Coached by Aaron Bentley, they're the champions after Smithfield-Selma High School's first season of competition in the new Quad County 3-A Conference that includes seven other schools in Johnston, Wayne, and Wilson counties.
At last week's conference meet, held at the Goldsboro Family YMCA, the Spartan girls won eight gold medals: two by Francesa CiGiovanni (200-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke), the others by Megan Denny (500-yard freestyle), Teagan Farrell (100-yard butterfly), Margot Pichor (200-yard individual medley), and Emily Stuckey (100-yard breaststroke) plus team wins in the 200-yard medley and freestyle relays.
Adding to Smithfield-Selma's first-place finish in the overall meet were silver medals won by Margot Pichor (100-yard freestyle) and Megan Denny (200-yard freestyle) and a bronze won by the 400-yard freestyle relay team.
The other high schools that compete in the eight-team conference (in order of finish behind SSS in last week's meet): Hunt, Fike, West Johnston, South Johnston, East Wake, Charles B. Aycock, and Southern Wayne.
Johnston's numbers heighten cause for alarm
This past week may have been the worst one yet in terms of Johnston County's COVID-19 statistics, with 4,588 new cases reported, 14 additional fatalities, and 58 hospitalized for coronavirus treatments, including 14 in the 25-49 age group, 10 ages 50-64, and 34 age 65 and older.
Breaking down the 52,289 coronavirus cases reported in Johnston County since March 2020, the average age of infected persons is now 36, with 21,022 of total cases in the 25-49 age group, 11,210 age 17 and under, 9,268 in the 50-64 age group, 5,798 among those 18-24 years old, and 4,991 age 65 and older.
Of the 397 COVID-related deaths over the past two years, 291 occurred among those age 65 and older, 76 in the 50-64 age bracket, 29 among those 25-49, and just one among persons under 25 years of age.
The positivity rate from tests being conducted in Johnston County remains high at 35.7% over the state's latest 14-day reporting window.
The Johnston County Public Health Department's mid-week report of major institutional outbreaks includes Smithfield Manor Nursing & Rehab (29 current and/or former residents, 37 staff members), Johnston Correctional Institution (87 inmates, 1 staff), and the Johnston County Jail (28 inmates).
This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools showed 166 active cases among students and staff (down from last week's 245) with 506 students and 57 staff members quarantined (down from 826 students and 94 staff a week ago). Schools with the most students in quarantine this week: Corinth Holders High 26, Polenta Elementary 24, Powhatan Elementary 23, Benson Elementary 22, Archer Lodge Middle 21, Four Oaks Elementary 20. All Smithfield-area schools had fewer than 10.
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>
+ got boosters
|* 2 doses Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or 1 dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine
** Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 5:50 p.m. February 1
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:00 p.m. February 2
Johns Hopkins University at 8:21 a.m. February 3
Unemployment rate down to 2.7% in December
Johnston County's unemployment rate continued downward in December, dropping from 2.9% in November to 2.7% – one of the lowest monthly rates ever recorded. The N.C. Department of Commerce estimates that 99,864 Johnstonians out of a total labor force of 102,678 held jobs in December, leaving 2,814 unemployed. Johnston's latest estimated rate was below the statewide jobless rate of 3.2% and well below a peak of 11% here in the spring of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
TOWN SALUTES NEUSE CHARTER'S VOLLEYBALL TEAM
The Cougar girls of Neuse Charter School went undefeated in Carolina 1-A Conference play last fall and advanced to the state 1-A championship match en route to a season record of 26 wins and 3 losses. The team was honored at the outset of Tuesday night's meeting of the Smithfield Town Council: (left to right) in front – Cayley Cochran, Leah Sheppard, Sydnee Browning, Mayor Andy Moore, Clare Harris, Whitley Kate Moore, Lydia Register, Kylie Long, Head Coach Jen Cochran; in back – Assistant Coach Gail Browning, Leah Ham, Lyndsy Parrish, Olivia Sheppard, Olivia Malzahn, Julia Bridges, and Harper Flowers.
(Town of Smithfield photo by Brian Eaves)
TOWN COUNCIL REPORT
Electric rates will be "stable" for another year
Town Manager Mike Scott reported to the Smithfield Town Council at Tuesday's monthly meeting that ElectriCities, supplier of power to the town's system, apparently will not raise wholesale rates this year. "This should again allow the town's electric rates to remain stable," he noted.
According to data recently compiled by Councilman Travis Scott, Smithfield currently has the lowest residential rates of any electric utility in Johnston County. A customer using 1,250 kilowatt hours a month pays $128.45 in Smithfield, $145.98 in Duke Energy's territories (including West Smithfield), $149.57 in Selma, $163.63 in Benson, and $164.34 in Clayton.
Town Plan amendment for industry adopted by split vote
The council approved a change in the town's Comprehensive Growth Management Plan to expand acreage preferred for industrial expansion in West Smithfield. But approval came with a 4-3 vote after realtor Elaine Marshall complained that her clients who own property in the area had not been properly informed about the change.
Even so, a majority of council members present gave their approval after Planning Director Stephen Wensman assured them the plan is a "guiding document" and that changing the area's existing residential zoning would require a public hearing followed by council approval of a particular rezoning request.
Councilmen David Barbour, David Stevens, and Roger Wood voted in favor of amending the plan while John Dunn, Steve Rabil, and Travis Scott voted no. Mayor Andy Moore cast the tie-breaking vote in the absence of Councilman Marlon Lee.
The revised land-use plan also calls for an additional roadway through the area in question that would connect US 70 Business with Barbour Road. Mr. Wensman said the N.C. Department of Transportation has "agreed verbally" to maintain that road if and when it's built.
Rules amended to allow additional commercial signage
The council adopted changes to town land-use regulations to allow signs on the walls of commercial buildings facing streets, parking lots, or public walkways. Those signs may be as large as 5% of the total wall space. Another change increases the allowable size of signs designating new residential developments – from 16 to 24 square feet. Planning Director Wensman said the changes are "going back to something we had a long time ago."
Water & sewer reserves to match pending federal grant
Town Manager Scott recommended using a portion of federal ARPA money allotted the town as the local match for a pending federal grant that would cover most of the $3.8-million estimated cost of upgrading West Smithfield's sewerage. But the council decided instead to take the required $1,095,880 out of the town's water and sewer reserve account as previously budgeted. Mr. Scott had recommended using ARPA funds instead since the U.S. Treasury Department recently amended rules to allow such expenditures.
ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act, was approved by Congress last year to replace local-government revenues that may have been lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Town of Smithfield expects to receive $4,138,286 from ARPA. The town's water and sewer reserve account holds money set aside from utility-customer revenues to pay for infrastructure-improvement projects.
New rules limit flying of drones to West Smithfield park
The council adopted a policy that limits the recreational flying of drones on town-owned properties to a single location: a newly opened field behind Gertrude Johnson Park beside US 70 Business in West Smithfield. The policy restricts use of drones there to daylight hours dawn to dusk.
Downtown Development board gets a new member
The council appointed Suzanne Taylor and reappointed Dr. Kathleen Coates to the Board of Directors of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation. Ms. Taylor is proprietor of The Oak Leaf Collection retail shop on South Third Street Downtown.
A new appointee to the town's Appearance Commission
The council appointed Kaitlyn Tarley, a resident of West Smithfield's Whitley Drive, to her first term on the Smithfield Appearance Commission.
Police Department gets a new officer and 4 Dodge SUVs
Dante Scarboro, who recently completed Basic Law Enforcement Training at Johnston Community College, was sworn in as the newest member of the Smithfield Police Department, which still has six vacancies among its authorized force of 42 officers.
Citizens urged to "wear red" this Friday for heart campaign
Mayor Moore issued a proclamation designating February as "All in Red Month" in Smithfield and urged all citizens to dress in something red this Friday, which is "National Wear Red Day" to draw attention to a health-awareness campaign of the American Heart Association.
January's liquid precipitation here = 4.87 inches
Cornell Cox, the Weekly Sun's designated weather observer, measured a total of 4.87 inches of rainfall for the month at his South Smithfield Backyard Weather Station after factoring in a 4-inch snowfall on January 21-22. This past month's precipitation total was above normal for January yet a bit short of the 6.84 inches recorded during the first month of 2021. Mr. Cox said the dusting of snow we had last weekend was "maybe 1/4 inch – or immeasurable."
WHAT'S COMING UP?
County Commissioners meet twice next Monday
The board's 10 a.m. session at the Courthouse opens with monthly updates on Johnston's COVID-19 situation and the status of the county's Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The board will also receive the annual audit report for County Government for the fiscal year that ended last June 30. View the full agenda>
The board's 6 p.m. session includes public hearings on five land-use rezoning cases, including two petitions for business zones in Pleasant Grove Township, one for business and one for industrial purposes in Cleveland Township, and another for business zoning in Wilders Township. View the evening session's agenda in detail>
Board of Education meets at 4 p.m. next Tuesday
The board's monthly meeting begins at 4 p.m. with a closed session immediately followed by the open business session. While public seating is limited in the Evander S. Simpson Building on US 70 Business east of Smithfield, the meeting will be live-streamed on the schools' YouTube channel. The meeting's full agenda, once it's finalized, will be posted on the school system's website>
"Ask A Farm(HER)" forum next Monday evening
It's a question-and-answer session featuring Johnston County female farmers, to be hosted by the Junior Women's League of Smithfield in partnership with the Johnston County Farm Bureau's Young Farmer & Rancher program and the JoCo Grows Agriculture Committee. The discussion is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. inside the Johnston County Agricultural Center off NC 210 west of town. Additional information about the event, including a list of speakers and a means to submit questions in advance, is available on the Junior Women's League website>
DEATHS & FUNERALS
Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home
MARION FIORE PATRIKIOS, 83 – died January 27
NICHOLAS (NICK) HUDSON CARROLL, 32 – died January 21
A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR – AND A READER
Folks are tired of COVID, but the battle still rages
National reports have been telling us this week that we may seen the peak of outbreaks resulting from the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19. And yet this week's Johnston County numbers show us trending in the opposite direction.
Is it because we continue to lag in percentage of Johnstonians who have gotten the freely given COVID vaccinations?
Or have too many among us "dropped their guard" in the battle to "stay safe" in the midst of so much infection here?
On the national level, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says COVID-19 this past month took the lives of more than twice as many Americans as the flu has killed over the past three years – about 55,000 COVID-related deaths in January 2022 compared to a total of 24,000 flu fatalities in the U.S. since 2019.
Worldwide, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, almost 25-million new COVID cases were reported this past week, with the worldwide death toll from the pandemic now approaching 900,000.
As the late Yogi Berra would say: It ain't over till it's over.
A reader suggests plastics for resurfacing streets
TOM BANKS, a reader who resides in Smithfield, writes:
Since moving to Smithfield, I have wondered why our highways and streets seem to require constant updates/repairs. Smithfield's streets are much like me, old and worn.
One of the major concerns in the U.S. seems to be our overabundance of plastic products. Supposedly, they do not disintegrate, so our landfills are filled with plastics that supposedly last almost forever.
If plastics don't disintegrate, why aren't they used in the construction of highways/streets instead of asphalt and concrete which both seem to disintegrate relatively quickly?
Smooth plastic highways and streets would surely be more comfortable and less noisy than concrete; and if the assertions that plastic lasts forever are true, maintenance should be minimal.
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