Melissa McKnight/Jackson Public Health

Rural counties in Western North Carolina are vaccinating first responders.  BPR went to a mass COVID-19 vaccination in Jackson County.

A cold wind blows outside the Jackson County Recreation Center in Cullowhee. But it hasn’t stopped officers, firefighters and first responders from lining up to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.

“There’s actually been a good turn out. It was actually real smooth once we got in line.”  

That’s Kent Davis, a deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.  He’s worked in law enforcement for more than 35 years.

Macon Public Health

In order to meet the demand for vaccinating residents, Macon County is cutting back on contact tracing.

On Monday, Macon County Public Health department announced it would no longer issue press releases about COVID-19 clusters in order to move three nurses from contract tracing duties to COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

“If you could double my staff then I could vaccinate all week long and test all week long.”

Lilly Knoepp

The pandemic has hit non-profits and museums hard due to travel and social distancing restrictions.   One museum in our region appears naturally poised to weather the pandemic.

The War Woman cabin on the property of the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center is decorated for Christmas. It was built in the late 1880’s but is now styled as a 1940’s Appalachian cabin with a woodstove and a vintage radio that clicks on when you enter the room:

“Where the blue of the night… meets the gold of the day,” plays the radio.

Vaccinations are rolling out across Western North Carolina. Mission Health is the latest to start  administering the COVID vaccine to at risk health care workers.  The system received just under 3,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.  Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville started giving the shots on Tuesday (12/15)and  Cherokee Indian Hospital – on Wednesday.   The shots arrived as the state continued to see record case numbers and hospitalizations. BPR’s Helen Chickering checks in on the metrics and vaccines with North Carolina with NC Health News editor Rose Hoban. 

Photo courtesy of New Kituwah Academy

Long before the world had ever heard of COVID-19, the Cherokee language was in trouble.

Last year, the three tribes in the U.S. declared a state of emergency because there are now so few fluent speakers.  That includes the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in Western North Carolina.  Here’s how the pandemic has impacted the teaching of the language:

The New Kituwah Academy started in 2004 to teach a new generation of fluent Cherokee speakers. Like other schools, the pandemic caused educators to go to virtual instruction.

A primary care provider who practices in Fletcher became the first COVID-19 vaccine recipient in Western North Carolina.  “That felt great,”  said  Dr. Chona Reguyal about getting the first shot Tuesday morning.

North Carolina broke another coronavirus daily case record on Sunday,  as more people get tested before Thanksgiving.    Gov. Roy Cooper will hold a coronavirus task force press briefing Monday afternoon.(11/23).  BPR’s Helen Chickering checks in with North Carolina Health News editor Rose Hoban about the metrics, concerns about hospital staffing and a look at how some nursing homes in North Carolina are keeping the virus at bay.

 North Carolina coronavirus cases dipped a bit on Monday after a week of steady increases including a record high of more than 3,000 on Friday.  Hospitalizations also hit a new high last week.  BPR’s Helen Chickering checks in with NC Health News Editor Rose Hoban  - with a close look at questions around one of the most common COVID tests. 

Photo credit: Amanda Mills/CD

North Carolina coronavirus cases dipped a bit on Monday after a week of steady increases including a record high of more than 2,900 on Friday.  State officials say they’re watching the trends closely  as we head into the holidays.   BPR’s Helen Chickering checks in with  NC Health News Editor Rose Hoban the risk that comes with being cooped up during cooler weather and a look at some new health trends emerging from the pandemic.  

North Carolina remains paused in Phase 3 of the governor’s coronavirus reopening plan as the state’s case numbers continue to climb.    BPR’s Helen Chickering checks in with  NC Health News Editor Rose Hoban about the trends and the state’s plan to distribute coronavirus vaccines.   Check out NC Health News Voter Guide on Health here.

Courtesy of Principal Chief Richard Sneed

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

A comedian performs in a back yard under string lights before a small crowd.
Photo Courtesy Melissa Hahn

Melissa Hahn had found a way to make it in comedy—not with her own punchlines, but by presenting funny people five to seven nights a week, at assorted Asheville venues, through her company Modelface Comedy

“In February, I did the biggest show of my career. I got to produce a live comedy special for Bobcat Goldthwait at the Mothlight,” she recalled. “And then a month later, the world stops.” 


Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban.  This week, on the heels of the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis,  they take a brief look back in history at other presidents who have fallen ill while in office, and forward as North Carolina moves forward into Phase-3 of the governor’s coronavirus reopening plan.

Photo courtesy of TWASA

The struggle to get the most updated information on the spread of COVID-19 in a community has been crucial for local and national government decision-making. Here’s the unlikely source of data for a Jackson County project that hopes to increase the speed of information.

COVID-19 testing delays and asymptomatic carriers have contributed to a slower understanding of how many people in a community have the virus.

“Our goal here is to really give public health officials an early warning for what’s happening in the community.”

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban.  This week they discuss the latest COVID-19 metrics,  what might be on the list as the governor lifts more restrictions in his coronavirus reopening plans and a newly released federal report that spotlights deficiencies in nursing homes across the state, which have been coronavirus hot-spots.

Lilly Knoepp

Graham County started off COVID-19 by shuttering its borders.  Months later, the county is experiencing an outbreak at a nursing home.

Graham County didn’t experience COVID-19 community spread until August unlike many surrounding counties which spiked much earlier.

“Graham County for their flu season typically runs about 6 weeks behind the state.”

That’s Beth Booth, director of Graham County Health Department.

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban.  This week they discuss White House Coronavirus Task Force visit to North Carolina as the state’s COVID rate “simmers”, the continued rise in cases among inmates, and the criticism that the state has not done enough to help release more eligible people from prison early to help reduce the spread of the virus.  

Lilly Knoepp

COVID-19 cases in Western North Carolina have stabilized says Dr. Mark Jaban, medical director of Haywood County Health and Human Services.

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban.  This week they discuss North Carolina’s move to Phase 2.5 of the governor’s reopening plan, what happened behind the scenes as lawmakers hammered out the remainder of the federal coronavirus relief package, and why some researchers are revisiting the question about conducting research in prisons.  

Tom Snow

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban. This week they discuss the public health mentions  in Governor Roy's Coopers budget proposal, CDC's updated coronavirus testing guidelines and  - river otters.  They sure are cute, but what do they have to do with our health?

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban.  This week they discuss the quick- switch to all online-learning by two universities in the UNC system, the complicated challenge of communicating public health messages during a pandemic along with a check-in with primary care practices. 

Michelle Shiplet

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Graham County closed its borders.  BPR talks with a local nonprofit about economic struggles of finding food during the pandemic:

As one of the least populous counties in all of North Carolina, Graham County has seen a slower spread of COVID-19 than other areas.  It took until this month for community spread to occur. But throughout the pandemic, access to food has been an issue in the community.

“I’m standing outside the door hollering numbers and meals through the window and delivering boxes to vehicles.”

Rose Hoban / NC Health News

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban.  This week (after a week off) they discuss the seemingly stabilizing coronavirus trends as NC college students return to campus and public schools begin to open, the testing numbers error that shines a light on outdated data collection methods and  the coronavirus budget breakdown that included a “what if we had expanded Medicaid” moment.

Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University

A lawsuit has been filed against the UNC System to halt the start of classes statewide. The lawsuit lists all UNC System schools including Western Carolina University.

Associate Professor Jack Summers teaches chemistry at Western Carolina University. He’s one of the lawsuit plaintiffs because he says COVID-19 makes it impossible to have a safe work environment on campus.  

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Western Carolina University Faculty Senate narrowly approved a resolution calling for all classes to go online when the fall semester starts next week.  Dr. Yancey Gulley, an associate professor in higher education and student affairs programs at the school, introduced the resolution. 

He says the decision on whether classes should be online or in-person lies with the statewide UNC System.

Photo by Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University

Western Carolina Faculty Senate will vote on Monday for a resolution asking the university to be 100 percent online because of COVID-19.  Chair of Faculty Senate Kadence Otto says the emergency meeting was called in order to bring up the resolution before the semester starts – even though it won’t send students home.

“Even if the resolution passes nothing is going to change because the resolution is simply the voice of the faculty,” says Otto. The vote will take place via Zoom. 

Photo by Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University


The first day of class for most UNC System schools is August 17. BPR spoke with a Western Carolina University student who already contracted COVID-19 as school officials set out new policies to address the pandemic.

Miranda Curtis is from Murphy. She’s a hospitality and tourism management major at Western Carolina University. Right now she’s rethinking that career path... 

“I mean it seemed like a good major before all of this started,” says Curtis, who is 23-years-old.

Greg Barnes

Every Friday, we check in with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban to discuss the latest coronavirus news making headlines.  This week, the conversation focused on  an investigation by NC Health news reporter Thomas Goldsmith about the quality of care  at state owned veteran’ nursing homes managed by a private company, and where 36 North Carolina residents of military service have died of COVID-19.

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University students will be back on campus this weekend.


Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Sam Miller expects about 400 students will move into the residence halls on Saturday. Students have signed up for specific times to remain socially distant.  


In total, about 3,500 students will be living in the dorms when classes start on August 17. Miller says this is down from about 4,000 last year for a variety of reasons.

North Carolina COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations keep rising, but NC is still in better shape than many Southern states.   However, the disproportionate number of cases among Latinx/Hispanic communities  continues to concern health officials and was the focus of Thursday’s coronavirus briefing that included high-ranking leaders from the Mexican and Guatemalan Consulate.  BPR’s Helen Chickering asked  NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban about numbers, the push in prevention efforts in Latino communities and more during their Friday check-in.