on the move with shots
As part of state and national efforts to get more folks vaccinated against further spread of COVID-19, the Johnston County Public Health Department has switched its emphasis from large drive-thru clinics to smaller mobile operations that target specific communities of people.
This week three more mobile clinics were staged in Kenly and Micro.
As a result, Johnston's fully-vaccinated rate has inched up to 35% of the county's total population --- still behind rates for all of North Carolina and the nation (see table below).
The Health Department continues to offer vaccinations at its headquarters on North Bright Leaf Boulevard adjacent to Johnston Health's hospital in Smithfield. Shots are now being offered to anyone age 12 and older free of charge.
VIEW the current list of Health Department vaccination clinics in Johnston County>
As of Wednesday, the department reports 163 active COVID-19 cases in Johnston County: 146 recovering at home and 17 in hospitals. That's down from 198 cases reported a week ago. Three more COVID-related deaths were reported here this past week, bringing the total to 239 since the pandemic began. The national death toll topped 600,000 this past week.
VIEW the current list of COVID-19 testing sites throughout Johnston County>
Water-main cut at construction project
interrupted service in parts of Smithfield
A construction contractor working on expansion of the town's water-treatment plant accidentally broke a 12-inch main around 10:15 Tuesday morning, immediately reducing water pressure within the town's distribution system.
"Town staff began to isolate the break by 'valving' off the water line," Utilities Director Ted Credle reported. "This was completed around 11:30 a.m." and "the water plant was isolated from the town distribution system" --- which "left town customers to be supplied by whatever water was already in the system, plus whatever we had in the elevated storage tanks around town," he explained.
As a result, some customers had disruptive drops in water pressure while others did not. The Johnston County Health Department, for instance, closed its operations on North Bright Leaf Boulevard at noon Tuesday --- including its vaccination clinic --- while residents in South Smithfield experienced no loss of service.
After the broken pipe was repaired by 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, "the water plant was re-started, and we began to 'push' water back into the system," Mr. Credle said.
Following state regulations, the town issued an advisory recommending all customers to boil water intended for human consumption until town staff could run tests throughout town "for microbial contamination," he noted.
Meanwhile, town staff began flushing hydrants to clear up any discoloration in the water --- "until about 7:30 p.m., when the water levels in the storage tanks were too low for such an operation to continue," Mr. Credle said. "The system recovered through the night as the plant 'pushed' water into the system," and hydrant flushing resumed Wednesday morning.
The boil-water advisory was rescinded at 11 a.m. Wednesday when the incubation period for testing ended and the water "proved to be within state standards," Mr. Credle noted.
He concluded his report to the Sun with these points:
"At NO TIME did the system pressure fall under 20psi --- which triggers a mandatory Boil Water Notice.
"The town system DID NOT experience any contamination.
"The town's water maintained appropriate disinfection for the duration of the event.
"The county did assist us by stopping their demand and actually fed us for a brief time at the Barbour Road water station."
The county's system and the town's are interconnected through West Smithfield as the county supplements treated water from its plant on the Neuse River at Wilson's Mills with purchases from Smithfield's plant, which is currently being expanded under an $11,650,000 contract with Shook Construction Company of Columbia, S.C.