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PUBLISHED ONLINE JANUARY 6, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 1

Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link to e-mail the editor)
 


NEW YEAR'S FIRST DAY AN UNSEASONABLY BALMY ONE...
 
Temperatures reaching the upper 70s last Saturday, the first day of 2022, naturally brought folks outdoors to enjoy activities associated Springtime – like swinging and walking at Smithfield Community Park. The balmy weather lasted through Sunday, although it was rainy times, finally giving way to more typical conditions Monday morning when temperatures plummeted from the 60s into the low 40s by midday.
 

2021 rainfall above average, yet below last year's

The total recorded for the past year by Cornell Cox's Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield was 55.2 inches – above our normal average rainfall of just under 48 inches yet well short of 2020's abnormal 76.2 inches.

The big weather story at year's end was our recent spell of unusually warm days. "We have just come through a period of weather unlike any I've observed in my eight decades' memory: 10 consecutive winter days when the daily temperature averaged around 70 degrees or just below," Mr. Cox notes.

"In years past, even in my childhood, this could have been an event in the month of November – but not in winter" (which, by the way, began Dec. 1 meteorologically speaking, Dec. 21 based on the Winter Solstice).

 



CORONAVIRUS REPORT

Here we go again, with infection rates rising

Johnston's County Commissioners got the monthly COVID-19 update Monday morning from the county's public-health director. "It's a new year," Dr. Marilyn Pearson began. "I was hoping we'd start it a little differently but... we're still in a pandemic phase" and "we all realize this is going to be with us... for a while."

She reported "a significant increase in our cases" in recent days, rising to 413 per 100,000 residents with a positive infection rate of 16% of those tested here over the past two weeks.

The average age of infected Johnstonians is now 37, Dr. Pearson noted, with 89% of those hospitalized in ICUs or on ventilators coming from the unvaccinated.

Where do we go from here? "Vaccination is No. 1," advised the health director, "but we also ask folks to physically distance and wear the mask" – the same advice we've been hearing nationwide for almost two years now.

" I know everybody's tired" of all that, Dr. Pearson concluded, "but when I think about being tired I think about the people I'm trying to protect."

Tuesday's report from the county showed an increase of 973 in the number of cases identified in Johnston over the past week, and a jump in the number of COVID-related hospitalizations from 24 last week to 43 this week. Of those, 19 were persons age 65 and above, 10 ages 50-64, and 14 ages 25-49. Also during the past week, Johnston's Health Department reported 171 new "breakthrough" cases among vaccinated persons and 153 re-infections of persons previously diagnosed with COVID-19.

The county's list of six institutional outbreaks this week included three staff members infected at Smithfield Manor Nursing and Rehab.


This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools, which returned to in-person classes Wednesday, showed 254 active cases among students and staff (up from 221 just before the holidays) with 552 students and 115 staff members quarantined (631 students and 52 staff were quarantined in mid-December). Schools with the most students in quarantine: Cleveland High with 32, South Johnston High with 31, Polenta Elementary and Riverwood Middle with 22 apiece, West Smithfield Elementary with 21, Selma Elementary with 20.

VIEW the school system's COVID dashboard with data for all schools>

VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

VIEW the current list of testing sites 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 37,745
(35,772)
368
(364)
43
(24)
107,307: 51%*
(106,676)
NORTH CAROLINA 1,763,614
(1,648,359)
19,542
(19,339)
3,099
(2,122)
6,183,267: 59%*
(6,154,659)
UNITED STATES 57,762,144
(53,663,256)
832,148
(822,920)
  206,797,799: 63%*
(205,638,307)
WORLDWIDE 298,040,180
(284,670,396)
5,467,613
(5,425,024)
  9,330,607,312
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 4:50 p.m. January 4
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 11:55 a.m. January 5
Johns Hopkins University at 8:22 a.m. January 6




Johnston County's jobless rate drops below 3%

From a peak of 11% in May 2020 after the COVID pandemic's arrival, Johnston's unemployment rate has steadily declined to the latest recorded mark of 2.9% – reported for November by the N.C. Dept. of Commerce, which estimates 99,714 Johnstonians out of a labor force of 102,702 held jobs. What a contrast from the state's report for May 2020 that put an estimated 10,167 Johnstonians on the unemployment roll. At that time, 12.7% of North Carolina's workers were classified as unemployed. The latest report puts the statewide jobless rate at 3.4%.


1,300 households have gotten rental assistance

Johnston County's Emergency Rental Assistance Program by December's end had distributed $5,058,000 to almost 1,300 households requesting help in paying bills for rent and utilities because of income losses attributed to COVID-19. Another $488,000 has assisted 310 households make mortgage payments, Finance Director Chad McLamb reported to the County Commissioners on Monday. A combination of mostly federal aid supplemented by state grants has provided the money for the two programs. No county funds have been required for those expenditures, including administrative assistance by a processing contractor, Mr. McLamb noted.

Another purpose for county-owned property around the landfill

The County of Johnston holds title to almost 1,200 acres off NC 210 west of Smithfield that includes its solid-waste landfill, the Livestock Arena, the Agricultural Center, and in the near future a sewage-treatment plant. On Monday the County Commissioners approved use of two undeveloped portions as "borrow pits" for removing soil to cover garbage and trash being dumped at newly opened sections of the landfill over the next 5-7 years. The cost to get that done is budgeted at $525,250, to be covered by fees charged users of the landfill including Johnston's municipalities and commercial waste haulers as well as contractors and households.
 




TOWN COUNCIL REPORT

Smithfield reports six Police Dept. vacancies

In his monthly report to the Town Council this week, Town Manager Mike Scott noted that the Police Department currently has six officer vacancies – a slight increase over the past few months. "Our emergency services are not currently impacted because of COVID illness or quarantine," he said in a follow-up to the Weekly Sun on Wednesday. "However, we have seen an increase in some of our other departments the last 10 days." The Police Department has 42 sworn positions "from the chief on down including school resource officers," Mr. Scott noted.
 

Citizen asks for "transparency" in probe of police incident

Angelique Legette asked the Town Council at its monthly meeting Tuesday to "ensure transparency" in a Police Department investigation into a verbal altercation involving an off-duty Smithfield officer and an African-American motorist at a Wake County shopping center last month. Captain Ryan Sheppard, who is white, remains on administrative leave pending the investigation's findings. "I just hope Smithfield will do the investigation without bias and let (everyone) know this does not happen here," said Ms. Legette, an African-American Smithfield resident who identified herself as a federal law-enforcement officer.

Fifth consecutive year for water and sewer awards

Public Utilities Director Ted Credle reported to the council that the town has won, for the fifth consecutive year, North Carolina American Water Works Association & Water Environment Federation awards for "Potable Water Distribution System of the Year" and "Sanitary Sewer Collection System of the Year" among municipalities of Smithfield's size.

3 lots added to new subdivision recently annexed

Following public hearings that drew no objections, the council approved voluntary annexation, an appropriate zoning designation, and preliminary plat approval for three lots added to the Twin Creeks Subdivision previously annexed and approved off Black Creek Road near NC 210 west of Smithfield. Planning Director Stephen Wensman said the actions were requested by Navaho Development, LLC after discovery of a deed error that omitted 1.61 acres from the original plan.
 

Rezoning granted to allow small-child care center

Without public objection, the council rezoned a one-acre lot on the north side of Laurel Drive in West Smithfield from R-20A to R-10 to permit operation of a small-child day-care center at an existing residence. Mr. Wensman said the lot is directly across the road from a large area already zoned R-10.
 

Three appointed to Downtown Development's board

The council appointed Mary Reece and reappointed Tim Depp and Jeremy Pearce to the Board of Directors of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation. Ms. Reece is an attorney who practices law with her husband from an office on South Third Street Downtown. Mr. Depp is a licensed landscape contractor. Mr. Pearce operates a Smithfield-based insurance agency. The complete list of board members is posted on the DSDC website>

Vacant town-owned lot to be sold with "upset bids"

The council authorized staff to sell a vacant, town-owned lot at 801 Second Avenue through a bidding process that gives prospective buyers repeated chances to raise a bidder's price until it's unchallenged. Town Manager Scott said the town has no use for the relatively small lot, which the town acquired by foreclosure some years ago. 

Fire station's underground fuel tanks will be removed

Fire Chief Mike Brown got the council's permission to employ Geological Resources, Inc. at an estimated cost of $15,562 to remove two underground tanks – one for diesel fuel, the other for gasoline – located beneath a deteriorating concrete parking pad at the town's main fire station on Fourth Street. After undergoing a recent state inspection, the tanks are considered to be "an environmental issue about to happen," Chief Brown told the council, which instructed him to look into above-ground replacements for the tanks to be removed.

"Knuckleboom" truck to be bought at a higher price

The council added $17,568 to a budgeted $160,000 to purchase another "knuckleboom" truck for collecting yard waste and other debris by the Public Works Department. Town Manager Scott said the additional funding is to cover price increases for such equipment brought on, at least in part, by the COVID pandemic.

Grant writer employed for Spring Branch projects

The council employed McCormick Taylor, a Raleigh-based engineering firm, at a cost not to exceed $8,700 to prepare grant applications for stormwater-abatement measures as well as expansion plans for the town's greenway system along Spring Branch from the Bob Wallace Jaycee Kiddie Park to Smith-Collins Park and Johnston Community College. The grants will be sought from the state's Land and Water Fund.

Town Council members attending Tuesday's session: Mayor Pro Tem John Dunn, David Barbour, Marlon Lee, Steve Rabil, and David Stevens; absent were Mayor Andy Moore, Travis Scott, and Roger Wood.

 



WHAT'S COMING UP?

School board's monthly meeting next Tuesday

And that means another vote on whether to continue the mask requirement for students and staff in Johnston County's public schools. As usual, the board will move into closed session shortly after Tuesday's meeting is convened at 4 p.m. in the Evander S. Simpson Building on US 70 Business east of Smithfield. The public session follows at  5 p.m. VIEW the full agenda once it's posted online>
 



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DEATHS & FUNERALS

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

JOSEPHINE CHARNLEY ABMA, 88 – died January 3

FAYE ANN HARDEE, 84 – died January 3

NOBLE GENTRY STRICKLAND, 22 – died January 2

VERNA JEAN STANLEY AUSTIN, 73 – died January 1

TERESA ANN HAYES, 59 – died December 29

ANGELICA CELESTINE HAGANS MOORE, 47 – died December 29

 



A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR

How will January 6th be remembered from now on?

Is January 6, 2021 destined to go down in American history as a second "date which will live in infamy" alongside December 7, 1941?

The nation's response to the attack on Pearl Harbor turned out to be a heartening success story as Americans, with a show of true patriotism, rallied to the cause of defeating an existential threat to our well-being.

Will our response to last year's assault on the U.S. Capitol and our democratic process produce a similar result?

Americans were understandably frightened by the attack of December 7, 1941, just as many of us remain frightened by what happened in Washington a year ago today.

Our parents weren't sure of the outcome then, and we're not sure of the outcome now. All we've got is faith that truth will prevail over denial regarding what took place on January 6, 2021.


After all, January 6 ought to be celebrated as "Old Christmas," not remembered as a day of infamous betrayal of what we hold dear.


Speaking of Old Christmas, what a beautiful decoration is this "Christmas cactus" blooming above the editor's back desk as the new year arrives.
 


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