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A SUMMERTIME DIGEST EDITION


Thursday, July 29, 2021
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter (unless noted otherwise)



A NEW FACE FOR SOUTH SMITHFIELD SCHOOL

A project funded by the 2018 county bond issue is transforming the original entrance at South Smithfield Elementary School that dates back to 1957. An extended canopy at the front door is taking shape now; a pitched metal roof over older, flat-roofed portions of the building will follow under a $1,480,000 contract won by Eastern Corporation of Youngsville. When students return for the start of the 2021-22 term August 23, they'll also be greeted by a new principal: Susan Jones, who's coming from Clayton Middle School.
 



CDC urges return to masks by everyone indoors;
school board will face the issue at 5 p.m. today

Last week Governor Roy Cooper's administration urged the state's public schools to continue mask wearing by all students and staff in grades K-8 and masks for unvaccinated high-school students. This week the Centers for Disease Control recommended a return to mask wearing by everyone indoors in "high" COVID-19 transmission counties including Johnston.

How will our Board of Education respond to that? We'll get an answer when the board meets at 5 p.m. today (Thursday) at the school system's headquarters. The proceedings will be live-streamed (and archived) on the schools' YouTube channel>

The board's special meeting was called "to discuss the mask mandate in the recently updated NC Public Health Toolkit (K-12)."

Two weeks ago some members of Johnston's school board called for making mask-wearing by students a matter of "parental choice." Other members urged the board to wait for the latest guidance from state and federal health officials.

The direction of that guidance has changed dramatically since then because of an upsurge in coronavirus infections blamed on the Delta variant that's much more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain, even among vaccinated persons.

 



CORONAVIRUS REPORT

Johnston Health wants all employees vaccinated

The operator of hospitals at Smithfield and Clayton and specialty practices at Johnston Medical Mall is part of UNC Health, which announced last week it will require all its employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine requirement also applies to vendors, students doing clinical work, and staff at clinics of the UNC Physicians Network. Individuals may request exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

Employees who defy the vaccination mandate could face dismissal. "It is our hope and belief that it will not come to that," Johnston Health CEO Tom Williams told the Johnstonian News.


County reports more in hospitals and an outbreak in the jail

The Johnston County Public Health Department's weekly report shows an increase in COVID-related hospitalizations, rising from 15 last week to 26 this week, and an outbreak in the County Jail, with 46 prisoners and four staffers infected.

That report shows an increase of 325 in total cases here during the past week, with the average age of infected Johnstonians now 39. Three more deaths were reported this past week, bringing the total to 247 since the pandemic arrived in March 2020.

According to the mid-week report from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, 80,830 Johnstonians are now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus --- an increase of 1,450 since last week yet just 39% of the county's total population (47% fully vaccinated statewide, 50% nationwide).

VIEW the current list of Health Department vaccination clinics in Johnston County>
 

CORONAVIRUS
weekly
measurements
Case total
since 3-20 

(last week)
Deaths
since 3-20 

(last week)
Hospital
patients

(last week) 
Fully
vaccinated

(last week)
JOHNSTON COUNTY 22,716
(22,391)
247
(244)
26
(15)
80,830: 39%*
(79,380: 38%)
NORTH CAROLINA 1,041,609
(1,028,131)
13,606
(13,550)
1,091
(694)
4,898,881: 47%*
(4,823,732: 46%)
UNITED STATES 34,625,907
(34,187,437)
611,454
(609,604)
  163,312,474: 50%
(161,631,676: 49%)
WORLDWIDE 195,637,734
(191,723,832)
4,182,178
(4,122,346)
  3,934,338,576
total doses given
Information from: County of Johnston at 4:30 p.m. July 27
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:00 p.m. July 28
Johns Hopkins University at 1:21 p.m. July 28
* Percentage of total population (all ages)

 



Employment total up in June; so was jobless rate

The number of Johnstonians employed rose to 97,039 in June, up from 95,965 in May, yet the county's unemployment rate went up from 3.9% in May to 4.4% in June as the number of Johnstonians filing for unemployment benefits rose from 3,918 to 4,415. Even so, the job front continues to rebound from last year's shutdown of many businesses because of the coronavirus pandemic. Johnston's jobless rate in June 2020 was 7.7%.
VIEW the full statewide report from the N.C. Department of Commerce>



A COLLECTION OF THE MURALS OF JOHNSTON COUNTY

They're featured on the website of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau and include this one of a craftsman at work --- painted on a wall outside Evans Jewelers in Downtown Smithfield. TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR of the rest of the collection>
 



WHAT'S COMING UP?

Town Council will consider rezoning request
for a new charter school at next Tuesday's meeting

On the agenda for next Tuesday's monthly meeting of the Smithfield Town Council is a public hearing on requested rezoning of almost 49 acres on the east side of US 70 Business north of Swift Creek Road near the airport for construction of an American Leadership Academy charter school for grades K-12.

Another hearing will be conducted on a request for conditional zoning to allow a 698-unit residential subdivision on almost 200 acres on the west side of US 70 Business northwest of its intersection with Rodgers Drive in West Smithfield.

The meeting's Consent Agenda that usually requires no discussion includes a September 1 increase in the town's sewer rates to cover an increase of more than 5% in what the county charges for treatment of wastewater received from several municipalities including Smithfield.

Discussion of storm-drainage issues on Cedar Drive is also on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. The meeting's complete agenda is published on the town's website>



County Commissioners will meet twice next Monday
with improvements in live video coverage of sessions

Johnston County's Board of Commissioners will return to their regular meeting room in the Courthouse for Monday's morning and evening sessions. Seating for the public will be limited because of ongoing COVID-19 concerns, but an upgraded video service via YouTube will provide live as well as archived coverage of the proceedings. Here's the link to the county's YouTube channel>

The agenda for the 10 a.m. session includes a COVID-19 update and routine business matters. Here's the full agenda>

The agenda for the 6 p.m. session includes public hearings on three rezoning requests recommended for approval by the county's Planning Board --- two in Pine Level Township, one in Cleveland Township. Here's the agenda for that session>



SSS Band's "Free Car Wash" scheduled Saturday

Yes, it's "free" but it's also a fund-raiser for the Smithfield-Selma High School Marching Band and Spartan Regiment as donations will be appreciated from patrons. The car washing will take place from 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. Saturday at the NAPA Auto Parts store at 926 North Bright Leaf Boulevard.
 


A cardboard-boat launching at the inaugural event held here in 2018.
 
Ready for return of Smithfield's River Rat Regatta?

It should be the fourth annual cardboad-boat race on the Neuse at Smithfield, but this year's installment is actually the second since the 2019 edition was canceled twice because of high water and last year's episode because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year's River Rat Regatta is planned for Saturday, August 14, so you've got two weeks to get your floatable contraptions ready. Here are the rules>
 



DEATHS & FUNERALS
Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

DELOIS ANITA TARPLEY BRAUN, 98 - died July 27

FERNANDO CAMILLO WILLIAMS, 60 - died July 26

RICHARD LEWIS CONKLIN III, 31 - died July 25

JEANETTE LANE RACKLEY 82 - died July 25

TRACY YVETTE HARRIS, 50 - died July 24

BILLY GEORGE STARLING, 88 - died July 24

GEORGE WILLIAM WILKINS, 87 - died July 24

MINNIE MABLE WILKINS, 84 - died July 22

ROSS KENDALL PEDICINI, 66 - died July 21



A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) headed to Johnston?

Two hours of the County Commissioners' Monday evening session last week were devoted to updates on a multitude of regional transportation projects affecting Johnston County. Besides the latest word on US 70 upgrades, commuter rail, and greenway trails, the board learned of another initiative under study: Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, that could extend from Raleigh into the Clayton area.

Yes, it's a parallel alternative to a potential commuter-rail route along existing tracks coming into Johnston from Garner. Two things make BRT attractive:  (1) It could come about sooner than the rail project and (2) It's cheaper to build.

Commissioners learned that the concept calls for restricted travel lanes along major highways coupled with traffic signals at intersections that give buses priority over all other vehicles during "rush hours" when folks are traveling to and from their jobs. Another attractive aspect of commuter buses is their flexibility to serve new stops that may be needed and also avoid bottlenecks caused by wrecks and other events.

Commuter rail on its own right-of-way could be faster and more reliable in scheduling, yet fixed rail lines, once established, can't be moved without considerable expense.

Commuter rail, if in fact it's extended into Johnston County, remains at least a decade away under current planning and funding constraints, not to mention the political hurdles standing in its way. BRT could reach us just a few years from now. Bring it on!

 



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