Local colleges are set to resume classes this coming Monday, January 10. With the omicron variant spreading across Western North Carolina, campuses are taking extra precautions.

Masks will be required indoors at all four schools. Here are a few of the precautions each campus is taking: 


Bryan Miler/Courtesy of BPR News

Update January 5 at 10 am: Wednesday morning power was almost completly restored across the Western North Carolina mountians. Five residents in Henderson, Buncombe, Haywood, Graham and Polk Counties respectively are still in the dark, according to Duke Energy.

There is potential for another snow storm on Thursday night to Friday morning in the region, according to The Weather Channel. 


 (12/31)  The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 18,571 positive tests for COVID-19   onThursday(12/30),  the highest one-day number of COVID-19 cases on record and 60% higher than the previous record of 11,581 set in January of this year.  Cases and hospitalizations are also on the rise in Western North Carolina and COVID-19 tests are in high demand. 

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from the Liljenquist Family Collection

Virgil Bryson was a free Black man who helped register voters in Jackson County after the Civil War in 1868. He was threatened by the early version of the KKK and supported by the Freedman’s Bureau.  

Although much about Bryson remains unknown, BPR  talked with local historians and community members about his story – and what we can learn from him today.  

Ellerna Bryson Forney is a native of Jackson County, who is now 58.  She has looked deeply into her family history, but she’d never heard of Virgil Bryson. 

Courtesy of Maureen Copelof

Maureen Copelof won the city of Brevard with 47 percent of the vote. She was previously a member of city council for four years. Copelof says that time on city council has given her a deep understanding of the regional issues facing Brevard and its neighbors across Western North Carolina.

She tells BPR’s Lilly Knoepp that healthcare, housing, development and the environment are all at the top of her list of goals as mayor. The former U.S. Navy captain served for 30 years before retiring to Brevard.

Lilly Knoepp

The Supreme Court heard a case Wednesday from Mississippi challenging Roe vs. Wade.  BPR looks at the level of abortion access currently in Western North Carolina. 

Planned Parenthood spokesperson Molly Rivera says there isn’t access to abortion in the majority of North Carolina.

“In North Carolina, 91 percent of counties in our state do not have an abortion provider,” said Rivera.

The only abortion provider in Western North Carolina is a Planned Parenthood location in Asheville.

Lilly Knoepp

Republican state senator Kevin Corbin will not run for Congress, and will instead run for re-election to his current office.  The first-term senator said last week he was considering a run for the GOP nomination in North Carolina’s 14th Congressional district, but made it official this morning that he will instead seek to stay in the General Assembly. 

Courtesy of Jack Horton

Jack Horton has been involved in local Western North Carolina politics since the 1970s. In November, he ran unopposed to become Franklin’s new Mayor. BRP's Lilly Knoepp spoke with Horton about his career and what he hopes to achieve in his new role. 


More than 24,000 children in North Carolina have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine according to state health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.  The lower-dose Pfizer COVID vaccine got the green light for 5- to 11-year-olds  late last week.   

"The data shows that the lower dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine protects children from serious illness and there were no serious side effects," said Dr. Cohen during a media briefing on Wednesday .

The 2018 murder conviction of a Haywood County man charged with selling narcotics linked to a deadly overdose has caught the attention of public health researchers. They’ve published a paper that raises questions about the harsh punishment. BPR’s Helen Chickering talked with the researchers over Zoom about the behind the scenes work that led to the findings. 

Courtesy of National Nurses United

The North Carolina Department of Labor is investigating a complaint at Mission Health. 

BPR News

Several health departments  and vaccine providers across Western North Carolina are rolling out the Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot  to people 65 and older and others now eligible.  Buncombe, Henderson, and Haywood Jackson,  Madison, and McDowell counties are among those offering the booster shot.  Meantime,  there are lots of questions about just who is qualified to get the extra dose.

Photo Courtesy of Pexels

The Nantahala Health Foundation and Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation hope to address the region’s housing crisis by helping homeowners keep their homes livable.  

Lori Bailey, executive director of nonprofit Nantahala Health Foundation explains their new Healthy Homes Initiative.

“If you’re a family that is really struggling to get by already then you need a little assistance just to keep it in good repair going forward and so that you are able to keep living there,” said Bailey.

Cory Vaillancourt

The state legislative committee that will undertake redistricting in North Carolina made its way to the mountains Tuesday evening for its only meeting in the region.  

Almost 200 people showed up to the campus of Western Carolina University to listen and share comments about the redistricting process. About 50 people spoke during the public comment period.   

Kathleen Barnes represented the Transylvania County NAACP. She said she drove two hours to the meeting which she called “a public health risk” identifying that some people in the room were unmasked.

Courtesy of Town of Franklin

The town of Franklin has hired a new town manager who is a familiar face in Western North Carolina. Amie Owens was previously the assistant town manager of Waynesville. BPR spoke with Owens during her first day on the job.

“I think each town has its own challenges. I was so excited to see a manager position open in Western North Carolina because that’s pretty rare these days,” said Owens. She served as assistant town manager in Waynesville from 2016-2020 and in Altavista, Virginia from 2020 – 2021.

Owens is a native of Haywood County, North Carolina.

A Shot Above/Allen Newland

Haywood County was ravaged last night by heavy rains and wind from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred.

At least were 30 people unaccounted for on Wednesday afternoon after flooding caused evacuations in Haywood County.

The towns of Clyde and Canton were both on boil advisories because their shared water system is shutdown.

Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers was walking around downtown checking on local businesses when BPR spoke with him:

Courtesy of NC DHHS

COVID-19 numbers have spiked across North Carolina in recent days. BPR’s Lilly Knoepp has a look at what’s going on in the far-western counties…

When infections spiked at the beginning of this year, Western North Carolina was a few weeks behind more urban parts of the state in seeing high COVID-19 numbers.  That’s not the case in this newest wave explains Haywood County Health Department spokesperson Allison Richmond.

Rebecca Helm

A local biologist who's been making waves for her research into jellyfish that reside in freshwater ecosystems, including some here in Western North Carolina is part of an international campaign to protect and better understand marine life in a vast stretch of salt water - most of us will never see.

Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

It’s been six years since the U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark ruling, making same-sex marriage legal.  But that ruling doesn’t apply to sovereign nations in the U.S. – including the Eastern Band of the Cherokee on the Qualla Boundary.  

A year before the Obergefell decision, the Eastern Band Tribal Council passed a resolution codifying the tribe would only recognize marriage between a man and woman. 

Courtesy of North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office

In the eight westernmost counties in the state, much of the population doesn't have access to broadband . Recent data also shows that access to speeds above 25 Mbps are even worse - less than 15 percent in Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Swain Counties. 

The broadband gap has become even more apparent during the pandemic as workers and students moved to working from home via the internet. 

Courtesy of Gas Buddy

Colonial Pipeline announced Thursday morning that fuel deliveries should be made by the end of the day. The pipeline restarted operations on Wednesday night after being out of service since a cyber-attack caused a shutdown.  

Lilly Knoepp

Do you have a question about the COVID vaccine?  We want to hear from you!  Record your question as a voice memo on your cell phone and email us at voices@bpr.org or use the "talk to us" feature on the free BPR mobile app.


BPR is answering listener queries about the Coronavirus in a new segment –Talk to Us: COVID Questions.  BPR’s Helen Chickering brings us this week’s answer.   

This week's question comes from Dr. Penny Brewster  of Franklin.

BPR is answering listener queries about the Coronavirus in a new segment –Talk to Us: COVID Questions.  BPR’s Helen Chickering brings us this week’s answer.   

This week's question comes from Emma Rodriguez of Henderson County. “After getting the COVID-19 vaccine, if I get  tested for COVID-19,  will the test come out positive?”

Courtesy of Bob Wehr

Before the pandemic, agricultural funding came North Carolina’s westernmost counties to help connect farmers and those in need of local food. BPR shares how during the pandemic, the program became even more important:

Just a few miles outside of downtown Robbinsville sits Bob Wehr’s 27-acre farm.

“It's in a little bit of a valley. It’s kind of pretty. It has a Southern exposure, so it's a lot of sunlight. It's just kind of fun and makes you feel good when you drive by and see the cattle out there grazing,” said Wehr, who is 76 years old.

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 Appalachian Regional Commission

The Appalachian Regional Commission(ARC) is looking for public input from the Appalachian community about what the commission should prioritize in the next 4 years.  The federal organization has funded economic development and infrastructure projects in the region since 1965.  BPR reported in 2019 that over the past decade the ARC has spent over $40 million in Western North Carolina on about 130 projects.

Drew Reisinger

As the country watches the COVID death toll cross the half million mark,  a Western North Carolina official has been taking inventory of the local impact.  As BPR’s Helen Chickering reports,  he ended up with a snapshot for the entire state.

Three WNC hospitals are on the list to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine shipments.  Earlier this week, North Carolina health officials announced that Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville would be among the 11 “early ship sites” that would hold the vaccine in cold storage during the approval process, which is expected to continue this weekend with the meeting of the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.  

Courtesy of Ben Guiney

Jackson County is one of six jurisdictions in Western North Carolina now considered to have ‘critical’ community spread of coronavirus, the highest such classification from the state.  BPR talked to a doctor who was recently in quarantine with COVID-19:

Dr. Ben Guiney tested positive for COVID-19 on November 28th.  He’s not sure if he got COVID working at Harris Regional Hospital or not. During his isolation, Guiney was separated from his family by his bedroom door.