Macon County

Lilly Knoepp

During a pandemic, an 83-year-old man is attempting to become the oldest person to complete the over 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail. BPR spoke with him as he made his way through Western North Carolina:  

It's spring in Franklin. That means that the town is full of hikers making their way up the Appalachian Trail.

After hours at a downtown bakery, a group of locals and hikers are wolfing down spaghetti and meatballs. Among them is a well-known bearded figure in the hiking community.

“I’m Sunny Eberhart. My trail name is Nimblewill Nomad.”

Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

Mission Health System celebrated a groundbreaking at the site of the new Angel Medical Center in Franklin.

The $68 million location will not have more beds than current hospital but the new space will have bigger rooms, and new technology and more windows explained Angel Medical Center Board of Trustees Chair Johnny Mira-Knippel.

Lilly Knoepp

The town of Franklin lost one of its matriarchs this month.

Vice Mayor of Franklin Barbara McRae passed away on March 2nd after a long battle with cancer. Long before she entered politics, McRae had a career in a different public service: journalism.

She worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for the Franklin Press for 10 years. Rachel Hoskins, now the publisher of the Press, worked with McRae for six years.

Courtesy of The Nikwasi Initiative

The nonprofit that took control of the sacred Nikwasi Mound in Franklin two years ago is releasing more details about its plans for the site.

The Nikwasi Initiative is made up of representatives from Macon County, the town of Franklin, Eastern Band of Cherokee(EBCI) and Mainspring Conservation Trust.

Courtesy of Mission Health

Mission Health System has announced that it is moving forward with its new hospital in Franklin after more than a 3-month delay because of the pandemic.

Mission Health says it will be breaking ground on the new Angel Medical Center at the end of April.

Dr. Timothy Layman oversees clinical operations at Angel. He says the new hospital, which will now be across town,  will have new technology - including a new imaging suite - and more space.

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

HCA Healthcare has delayed construction of the new Angel Medical Center location in Franklin. The project was scheduled to break ground at the end of 2020.

“While we hoped to begin breaking ground before the end of 2020, events beyond our control have delayed that until spring of 2021,” said Karen Gorby, Angel Medical Center CEO and CNO, in an email.

Courtesy of U.S. Census

Right now only about 30 percent of Jackson and Swain Counties have responded to the U.S. Census. Statewide almost 60 percent of North Carolians have already responded to the census. 

“Western North Carolina has historically been undercounted in the Census and 2020 is no exception,” said Jackie Simms, chair of the programs and grants committee at Dogwood Health Trust in a press release. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Black Lives Matter protests across the nation have sparked rallies in support of law enforcement.

 

Hundreds turned out for the Back The Blue Rally hosted in part by Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland. 

 

“We have people here from Jackson County, Macon County, Swain County, Clay County. We have people from all over who came out here to support us,” explains Holland.

 In the crowd you hear someone yell: “Andrews.”

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.

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. 

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