Thursday, August 19, 2021
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter (unless otherwise noted)



Their ship is sinking but they're all smiles, this father and son team of Richard and Bradley Steere in a craft named "Pirates of the Cardboardian." They were among a dozen entries in last Saturday's cardboard-boat "race" that couldn't stay afloat as they moved downriver from the boat ramp to the Market Street bridge. Meanwhile, 28 of the homemade contraptions did make it without sinking.
VIEW RACE RESULTS with more photos on the Feature Page>


Johnston County rises to 215,999 – up 27.9%;
Smithfield 11,292 – a modest gain since 2010

Months later than normal because of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau last Thursday released results of its official count from April 1, 2020.

Johnston County's population is recorded at 215,999 – an increase of 47,121 since 2010. That gain works out to 27.9%, the highest rate of growth among all 100 counties in North Carolina.

Impressive as that sounds, it's a lower percentage that what was reflected in two previous Census counts: From 2000 to 2010 Johnston's population grew by 46,978 – an increase of 38.5%. From 1990 to 2000 the gain was 40,606 – up 49.9%.

Before 1990, 10-year gains were much more modest: 10,707 from 1980 to 1990, 8,862 from 1970 to 1980. The year 1990, by the way, is when Interstate 40 opened to traffic from Raleigh into Johnston County.

Smithfield's 2020 population comes in at 11,292 – a gain of just 326 since 2010. Clayton, the county's fastest-growing municipality, added 10,191 residents for a 2020 total of 26,307.

Neighboring Wake, by the way, is now the state's largest county with a population of 1,129,410 – almost 14,000 more than Mecklenburg (Charlotte). 


It's back to school Monday, with fingers crossed...

Johnston County's public schools will open for in-person learning for all comers next Monday, hoping it's the start of a normal school year in the wake of the past year's interruptions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are two big unanswered questions:

Will schools be able to avoid large numbers of students quarantined because of a resurgence of COVID-19 outbreaks?

How many students will return to Johnston's schools in light of recent controversies over face masks and Critical Race Theory (CRT)?

That second question could have major fiscal consequences since the state's funding allotment for local schools is based on enrollment. Last year's Average Daily Membership (the state's measuring stick for funding) was 35,727 – down more than 1,000 from the previous year's 36,772 – but the state decided local systems would be "held harmless" for the year's COVID-induced drops in enrollment and kept the previous year's funding levels intact.

Johnston's Board of Education voted 4-3 last week to require the wearing of protective face masks by all students and staff in hopes of keeping COVID-19 quarantines to a minimum, especially since the school system will not offer online instruction for students sent home for extended absences.

Mask wearing and the suspected teaching of a collegiate academic concept known as Critical Race Theory have divided Johnston's parents, producing persistent outcries on both sides of both issues. What impact that may have on enrollment remains to be seen.

With a mix of parental concerns in play, 1,160 students are now signed up for Johnston's Virtual Learning Academy, a stay-at-home academic option requiring a year-long commitment by parents. Enrollment remains open this week.



Johnston begins third vaccinations for some

The county's Public Health Department this week began administering an additional dose of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to "certain immunocompromised people." The third dose must come at least 28 days after completion of the initial vaccine series.

Conditions for eligible persons include: active treatment for solid tumor and hematologic malignancies; receipt of solid-organ transplant and taking immunosuppressive therapy; receipt of CAR-T-cell or hematopoietic stem-cell transplant; moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency; advanced or untreated HIV infection; active treatment with high-dose corticosteriods, alkylating agents, antimetabolites, transplant-related immunosuppressive drugs, cancer chemotherapeutic agents classified as severely immunosuppressive, tumor-necrosis (TNF) blockers, and other specified agents.

VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

The Health Department reported Tuesday that the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the Johnston County Jail has grown to 98 inmates. Five more COVID-related deaths were reported here this past week, with coronavirus hospitalizations rising to 57.

VIEW the current list of testing sites in Johnston County>

Case total
since 3-20 

(last week)
since 3-20 

(last week)

(last week) 

(last week)
83,712: 40%*
(82,517: 39%)
5,040,257: 48%*
(4,981,343: 47%*)
UNITED STATES 37,071,591
  168,897,604: 51%
(166,861,912: 51%)
WORLDWIDE 209,006,868
total doses given
Information from: County of Johnston at 4:40 p.m. August 17
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 11:45 a.m. August 18
Johns Hopkins University at 1:21 p.m. August 18
* Percentage of total population (all ages)

County Commissioners hear more on CRT, masks

Sixteen citizens addressed the board for more than an hour during this week's regularly scheduled Third Monday meeting, half of them urging commissioners to continue withholding local school funding until the Board of Education specifically outlaws CRT and makes mask-wearing optional, the other half of the speakers voicing opposing points of view on both issues.
LISTEN to their comments on the county's archived video of Monday's meeting>

Turning to business matters, the board approved employment of a Health Department nurse to work "as a school liaison to assist with COVID coordination" – the position to be funded for a year by a $115,000 grant from the state – and awarded a $17,797,000 contract to Bordeaux Construction Company of Raleigh to build a Public Safety Center adjacent to the county's Detention Center already under construction off US 70 Business east of Smithfield.

Commissioners approved a budget of $21,048,420 for that facility, including costs of construction, furniture and fixtures, and technical services. Projected completion is March 2023, not long after the new Detention Center is due to be finished.

Here's the rendering from Moseley Architects of Johnston's Public Safety Center:

Committee reviewing land-use regulations meets today
A public meeting of the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan Steering Committee is scheduled for 6 p.m. today (Thursday) at the Johnston County Agricultural Center on NC 210 west of Smithfield.



SSS opens a back-to-normal football season this Friday

The past year's season was delayed till spring and shortened by several games because of the coronavirus pandemic. Starting this Friday, North Carolina's high schools will return to a normal fall schedule, with conference realignments in effect. Smithfield-Selma High will compete in a new 3-A league with teams from Wilson, Wayne, and Wake counties as well as Johnston. This week SSS is at Princeton for a non-conference season opener. Here's the 10-game regular-season schedule>

Backpack and School Supply Giveaway this Saturday

The Town of Smithfield is hosting its fourth annual Back To School Backpack and School Supply Giveaway from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Smith-Collins Park. Besides the free distribution of school supplies while they last, the event also offers face painting, bounce houses, and free haircuts.


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

LOUISE TYNDALL MOORE, 65 – died August 16

DON WALTON STEPHENSON, 76 – died August 16

BONNIE CREECH HALL, 78 – died August 15

LEON PHILLIP HOWELL, 99 – died August 13

MARY ANN WILKEN DAUSTER, 76 – died August 11

BRUCE ALAN RADFORD, 66 – died August 11


JOHN EDWARD GREGORY III, 70 – died August 9



The Neuse was running shallow during Saturday afternoon's River Rat Regatta, with several firemen and EMS specialists in the water to ensure the event's safety to make it an ideal time for young boys to go swimming in the Neuse – just as young boys often did without adult supervision in years gone by.



Fastest growing county, relatively speaking

We can expect much ado from Johnston's boosters about our designation as "the fastest growing county in North Carolina" since our rate of growth over the past decade – at 27.7% – was the highest percentage among the state's 100 counties. And there's no denying our residential growth has been astounding in recent times.

But percentages don't necessarily reflect the true magnitude of growth. The actual numbers give us a clearer picture of what's happening, especially in our region.

Johnston County added a little over 47,000 residents over the past decade (not much above gains of just under 47,000 and something over 40,000 during the previous two). But get this: neighboring Wake County added 228,417 residents from 2010 to 2020. That's more than Johnston's new total of 215,999.

And yet, Wake isn't the state's "fastest growing county" because its rate of growth works out to 25.4% – statistically short of Johnston's 27.7%.

What's more impressive are Johnston's growth rates during the previous two Census periods: 38.5% from 2000 to 2010, a whopping 49.9% from 1990 to 2000.

All that's not to "play down" what's happening here; rather, it's to keep our growth in perspective. If it were not for Wake County's population boom – fueled by extraordinary gains in job opportunities in the Research Triangle region – where would Johnston County be today?

Johnston County's population actually declined in the middle of the 20th Century – by 4,000 residents from 1950 to 1970 – primarily because of the mechanization of agriculture that dramatically reduced the need for farm laborers.

Take a look at current trends of declining population in rural counties to the east of us and you'll realize how fortunate we are to be in close proximity to one of the most dynamic engines of growth in the entire nation. 


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