Macon County

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. 

 

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.

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Protests in the rural towns of Western North Carolina for racial justice are growing into a movement.

 Molly Haithcock, 24 and Erykah Lasha, 22, didn’t know each other until a few weeks ago even though both went to Franklin High School. Haithcock, who identifies as a black woman, says she was sickened by the killing of George Floyd and wanted to do something - anything: 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Macon County now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 proportionately in the Blue Ridge Public Radio listening area. 

Lilly Knoepp

Macon County reported just three positive cases of COVID-19 for 12 weeks. On Friday, Macon County Public Health has announced 42 positive cases have been confirmed in the last 48 hours. This brought the total case count up to 63.

Lilly Knoepp

Macon and Clay Counties have joined Cherokee County in starting to roll back COVID-19 restrictions. 

Macon County’s Emergency Management Team has announced that restrictions on lodging accommodations and the request that non-residents self-quarantine for 14 days in the county will be rolled back on May 8.

All statewide stay-at-home orders and business closures are valid. Additionally, declarations by the Town of Franklin and Town of Highlands are also still in place at this time.

Lilly Knoepp

FIND THE LATEST COVID-19 CASE COUNT IN NORTH CAROLINA HERE.  FOR ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS CLICK HERE.

The North Carolina General Assembly is heading back to Raleigh on Tuesday to take up emergency legislation dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Blue Ridge Public Radio talked with one member of the Western North Carolina delegation: 

The U.S. Forest Service says is arson is the suspected cause of a wildfire reported Sunday night near the Lake Appalachia Dam in Cherokee County.  It’s estimated at 80 acres in size on land owned by the Forest Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority.  

Lilly Knoepp

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has officially banned outdoor patio dining in the state due to COVID-19. Some restaurants across the state were still offering takeout patio dining. 

On Thursday, Jeanette Evans, owner of the Mad Batter Kitchen in downtown Sylva, was setting up for takeout dining. Evans says that the Jackson County Health Department had come by to explain the ban for the kitchen and the Lazy Hiker Taproom, as well as provide some protocol for customers to safely eat takeout.

Lilly Knoepp

On Monday, the first case of COVID-19 in Western North Carolina was confirmed in a patient that is isolating in Macon County after visiting Asheville.  

 

The Macon County Health Department cannot confirm the location of the patient who tested positive for COVID-19 because of privacy regulations. Spokesperson Emily Ritter explains: 

 

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Public schools in North Carolina will be closed for the next two weeks.  Here’s how systems in the westernmost part of the state are handling it: 

Lilly Knoepp

 Macon County Commissioners voted to approve a constitutional support resolution Tuesday night.  This resolution was different from a 2nd Amendment sanctuary resolution many other counties in North Carolina have passed.

For 3 months, Macon County commissioners have been discussing this – and Tuesday night’s meeting was the biggest yet.

Lilly Knoepp

On Thursday, Buncombe County officals kicked off its new weekly meetings to update the public on Coronavirus(COVID-19).  

 

Lilly Knoepp

Macon County’s Local Disaster Preparedness Team met this morning to talk about where the county stands as the coronavirus, also known as  COVID-19, continues to be a threat to the country. Local hospital officials, law enforcement, public school and health department officials came together to coordinate plans to keep the community safe. 

 

Their main message: Right now, there are no coronavirus cases in North Carolina. 

 

Lilly Knoepp

 Resolution’s protecting the 2nd Amendment have now passed in over half of the counties of North Carolina.

The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association isn’t taking a stance on 2nd Amendment resolutions, says the group’s executive vice president and general counsel Eddie Caldwell.

“The position of every is clear. Every sheriff has taken an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of North Carolina so there is really nothing no issue for the Sheriff’s Association to take a stance on,” says Caldwell. 

Lilly Knoepp

  2nd Amendment Sanctuary resolutions continue to pass county commissions each week in North Carolina, with Yancey County becoming the latest to join on Monday.  Macon County won’t be joining the movement – for now.  Blue Ridge Public Radio attended the packed county commissioners meeting Tuesday evening.

Lilly Knoepp

  The independent monitor over HCA continued its tour of Western North Carolina at the Robert Carpenter Community Center in Franklin.

The meeting was held in the middle of a work day, something that frustrated the almost 50 people that gathered in Franklin to ask questions and air their concerns to Gibbins Advisors. Ron Winters is with the independent monitor overseeing HCA. 

 

Lilly Knoepp

Today is the Nantahala National Forest’s 100th birthday! The forest was established on January 29, 1920 by President Woodrow Wilson. 

Nantahala is the largest of North Carolina’s four national forests with 531,148 acres. It includes the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail, which follows the path of early naturalist William Bartram.  The highest peak in the forest is Lone Bald in Jackson County at 5,800 feet and the lowest elevation is 1,200 feet in Cherokee County along Hiwassee River.

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Democrats have seen a sharp drop in voter registration in North Carolina's seven westernmost counties over the past four years.  Republicans have seen a similar increase during the same timeframe, as well as those registering as unaffiliated in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties.

Lilly Knoepp

Resolutions calling for individual counties to become 2nd Amendment sanctuaries are sweeping the South due to gun control legislation moving through the Virginia Legislature. In Macon County, one such resolution was discussed Tuesday night: 

The crowd at the Macon County Courthouse was so big that the meeting was moved to a larger room. 

Lilly Knoepp

The independent monitor chosen to oversee HCA Healthcare’s operation of the Mission Health system has scheduled informational sessions across Western North Carolina.  Gibbins Advisors was named the independent monitor at the end of October. Their role as independent monitor was a stipulation of Mission Health’s $1.5 billion sale to the for-profit hospital. The company is tasked with overseeing HCA’s compliance with the obligations it agreed to when it purchased Mission.  

Lilly Knoepp

The mountains of Western North Carolina offer beautiful views and outdoor activities but the topography is often a challenge for the state department of transportation. 

Here are a few important updates on local roads in the region:

US Route 441- Jackson County

Lilly Knoepp

The sale of Entegra Financial Corp. to First-Citizens Bank & Trust Company is official. 

The banks announced that the deal was finalized on December 31 for about $220 million. 

Lilly Knoepp

Few issues have dominated the news in Western North Carolina as much as healthcare in 2019.  BPR spoke with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein about the year’s events: 

Stein has been working with attorneys general from across the country to build a single framework for a $48 billion dollar financial settlement from pharmaceutical companies and distributors to pay for the effects of opioid crisis, which has hit Western North Carolina especially hard. 

Lilly Knoepp

Three local Entegra branches have been officially sold by First Citizens Bank to Select Bank. This deal is part of Engetra's sale to First Citizens in the new year. 

Entegra Bank branches in Highlands, Sylva and the Holly Springs branch in Franklin will now be owned by Select Bank. 

"Today's agreement represents a step forward for the merger with Entegra," says Frank Holding, CEO and Chair of First Citizens Bank. "Select Bank is known for its dedication to customer service. We will work together to ensure a smooth transition." 

Lilly Knoepp

Ever since the Franklin-based bank Entegra announced its sale to First Citizens in April, rumors have been swirling that locals will lose their jobs once the sale is finished. Here’s an update as the year ends. 

CEO Roger Plemmons says that Entegra’s sale to First Citizens Bank can’t be finalized until three local branches are sold.  Plemmons explains that without the sale First Citizens would have had more than 50 percent of the market in Macon County and that isn’t legal:

Lilly Knoepp

  Yesterday, we heard about a lack of homeless shelters between Waynesville and Murphy.  Today, we look at a similar gap in substance abuse treatment centers in the same 80-mile distance. In Macon County here is a new treatment facility that hopes to fill that gap:  

Hazelwood Healthcare sits along Highway 441 to Georgia just past Franklin. It opened this week. 

“This is where you come back.” 

Lilly Knoepp

  Two weeks ago, a Macon County newspaper announced it was closing. But after a public outcry, the paper is now determined to stay in print. Let’s go to the newsroom:  

Vickie Carpenter has been at the Macon County News and Shopping Guide for 18 years. She is a photographer and helps manage the office. Here’s how she felt when she was told the paper was closing: 

Lilly Knoepp

  Current mayor Bob Scott ran unopposed for his last two terms in office. The 17-year veteran of public service says he’s using the same signs as years past and took zero campaign contributions this time around. Here’s why: 

 

“To much money in elections. The worst thing that ever happened to this country was Citizens United,” says Scott, referring to the famous U.S. Supreme Court case.  

Cory Vaillancourt

Western North Carolina has four seats in the state senate.  Two of those will be open seats in next year’s election, including the one that represents the state’s westernmost counties.

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