Courtesy of American Journal of Surgery

Since March, more than 9,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in BPR’s Western North Carolina listening area.  Most of those cases end up at the region’s biggest hospital, Mission in Asheville.  Dr. William Hathaway is Chief Medical Officer there. He says the hospital has been following CDC guidelines around patient testing.

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.

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.  

WNC COVID-19 'Phase 2.5' Updates

Sep 5, 2020

(9/28 12:30 p.m.) North Carolina has reported 208,248 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, an increase of 868 cases from the day before.  897 people are currently hospitalized, a decrease of 20 from the day before.  3,445 have died from COVID-19 in the state, an increase of 4 from the day before.  For more information, including county-by-county and demographic breakdowns, click here.  In the 13 North Carolina counties in Blue Ridge Public Radio's listening area, there are 9,048 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 226 deaths, an increase of 48 cases and 1 death from the day before. For information on cases in the state of Georgia, click here.  For more local information, click here

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. 

Resúmenes para la semana del 17 de agosto

Aug 21, 2020
Illustration by Luis Martinez

Reapertura de Escuelas


Los alumnos de escuelas públicas a lo largo de Carolina del Norte han vuelto a clases esta semana. Pero sólo algunos irán presencialmente a clases, mientras que otros comenzarán su año escolar de manera virtual. Se estima que alrededor de un 40% del distrito escolar volverán a sus salones de clases. 


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.


As some schools welcome students back during the pandemic, it’s likely that the  only healthcare provider on campus- will be the school nurse. And in North Carolina more than half serve more than one school.

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. 


School Systems In WNC: How Will They Reopen?

Jul 29, 2020

Plan B, Plan C, or something in between?  Check out what each public school district in Western North Carolina decided on for the start of the school year.

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Western Carolina University is preparing for next month’s fall semester, which will have a mix of in-person classes and online instruction. 


Western Carolina University has 15 different work groups and task forces finalizing the details of the return to school next month.  Cory Causby is the associate vice chancellor of human resources. 


Courtesy of Harrah's Cherokee Casino

Five employees of the table games section at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino have tested positive for COVID-19. 

"The cluster occurred as a result of 5 employees testing positive in a 14-day period," says Vickie  Bradley, Secretary, Public Health and Human Services in an email. The fifth employee was identified on Friday, July 17. 

The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Carolina is hovering close to 100,000 with 1,820 new cases reported on Sunday.  Hospitalizations declined over the weekend but remained over 1,000.  The continued rise in new cases and hospitalizations prompted Governor Roy Cooper to extend Phase-2 of his reopening plan for another 3 weeks.  The governor also announced plans for K-12 schools this fall.  

Every Friday,  BPR’s Helen Chickering checks in with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban and this week – there was lots to talk about.

Cass Herrington / BPR News

Henderson County has Western North Carolina’s highest population per capita of Latinx residents.  And the County’s Health Department reports a third of COVID-19 cases are among individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latinx. That’s why the state Department of Health and Human Services has directed $100,000 to the Hendersonville-based non-profit True Ridge.

Mountain State Fair

Two WNC fairs have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At a  press briefing at the WNC Ag Center Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced the annual Mountain State Fair will not be held in 2020.  The fair was scheduled to talk place Sept. 11 through 20 at the WNC Ag Center in Fletcher.


Sheriffs across North Carolina will not enforce the statewide order on wearing face masks in public.  Here’s why: 


Eddie Caldwell is Executive Vice President for the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association.


“We’ve tried to read it and explain it to the sheriff’s in as clear language as we possibly could,”says Caldwell. 


Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor announced that a Highlands Town Hall employee tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. All of the town hall’s employees - about 10 including the mayor - have now been tested and are awaiting results. Taylor says the employee had been working from home but had been in the office intermittently. 


 Taylor says that he supports the new mandatory order for masks in public. 


Courtesy of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital

Erlanger Health System has laid off CEO Mark Kimball of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy.

The health system laid off 11 leadership positions throughout the Erlanger Health System due to revenue losses associated with COVID-19. 

Resúmenes para la semana del 22 de Junio

Jun 23, 2020
Illustration by Luis Martinez

Actualización Coronavirus 


Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering reviews the week’s coronavirus news with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban.  This week they discuss the latest COVID-19 metrics, the “have and have-not” impact on  hospital reporting,  possible mask mandate, missing racial data and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on foster care

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Macon County continues to have the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in Western North Carolina. BPR takes a deeper look at one of the county’s largest employers, which saw one of the first clusters of cases there. 


About 8 percent of Macon County roughly 34,000 residents have been tested for COVID-19 explains Emily Ritter, the public information officer for the county’s Public Health department.


Resúmenes para la semana del 15 de Junio

Jun 18, 2020
Illustration by Luis Martinez

Reapertura de negocios comerciales


El gobernador de Carolina del Norte, Roy Cooper, aseguró que la próxima semana se confirmará si los negocios cerrados por causa del COVID-19 podrán volver a abrir sus puertas al público. Según la última orden estatal, restaurantes, salones de bellezas y peluquerías ya podían comenzar a funcionar pero con una capacidad máxima reducida. Bares, gimnasios, teatros y cines deben permanecer cerrados hasta el 26 de Junio o hasta que el gobernador promulgue una nueva orden.