Weekly case numbers have jumped this month
With more folks lining up for free tests at the Progressive Men's Club building on East Market Street, Johnston County's COVID-19 case total has jumped sharply since the first of January, with an increase of 3,417 this past week on top of 3,462 the week before that.
Of those 3,417 new cases since last week's report, 2,106 are "breakthrough" infections of persons who had been vaccinated – apparently a result of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus that's sweeping the nation. In addition, Johnston registered 359 COVID re-infections this past week.
COVID-related hospitalizations among Johnstonians have leveled since recent jumps. Even so, Johnston Health announced last weekend that it has halted COVID testing in its Smithfield and Clayton emergency rooms "for those who have no symptoms or mild symptoms," citing "limited resources" as the reason for that cutback in service.
This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools showed 471 active cases among students and staff (down slightly from last week's 494) with 1,510 students and 147 staff members quarantined (1,527 students and 159 staff were quarantined a week ago). Schools with the most students in quarantine: Polenta Elementary 65, Four Oaks Elementary 59, Meadow and Selma Elementary 57, South Johnston High 53, River Dell Elementary and West View Elementary 52.
VIEW the school system's COVID dashboard with data for all schools>
VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>
VIEW the current list of testing sites in Johnston County>
total doses given
|* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 8:15 a.m. January 18
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:15 p.m. January 19
Johns Hopkins University at 8:21 a.m. January 20
School-bus delays are now being posted online
In response to parents complaining about inadequate notices as a shortage of school-bus drivers has disrupted service, Johnston County Public Schools has launched a website with "real time" updates on delays or changes in daily bus routes. Follow this link to take a look>
How shall Smithfield spend its ARPA windfall?
The Town of Smithfield is scheduled to get $4,138,286 in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) adopted by Congress last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Half of that was sent out last July 1, the rest this July 1.
Town Manager Mike Scott requested Tuesday's special session of the Town Council to get feedback on how that money should be spent. The council's consensus: Invest it in non-recurring capital projects addressing issues with the town's infrastructure.
Items on Mr. Scott's list of choices that drew the most favor: $450,000 for a "vac truck" (jargon for vacuum) to clean out sewers and drainage pipes; $1.3 million to expand capacity of the Neuse River intake for the water plant; and $1.1 million to upgrade the electrical substation near the water plant (shown above) to handle a pending change in power delivery from Duke Energy.
Also on Mr. Scott's list is a $2-million reduction in the loan principal for the water plant's expansion (already under construction). Councilman John Dunn, an accountant by profession, liked that idea after the town manager said it would save the town about $111,000 annually in loan payments over the next 20 years.
Another infrastructure concern came to light during Tuesday's discussion when Mr. Scott reported that the estimated cost of expanding the Police Station has gone from $800,000 to $1,500,000 because of rising prices for building materials.
Councilman Travis Scott brought up the issue of street resurfacing. "Our roads are in really bad shape," he said, suggesting the town consider means to make up for lagging Powell Bill allocations from the state in recent years.
Councilman David Barbour said sidewalks and parks ought to be considered in the mix for stepped-up infrastructure spending. He's especially interested in plans for developing a recently acquired park site off NC 210 and adding sidewalks along Wilson's Mills Road in his West Smithfield district.
Tuesday's discussion will likely continue at subsequent council sessions as the town manager produces more information on specific projects. He said the town's ARAP money must be spent or at least appropriated in full by the end of 2024.
A changing of the guard at the top of KS Bank
Earl Worley Jr. (left) is the new CEO and president of Smithfield-based KS Bank, succeeding Harold Keen (right) who has held that job since July 1990.
Mr. Keen will continue to serve as president and CEO of KS Bancorp, the holding company for KS Bank, and also as the bank's executive vice chairman.
Mr. Worley has worked as the bank's chief operatiing officer since 2010. From 1999 till 2010 he was chief financial officer. His successor as chief operating officer is Dit L. Breault, who also holds the title of executive vice president. Mr. Breault, who has 29 years of banking experience, joined KS Bank last July.
Founded as Kenly Savings & Loan Association in 1924, the firm changed its name to Kenly Savings Bank in 1992, then to KS Bank in 1998 before moving its headquarters to Smithfield in 2003.
Campaign targets commuters leaving Johnston
The good news is Johnston County's unemployment rate has dropped below 3% following record-high rates in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. The not-so-good statistic, in the eyes of the county's economic development director, is an estimated 47,744 employed Johnstonians are commuting outside the county each and every workday – about half the county's workforce, spending just over 30 minutes, on average, to reach their jobs.
"We are a popular destination for new residents and home to an expanding base of industries and new jobs, but these two very positive trends are not always in alignment," Chris Johnson wrote in a news release promoting a new website "designed to connect our growing population with exciting employment opportunities closer to home."
JoCoCareers.org, he explained, "is an innovative, interactive platform that directs users to employers with open positions in a broad array of professional classifications. Private businesses, local governments and educational facilities are included.
"The portal begins with a brief survey of salary requirements, educational attainment levels, and user preferences. It then guides employment seekers to local HR sites and, ultimately, online job application forms.
"Local leaders sweetened the process by adding the option for users to enter their name and e-mail address for a drawing to receive gifts of local products courtesy of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau," Mr. Johnson noted.
LEARN MORE by visiting GrowWithJoCo.com>
SSS sends 30 to All County Honors Band
Thirty students from Smithfield-Selma High School performed last week with the Johnston County All County Honors Band at Corinth Holders High School. These students prepared solos and auditioned for this honor in November and were selected to participate. The students from SSS: Jane Ivey Johnson, Bryan Guerrero, Ruthie Nutt, Elle Stephenson, James Atkisson, Catherine Cepin, Hailey Stephens, Skylar Rayworth, Gabe Willis, Dylan White, Van Lawrence, Jude Reece, Chris Vega, Haley Casper, Yaremi Maradiaga, Violet Eklund, Hector Jaramillo, Marcelo Pena, Rory Martin, Hayden Hudson, Corbin Vaughan, Kaven Peacock, Aaron Dailey, Carter Clever, Colby Jones, Isaac Sevigny, Aidan Sevigny, Gabriela Ramos, Joseph Evans, and James Evans. "I am proud of these students for their hard work and commitment to musical excellence!" exclaimed SSS band director Brian Jones. (SSS photo)
WHAT'S COMING UP?
Public meeting on town's Pedestrian Plan this evening
The second in a series of public meetings on a Pedestrian Plan in the making by the Town of Smithfield is scheduled for 6-7 p.m. today (Thursday) at Town Hall.
County's Land Use Steering Committee to meet Jan. 27
The meeting, open to the public, is scheduled for 6 p.m. next Thursday at the Johnston County Agricultural Center on NC 210 west of Smithfield. The committee is directing a review of the county's land-use regulations toward recommendations for changes to be submitted to the County Commissioners later this year.
Daddy-Daughter "Royal Ball" scheduled for Feb. 12
Smithfield's Parks & Recreation Department is inviting "all princesses ages 3+" to attend its annual Daddy-Daughter Royal Ball 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12. The cost per couple is $45 for Smithfield residents, $55 for non-residents, and $5 for each additional daughter. You may register at the Recreation & Aquatics Center or by phoning 919-934-2148.
DEATHS & FUNERALS
Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home
CAROL STALLINGS STRICKLAND, 88 – died January 17
TIMOTHY SHERRILL THOMPSON, 52 – died January 17
TERRY JOE GRISSOM, 59 – died January 16
ANGELA (ANGIE) RENEE NARRON, 53 – died January 16
FLORINE PETERSON TUCKER EAST, 92 – died January 14
ALEXANDER (AL) SNEED, 51 – died January 14
A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR
What to do about Market Street traffic Downtown?
That subject came up near the end of Tuesday's discussion of Smithfield's infrastructure needs by the Town Council.
Mayor Andy Moore described the situation along Market Street as "horrible," with "parking on sidewalks out of control" as motorists pull over the curb to guard against passing vehicles from knocking off side-view mirrors.
He suggested reducing the street's lanes of travel from four to two or perhaps three, while Councilman David Barbour wondered about doing away with parking altogether along Market in the heart of Downtown.
What makes the situation "horrible" is the street's function as busy US 70 Business through town that's dominated by speeding motorists unchecked by stoplights that stay green most of the time.
What Market Street needs, first and foremost, is a little "traffic calming" – a term for things like boldly marked crosswalks with roughened surfaces and traffic signals that force through traffic to stop more often.
Sarah Edwards of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation told the council that her board of directors is going to work on a new Master Plan that will address the traffic and parking situations and offer options for making things better.
Let's hope that gets the job done.
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