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County merchants and more honored by Avery Chamber of Commerce

BANNER ELK – Following a 2020 that saw its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, area businesses returned in earnest to gather for the Avery County Chamber of Commerce’s annual celebration, held on Friday, Nov. 19, at the Banner Elk Best Western.

The celebration featured a who’s who of Avery County’s organizers and dignitaries on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce. The evening meal was catered by Gadabouts, with a silent auction held, awards pronounced and special guest Larry Weaver presenting a stand-up comedy performance for attendees.

Avery Chamber of Commerce Director Anne Winkelman started the evening by thanking, “My husband, board members, silent auction participants, Robin Morgan, staff, partners and donors.” She continued by saying, “We have such great support and a wonderful team.”

The highlight of the evening featured the winners of the Chamber of Commerce awards for Avery County. Student of the Year was presented to Carly Benfield, an active participant in teacher education, beta club and multiple other associations. The Nonprofit of the Year award was given to the Williams YMCA of Avery County.

YMCA CEO Trey Oakley accepted the award on behalf of the organization. “I am a product of the YMCA, I grew up at the Y,” Oakley said. The YMCA provided a no-cost summer camp and a virtual academy in the past year, as well as provided 26,000 meals and transported a multitude of seniors throughout the county.

The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Jim Ward. Ward, the founder of the High Country Charitable Foundation, has helped award $3 million to nonprofits and is also a member of the Avery County Humane Society Board. Ward was not in attendance to accept the award, thus active Avery member and HCCF liaison Jim Swinkola accepted the honor on his behalf.

“Because of my 30 years at Grandfather Home for Children, I have been fortunate to meet many philanthropic individuals, individuals who have given away gifts of staggering amounts of money,” Swinkola said. “However, I have not met anyone to match Jim Ward’s giving of both his time and assets to improve lives specifically in Avery County. I have never met a more generous individual,” adding, “He is from Florida but his heart is in Avery County. He is totally focused on the needs of Avery County. Without argument, Jim Ward is making a difference.”

The Chamber’s Business of the Year Award was given to Lees McRae College in Banner Elk.

“They could qualify as a nonprofit,” event emcee Jeff Davis noted.

LMC has 26 majors, 23 athletic teams, a 13-to-1 student to faculty ratio, which Davis noted as “critical to this business community.” Lees-McRae brings essential commerce to Avery County.

The Business Person of the Year Award was shared by a pair of recipients. Davis said of the winners, “There are two people who are both deserving of this award.”

Phillip Barrier and Edward Henson were presented as recipients of the honor. Barrier, who serves as Avery County Manager, has proactively acquired large grants to expand broadband service in Avery County, worked expansively for Covid vaccinations in Avery County and has multiple accolades for spearheading aid and prosperity in the county.

Henson, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer at SkyLine/SkyBest, has worked on behalf of Avery County for better internet access, as well as partnered with the YMCA, as well as served alongside Avery leadership and with the High Country Workforce Development Board.

Honorable mentions for the occasion were also recognized, including the Avery Chamber of Commerce for its promotion of business and economic development in Avery County. Scott Garland and Stonewalls Restaurant, Jesse Pope and the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, as well as Mayor of Banner Elk Brenda Lyerly and Avery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman were mentioned and thanked.

Davis himself was also surprised, as he was recognized by the Chamber for his concern for Avery County and his participation in the prosperity of the High Country region. Davis, who operates High Country Wealth Management, is an active participant in the Kiwanis Club, YMCA, Banner Elk Historical Society and the Mayland Community College Board.

Larry Weaver, a comedian, entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, provided a standup comedy show after the dinner and commencement of awards. Weaver noted that, “I grew up in the country, but the closest thing we had to a food truck was when an El Camino hit an opossum on the road.” Weaver gave a roaring performance to entertain guests, sharing that, “My wife loves to run. I get winded running the vacuum, and it’s a Roomba.”

Weaver, a North Carolina native, traveled around Avery County and Banner Elk for material for the show.

“I take in the audience, I listen to the audience.” Weaver said, as he indulged the crowd and capped off the successful Chamber of Commerce awards ceremony

FTE, CMS students and families served pre-Thanksgiving meal at school

CRANBERRY – On Thursday, Nov. 18, Freedom Trail Elementary School and Cranberry Middle School celebrated National Parent Participation Day by inviting their families to enjoy a Thanksgiving-style lunch with their students. After being closed off to visitors for almost two years, the event was a welcomed sight to faculty, staff, parents and students.

“It is so good to see this big of a turnout. We are so grateful to the parents for taking time to join us,” said Freedom Trail Principal Emily Dellinger. “Anytime we can have parents involved, it is a good thing. There is nothing more important in a child’s life than the foundation built by parents and guardians, and we want to support that in any way possible. The more students see a connection between home and school, the more successful they will be.”

Dellinger, as well as Cranberry Middle School Principal Dr. Jamie Johnson and several faculty members, were on hand to greet parents as they arrived.

“It is important to us that all of our families feel welcome in our school and they know what a crucial part they play in their child’s education,” noted Johnson.

Both principals, faculty and staff actively welcomed students and parents while coordinating and navigating each of the school’s grade levels through the halls into the lunchroom and overflowing into the gymnasium.

Director of Child Nutrition Tammie Woodie and her staff were up to the task of providing meals for an event of this size. Approximately 700 Thanksgiving meals were scheduled to be served, thus the cafeteria staff under the supervision of Amy Parlier “went above and beyond to make this a special day for the students and it is greatly appreciated,” Dellinger said.

The long lines started at 10:45 a.m. and continued through the scheduled lunch periods for all grades. The youngest students started first with family members, and meals were served all the way through eighth grade. Some family members had multiple students in different grades and stayed through two, three, and even four Thanksgiving lunches.

Avery County Schools will be closed Nov. 24 to 26 to allow students and staff extra time to spend with their families for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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Avery man charged in connection to Beech Mountain death

BEECH MOUNTAIN — Beech Mountain Police Department has filed charges in connection to the death of Betsy Dellinger reported on Nov. 12, according to the police department who investigated the death with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.

Levi Hicks, 33, of Elk Park, has been charged with one count of murder, one count of felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle and one count of felony possession of methamphetamine, Beech Mountain Police Chief Tim Barnett announced in a November 19 release.

BMPD stated that Hicks is currently being held by the Carter County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center in Elizabethton, Tenn., on unrelated charges and is awaiting extradition back to North Carolina.

At approximately 3:35 p.m. on November 12, Beech Mountain 911 Communications Center received a call about an unresponsive female at 103 Upper Holiday Lane. Beech Mountain Police officers were dispatched and found a white female approximately 40- to 45-years old lying on the floor unresponsive and not breathing upon arrival.

COVID-19 in NC: COVID-19 booster shots now available for all vaccinated adults

RALEIGH — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone 18 years or older who received the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine get a booster six months after their second dose to help strengthen and extend protections against COVID-19. This comes after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the boosters for such use on November 19.

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 booster was made available in late October and is recommended for individuals ages 18 and older who were vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.

“I encourage all adults to get their COVID-19 booster for safer holiday gatherings with loved ones,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “With the recent authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, now nearly everyone in the family can be vaccinated or boosted. Don’t wait to vaccinate.”

Additionally, fully vaccinated people who received their first COVID-19 vaccines outside of the U.S. or in clinical trials with a brand not currently authorized can now receive a Pfizer booster shot when they are eligible.

Those over 50 or at high risk should get a booster now.

Recent studies indicate that while protection against severe disease and death remains strong for individuals who are fully vaccinated, people may be more likely to develop milder or asymptomatic COVID-19 over time.

Individuals can receive any brand of the COVID-19 vaccine for their booster shot. Some people may have a preference for the vaccine type that they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster. Limited preliminary evidence suggests that booster doses of one of the two mRNA vaccines — Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech — more effectively raise antibody levels than a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“If you are 50 or older, I urge you to get your booster as soon as you reach your six-month mark so that you are well protected, particularly as we head into winter and the holidays,” said Secretary Cohen.

Everyone who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of age, should get a booster two months after their shot.

NCDHHS encourages individuals to speak with a doctor, nurse or pharmacist if they have questions about what booster is right for them.

Booster shots are available anywhere COVID-19 vaccines are available, and people do not need a doctor’s note to get a booster shot. Individuals who want to receive a booster will need to know the dates and brand of their past COVID-19 vaccine.

Paper vaccination cards are helpful but may not be necessary. Anyone who received their COVID-19 vaccine at a doctor’s office, independent (non-chain) pharmacy, health department or at a community event can access their vaccine information on the NCDHHS Access Portal. At-home vaccination and free transportation may be available.

In addition to boosters for adults, the CDC recently recommended children ages 5 to 11 receive a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to protect them from serious illness and complications from COVID-19.

“Parents should get their children vaccinated as a safe, tested way to keep them healthy and to get them back to safely being with their family and friends,” said Secretary Cohen.

More information about vaccines for kids can be found on NCDHHS’s website.

North Carolina’s actions are based on authorization from FDA and recommendations from the CDC.

Visit the NCDHHS website for more information about boosters and additional doses.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines in North Carolina or to find a vaccine location, click to MySpot.nc.gov or call the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Help Center for free at (888) 675-4567.

Area, state vaccination totals

Statewide, approximately 61 percent of the total population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine with 56 percent of the total population having been fully vaccinated, according to statistics from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as of Monday, Nov. 22.

The organization reports that more than 11.84 million total doses of vaccine have been administered in the state as of Nov. 22, noting that of individuals 65 years of age and older, 94 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 90 percent have received their full allotment. Of individuals 12 and older, 70 percent of the state’s residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 66 percent being completely vaccinated.

Locally, NCDHHS data indicates that Avery County has administered a total of 9,557 first doses of vaccine, or 54 percent of Avery County residents who have received their first-dose vaccine as of November 22, with 51 percent of the overall county population, or 8,955 individuals, having received a second-dose vaccination.

Click to https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines for more information on vaccines and vaccine distribution statewide, and to learn more about North Carolina’s vaccine rollout, click to YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov.

Latest local, state and national COVID-19 statistics

As of Monday, Nov. 22, according to available dashboard data from the NCDHHS, the total number of coronavirus cases since March 2020 are 1,520,471 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19. NCDHHS reports that 18,630 people have passed away in connection with COVID-19 since March 2020, and an increase of 193 deaths over the past seven-day period. NCDHHS reported on Nov. 22 that Avery County has 2,847 total positive community cases. The department reports Avery with 39 deaths associated with the virus.

Over the past seven days ending November 21, Toe River Health District reports 20 new positive cases, 20 active positive cases (25 percent of which are fully vaccinated, or “breakthrough” cases), 33 total contacts and 21 total deaths from Aug. 1 to Oct. 3, 2021.

According to NCDHHS Dashboard data on Nov. 15, Avery County reports 31.3 cases per 10,000 residents over the previous 14-day period, In comparison, Mitchell County reports 29.4 cases per 10,000 residents, while Yancey County reports 65.9 cases per 10,000 residents. Watauga County reports 20.8 cases per 10,000 residents, while Ashe County reports 25.7 cases per 10,000 residents during the same 14-day period.

“Public health staff is working to complete the investigations and they are contacting close contacts to contain the spread of disease,” TRHD reported. “The Yancey, Mitchell and Avery County health departments will keep the public informed by announcing any additional cases that may arise through our local media partners.”

Mitchell County reported a total of 2,135 positive cases and 22 deaths on Nov. 22 according to NCDHHS, while TRHD reports 23 new positives and 17 active positives (17.39 percent of which are fully vaccinated, or “breakthrough” cases) from Nov. 15 to 21, with 40 total contacts and seven deaths in the county from Aug. 1 to Oct. 3. NCDHHS reports Yancey County with 2,975 total cases as of Nov. 22 with 35 deaths, while TRHD reports 82 new positives and 76 active positive cases (10.97 percent of which are fully vaccinated, or “breakthrough” cases), with 113 total contacts and 12 total deaths from Aug. 1 through Oct. 3.

Nationwide, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine reports more than 257.94 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with the U.S. totaling 47.8 million cases in the nation as of Nov. 22. Johns Hopkins reports that the United States has experienced 771,679 deaths related to COVID-19 as of Monday, Nov. 22.

The N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health, reporting hospitals and commercial labs report more than 20.04 million completed tests as of Monday, Nov. 22, according to NCDHHS.

The estimate of people presumed to have recovered from the virus as of November 15 is more than 1,466,246 statewide, with the estimate provided each Monday afternoon by NCDHHS. NCDHHS estimates a median time to recovery of 14 days from the date of specimen collection for non-fatal COVID-19 cases who were not hospitalized, or if hospitalization status is unknown. The estimated median recovery time is 28 days from the date of specimen collection for hospitalized non-fatal COVID-19 cases.

In neighboring counties, Watauga County reports 6,173 positive tests, with 46 active cases and 40 deaths among residents, while Ashe County reports 3,409 positive cases, with 37 active cases and 61 deaths as of Nov. 22, according to AppHealthCare data.

In Tennessee, Johnson County reports 3,876 cases with 52 deaths, while Carter County reports 10,800 cases and 225 deaths as of Nov. 22, according to statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Caldwell County reports 13,879 positive tests as of Nov. 22 with 223 deaths, while Wilkes County has 10,965 reported cases and 188 deaths, according to NCDHHS Dashboard data.

NCDHHS reports McDowell County with 8,820 cases and 136 deaths. Burke County reports 16,069 cases and 245 deaths attributed to the virus, according to NCDHHS.

Statewide, the top four counties reporting total positive cases are Mecklenburg County (161,218), Wake County (133,122), Guilford County (70,005) and Forsyth County (53,452), the sum of which comprises 27.5 percent of all confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, according to Nov. 22 NCDHHS statistics.

The reported testing numbers could be incomplete due to differences in reporting from health departments and other agencies. Sources include Toe River Health District, AppHealthCare, NCDHHS, Caldwell County Health Department and Tennessee Department of Health.

Updated news and information on the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s response can be found by clicking to covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.