Volume 15 • Issue 4 July 2020
The New Normal
COVID-19 Hits Home In The High Country Testing Results • Executive Orders Cancellations • School Disruptions
Inside: Timelines of Sacrifices July 2020
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C O N T E N T S
WHAT THIS ISSUE IS ABOUT We take a somewhat different approach with this, our first magazine issue of 2020. It’s a bit newsy as we thought it would be important to document the effect the pandemic has had on us all here in the High Country. So you’ll find this issue is filled with a look back at the coronavirus headlines that have appeared on our website at HCPress.com. We take a look back at the COVID-19 coronavirus and how much it has already affected our lives. Through it all, we published nearly 500 coronavirus stories and press releases on the High Country Press since our first COVID-19 story on February 28. We examine the timeline of virus testing, event cancellations, government orders and school closures, as well the impact on the business community, religious community, and much more. Although we all have become a bit tired of the unfolding news that has affected our lives so much these last four months – we hope this issue will find a spot on your bookshelf as something to look back on in the years ahead as this episode hopefully becomes a memory.
20 A Helping Hand for Business
We look at testing, funding, event cancellations, government orders and schools closures that hit home in the High Country.
Keeping the Community Safe 44 AppHealthCare covers Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties and have been at the frontline of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
Food for Thought
Watauga County School staff and volunteers stepped up to provide meals for school-aged children throughout the county schools were forced to close.
College and the Coronavirus
The Boone Chamber of Commerce dedicated weeks on end to helping area businesses, whether they were chamber member or not.
Returning from Quarantine
Several small businesses suffered through closing down and the anxiety of not knowing what’s next, now turn towards restarting their livelihoods.
Having Faith More than Forever 72 Stories about how church families bond together and stay in touch while being separated from their buildings of faith.
Appalachian State University had its own set of problems to deal with, mainly what to do with nearly 20,000 students.
“Patient 6 Survives” COVID-19 52 An Air Force Veteran and COVID-19 survivor in the High Country comes forward to tell his story of dealing with the virus.
On the Cover
Todd Bush – Our July cover shot
was taken by Todd Bush and represents the new normal, as we are all affected by COVID19. Pictured here are Boone Downtown Patrol Officer Ferrin Page, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System nurse Cindy Hinshaw, Brandon Langdon, co-owner of Shoppes at Farmers Hardware, and Ken Ketchie, a 40year newspaper veteran of the High Country. All four are gathered at the Horton Hotel Rooftop Bar in downtown Boone wearing their face masks that is now required by Boone Town Ordinance. Todd Bush is well known across the High Country for his more than 25 years of photography work for commercial enterprises. Todd is a frequent contributor for High Country Magazine’s cover photos. You can see examples of his amazing work by visiting his website at www.BushPhoto.com. 6
High Country Magazine
We would like to extend a special thank you to the many different agencies, offices, businesses and people that shared their data with us to make some of these stories possible: AppHealthCare, especially Melissa Bracey, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, especially Rob Hudspeth, Toe River Health Department, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Boone Chamber of Commerce, especially President/CEO David Jackson, the Watauga County School System, especially Garrett Price (Director of Communications), WCS Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott and Hardin Park Elementary School cafeteria staff, Boone Town Council, Boone Town Manager John Ward and Boone Town Clerk Nicole Harmon.
READER SERVICES ABOUT US
The first High Country Press newspaper was published on May 5, 2005, and the first issue of High Country Magazine went to press in fall 2005. In March of 2012 the newspaper made the transformation to an online newspaper at our new website: www.HCPress.com. Our new â€œwebpaperâ€? is still packed with information that we present and package in easy-to-read formats with visually appealing layouts. Our magazine represents our shared love of our history, our landscape and our people. It celebrates our pioneers, our lifestyles, our differences and the remarkable advantages we enjoy living in the mountains. Our guiding principles are twofold: quality journalism makes a difference and customer care at every level is of the greatest importance. Our offices are located in Boone, and our doors are always open to welcome visitors.
Ar t in Life - Life in Art Herb Jackson July 15 - August 15
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Our magazine is a wonderful way for businesses to advertise to our readers. Our magazines tend to stay around for a long time, on coffee tables and bed stands, and shared with family and friends. To find out about advertising, call our offices at 828264-2262.
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FRO M T HE PUB L ISH ER
A Publication Of High Country Press Publications
Editor & Publisher Ken Ketchie
Art Director Debbie Carter Advertising Director Jeffrey Green
It’s Been a Time of Sacrifices to Beat the Virus
ell, what an interesting few months this has been! This is our first magazine of the year, and it’s good to be back in the saddle. Just as we were pulling our Faith Magazine together and gearing up for our spring publications at the end of winter, the news started to turn dark as we began to hear more and more about the coronavirus. While putting the finishing touches on our first issue, we put it on hold as advertisers became nervous about their future as uncertainties started to take hold across the business community. At the same time, we started receiving emails as government agencies and national organizations began to address the spreading virus. On Feb. 27, we reached out to App State with a question about their exchange students at Wenzhou University in China, which is located some 600 miles from Wuhan, the city that started to dominate the national news. We posted their response on our HCPress website on February 28, and it was the first breaking news story concerning the virus in this area. On March 4, App State announced their new coronavirus website on the same day the Boone Chamber sent out their first email concerning COVID-19’s potential impact on the business community. More emails began popping up concerning the virus and potential worst-case scenarios…and the “what ifs” started circulating. Then the cancellations started. First the Banff Film Festival cancelled their event. The next day, the Boone St. Patrick’s Day Parade slated for March 14 was called off, and Beech Mountain Resort announced it was closing for skiing on March 15. The first breaking news of positive test results in Watauga County was Sunday, March 15, and after that, everything went downhill fast. We cancelled all print publications as lockdowns started to take effect and businesses had to close their doors. Like everyone else, we had no idea what was going to happen next. Suddenly we found ourselves with no magazines to work on, but ended up busier than ever keeping up with breaking news concerning COVID-19. Our news editor, Nathan Ham, and I spent our days posting press releases on our website and reporting the effects of the virus on our community. We had a front row seat on how the news was hitting the High Country community, so in this issue, we decided to share a look at the past four months of incredible sacrifices we’ve all had to make during this unprecedented time in our lives. Our 15th anniversary was May 5, and we used this opportunity to reach out to our readers for financial donations to help bridge the gap from the beginning of this pandemic to this July issue. Those donations and many kind words of support have allowed us to make it to this point. To the readers who opened their wallets and helped us stay afloat, we dedicate this issue to you. We couldn’t have done it without your generous help! 8
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Contributing Writers Nathan Ham Jan Todd Sherrie Norris Harley Nefe Madison Fisler Lewis
Contributing Photographer Todd Bush
High Country Magazine is produced by the staff and contributors of High Country Press Publications, which serves Watauga and Avery counties of North Carolina
HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE P.O. Box 152, Boone, NC 28607 828-264-2262 Follow our magazine online where each issue is presented in a flip-through format. Check it out at:
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COVID-19 Hits Home Testing Timeline
Figuring Out Testing
The battleground with COVID-19 began with scientists and medical professionals designing a test capable of determining if a person had the coronavirus or was sick with something else like a cold or influenza.
By Nathan Ham
million Americans had been confirmed to have had the virus, and by the middle of June over 2 million Americans had tested positive.
How We Have Experienced COVID-19 in the High Country
We’ve been lucky in the High Country to not have to deal with more cases, bigger outbreaks and increasing death totals like some other areas throughout the state and the country. So far, only one death has been reported from COVID-19 in the High Country, an elderly individual from neighboring Ashe County. Still, that’s one death too many and one tragic loss of life from an invisible enemy that the United States hasn’t figured out how to eradicate just yet. Our number of positive cases has never gotten out of hand, but what has been hurt the most here has been the local economies that rely so much on tourism, shopping, dining and entertainment that none of us have been able to really get out and enjoy since ski season and the Christmas holiday.
o one knew 2020 would be the year that we all learned just how fragile our healthcare system, economy, and our own human bodies can be when Executive Orders Timeline confronted with an unknown illness that still shows no signs Keeping Up of stopping its march through every mountain and valley, every suburb and family farm and from the corner of WashWith Them ington to the tip of Florida. North Carolina Governor The world was jostled awake with an unknown respiRoy Cooper issued a ratory virus in the Wuhan province of China with cases of number of executive pneumonia showing up as early as December 12 and lasting orders, as did town and through the end of 2019. Chinese authorities identified the county governments virus as a novel coronavirus and the World Health Organizaas COVID-19 began to tion named it 2019-nCoV on January 7. The first death was spread across the state. announced four days later, a 61-year-old man that had died Cooper’s stay-at-home on January 9. order was the most It wasn’t until January 21 that the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, a man in Washington impactful of the orders. State that had traveled to Wuhan, China. The WHO renamed Many local events that everyone looks forward to bethe virus COVID-19 on February 11. America experienced what it thought was its first COVID- ing a part of had to be postponed to later in the year (who knows of those events will 19 death on February 29, happen then either) or just however, autopsy results “We have been preparing should we had to be canceled. Tickets would later reveal that two had to be refunded, vacations individuals from California see a positive case of COVID-19 in had to be rescheduled, and had died from the virus three that affects so many things weeks before. our community. Now that we have a that you might not have even March 11 will be the day thought of, such as canceling remembered for when the positive case, we will continue to work event caterers, canceling food WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak to be a diligently to protect the public’s health. orders, and canceling musical performances. It’s a long pandemic. President Donald Trump declared a national Jennifer Greene, Health Director at AppHealthCare on March 15th chain of events that nobody likes to see happen. Imagine emergency that would make $50 billion in federal money available to begin attempting something like that happening for 30, 40 or 50 events that to fight off COVID-19. By the end of April, more than 1 were supposed to happen this spring and summer in Ashe, 12
High Country Magazine
The World Was Jostled Awake Watauga, Avery, and Mitchell counties. Sports fans like myself have been dealt a tough blow over the last three months. First March Madness was canceled, then all spring collegiate sports were canceled. To make things worse, Major League Baseball still hasn’t been able to figure out a way to play any games and both the NHL and NBA playoffs are in limbo as leagues try to figure out what to do. With all Appalachian State sports being canceled for the spring, it took a major hit to the athletic department, forcing the university to discontinue men’s tennis, men’s soccer, and men’s indoor track and field. Concert and entertainment fans have had to adjust their schedules. The Luke Combs concert every country music fan was excited for in May had to be rescheduled until 2021. All events had to be canceled or rescheduled at the Appalachian Theatre and all of the Appalachian Summer Festival events will be streamed online only. And who could forget, for the first time in its storied history, MerleFest had to be canceled. Local bands are missing out on playing shows for App State students and some of their other local fans, and local artists are not getting a chance to show off
Cancellations Timeline There Were So Many People in the High Country and all across North Carolina have had to deal with the cancellations and postponements of some popular musical events, almost all sporting events and local favorites such as MerleFest.
their years of hard work on paintings, drawings, metalwork or many of the other art forms that people dedicate months and years of their lives to. Local restaurants have arguably been harder hit than anybody. Family-owned diners had to miss out on their regular customers that would drop in for lunch each day. College bars and restaurants were missing out on their student clientele after they left for spring break and never returned. Finedining establishments lost a lot of their customers that simply could not afford to spend big on a dinner or a date night with the way the economy was heading downhill. Some restaurants worked hard to make ends meet by continuing a carryout service for their favorite menu items. Other restaurants
just could not justify staying open for carryout only and had been closed since the end of March.
A Little Help Please
Some forms of relief have been available to small business owners and folks who have been out of work. The Paycheck Protection Program loans, if you were lucky enough to be able to get one, might have kept the doors open and the lights on instead of having to close down for an unknown period. Workers being able to get state and federal unemployment aid has helped quite a bit, however, thanks to long delays and a record number of unemployed people, it took weeks and months for people to start seeing any unemployment aid. On March 25, Congress came to a bipartisan agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus deal that would end up giving $1,200 to each American and $500 for each household dependent under the age of 17. From the stay-at-home order in March to the phased reopening that North Carolina is still trying to fully implement, it has been a difficult time for businesses to figure out how to keep their employees paid and how to keep their doors open. On April 2, a total of 6.6 million U.S. workers filed for their first week of unemployment which would mark the highest single-day total of initial claims in history. At the same time, the world as a whole surpassed 1 million positive test cases. The phased reopening plan has allowed for several businesses to be able to reopen to the public and try to begin getting back some of the income and savings money they may have lost during the stay-at-home period. Restaurants can now offer outdoor seating and indoor seating up to 50 percent of the building’s occupancy. Nail salons, hair salons, and barbershops can see their favorite customers again. Clothing stores, shoe stores, boutiques, and antique shops are also
School Disruptions Timeline Learning to Adapt
When schools closed for an extended spring break in North Carolina, nobody expected that would be the last day of school for the spring semester. Students and teachers had to adapt quickly to remote learning.
High Country Magazine
King Street Downtown Boone
South Depot Street
Empty Streets South Main Street
North Main Street Downtown Blowing Rock 14
High Country Magazine
COVID-19 Hits Home able to reopen their to the public whenever store owners feel comfortable in doing so. We have heard from numerous local stores about how they are cleaning and disinfecting more often and how they are trying to practice proper social distancing, but most importantly, they are happy to be back open and seeing a lot of their old customers who are equally as happy to be out of the house. Bars, gyms, and entertainment venues are not able to open just yet, however, if North Carolina can start bringing their positive case numbers back down again, those three business areas will be able to reopen as Phase 3 of Governor Roy Cooper’s plan. Lots of people have found other ways to remain in good health by jogging, walking, or biking outdoors and being able to take in fresh air without being stuck inside with others and sharing the same equipment. With different discussions happening across state and federal branches of government, many members in Congress are realizing that it will probably take more than what has been done so far to push the economy to a quicker, smoother recovery. A second stimulus check could be considered, as well as additional loan and grant programs for small businesses, and even a possible “travel tax credit” has been thrown around as an incentive to get back out of their houses and on a vacation somewhere. The tax credit would reimburse lodging stays, gas for road trips, and the cost of airplane tickets. None of those things is a guarantee, but it appears something may happen sometime in July that many hope will be able to boost the economy some more.
When Can We Recover?
The economic recovery is the hardest thing to figure out how long it may take. We know that medical treatment and vaccine studies can have a huge impact on healthcare recovery. However, there is no magical pill or vaccine to fix the economy that has left millions of people struggling with employment, housing, and food. As we have seen in the High Country, many churches, non-profit groups, and even the school systems have pulled their resources and volunteers together to be able to provide food to children and families that are in desperate need. The Hospitality House has been available for people who have lost their living arrangements. The Hunger and Health Coalition has been there to help provide food and medicine as needed. Donations have poured in to many of these non-profit groups to help out as they can Now as we hope to see a recovering economy sooner rather than later, everyone’s focus has turned to the decision on wearing masks or not wearing masks. Most people seem to be fine with the concept if it means getting rid of the virus quicker and possibly preventing older friends and family members from contracting COVID-19. Others feel like it is a personal freedom and no one can tell them what to do. The Town of Boone made their feelings heard loud and clear when the town council passed an amendment to the town’s state of emergency order requiring some form of face-covering to be worn indoors unless you are eating or drinking, have a medical condition or are 10 years old or younger. The biggest development that all of us are waiting on
ll the cancelations and closures across the United States has resulted in an effected economy, where unemployment rates are on the rise. As of June 6, the U.S. Department of Labor reported around 44.2 million unemployment claims have been filed since mid-March, where nearly 1.5 million North Carolinans remain jobless. In North Carolina, the unemployment rate for March 2020 was at 4.3% in comparison to 4.1% a year prior in UNEMPLOYMENT STATS March 2019, according to the U.S. BuAS OF JUNE 20,2020 reau of Labor Statistics. Watauga 11.1% - 3253 In April 2020 the unemployment Avery 10.2% - 1071 rate jumped to 12.2%, which is a 7.9% difference. When compared to last year, the unemployment rate in April 2019 was 4.1%. When focusing on the High Country, similar trends can be seen. Avery County, which has a population of about 17,557 as of 2019, had a 4.6% unemployment rate in March 2020. This number breaks down to 321 unemployed individuals and 7,014 employed individuals, or a 7,335 person labor force. Just one month later, in April 2020, the unemployment rate for Avery County jumped to 10.2%, with 752 unemployed individuals and 6,632 employed individuals, or a 7,384 person labor force. In Watauga County, which has a population of about 56,177 as of 2019, there was a 3.7% unemployment rate in March 2020. This number breaks down to 1,071 unemployed individuals and 27,308 employed individuals, or a 28,379 person labor force. In April 2020, the unemployment rate for Watauga County reached 11.1%, with 3,253 unemployed individuals and 26,028 employed individuals, or a 29,281 labor force.
Hotel Occupancy NUMBERS
ncluding Boone and Blowing Rock, Watauga County’s occupancy tax revenues were down 34% for the unincorporated areas in March. In April, the occupancy tax revenue was down 91%. Wright Tilley, who is the executive director of the Boone & Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, said he expects May to be down as well, but hopes the Memorial Day weekend helped some. Boone alone was down 51% in March, where as Blowing Rock was down 40% in March and 98% in April. “Once we realized what would be happening to lodging in particular, we immediately halted all nonesWatauga Occupancy Tax sential expenses and pulled back on AS OF JUNE 20,2020 our marketing because there was March - Down 34% no product to be had for the leisure April10 - Down 91% traveler,” said Tracy Brown, executive director of the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority. Due to the amount of closures and cancellations as a result of COVID-19, visitors haven’t been able to stay in rentals or visit attractions. “We turned our messaging to more local support and focused on making sure relevant information was current on our different digital platforms so that when leisure travel did start to come back, we would be ready,” Brown said. Brown also said the tourism development authority adjusted its 20202021 fiscal year to reflect a 40% decline in revenues because when and where the impacts of COVID-19 will change is unknown. “We are lucky in that over the past 10 years of steady growth, we were able to maintain and contribute to a healthy fund balance, and that has allowed us to stay up and running without much interruption,” Brown said. “We’re confident that travel and tourism will be the leader in jump starting the economy, especially here in the High Country. We’re seeing really good signs of that now. Traffic is getting stronger and people are spending money.” Compiled By Harley Nefe July 2020
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SU G A R
NTAIN U O
Bike Park & Chairlift Rides July 3 â€“ September 7, 2020
Gravity Mountain Bike Camp July 10-12, 2020
Avery County Fine Art & Master Crafts Festival July 17 -19, 2020 August 14-16, 2020
Downhill Southeast Series and NC Downhill MTB State Championships August 8 & 9, 2020
October 10 & 11, 2020
Fun at Sugar during Woolly Worm Festival October 17 & 18, 2020
WWW.SKISUGAR.COM Covid19 Rules and Guidlines in place July 2020
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Boone Mall May 10, 2020
Shops at Tanger Outlet May 10, 2020
High Country Magazine
Shopping Malls COVID-19 Hits Home
Many Employees Laid Off During The Shutdown
hat would normally be a busy parking lot full of eager shoppers, Boone Mall and Tanger Outlets Blowing Rock looked abandoned after shops were forced to close or chose to close under Governor Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order in late March. The Tanger Outlets’ retailers employs close to 300 people across their 20 stores located in Blowing Rock. During the shut down many of those employees were laid off, however the Tanger Company continued to pay its employees to continue administrative work and maintenance. Once Phase 1 of North Carolina’s reopening began, Tanger Outlets Blowing Rock was prepared. “To ensure the safety of all while on premises, we enacted additional protective procedures including, self-screening, pre-work screening, training, social distancing, and personal protection equipment (PPE) use. We worked closely with our retail partners to also ensure safety and recommended the same procedures for operation,” said Mark. Boone Mall closed on March 24 and reopened on May 9. The mall currently has 25 stores and 23 of those are back open. “At all the entrances we have sanitary stations set up and guidelines from the CDC, WHO and Town of Boone,” said manager C.K. Golden-Fields.
would be the discovery and successful testing of a COVID-19 vaccine. No one can say for sure when that might be available, but all signs point to positive studies and discoveries being made by numerous vaccine developers, both in scientific settings and pharmaceutical settings. A vaccine still would not fix everything as we see people still die from influenza every year, and some people simply will not take the vaccine if offered. However, if you can lower the number of COVID-19 deaths from 120,000 in four months where the United States is now, to the average of 25,000 deaths that occur annually from the flu, that will be a lot of lives saved in the long run from discovering and utilizing a vaccine. Many folks in the healthcare field hope that there will be a vaccine that receives approv-
al by the end of 2020. There will still likely be more required testing before that vaccine would be available at the market at the local health department or your local family doctor. Regardless of whatever personal choices you make, try to remember that the virus is spread easily, and the more we can all do to protect ourselves and each other, the quicker the virus can be slowed to a crawl, the quicker we can get back to attending sporting events, music concerts and a night out with the guys or gals. We can accomplish that all without having to worry whether you’re risking your health or the health of someone you love if we continue to observe social distancing regulations and at least consider wearing a mask when in a crowded, indoor establishment. t
Deemed an Essential Business
almart was able to keep their doors open throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, hoping that social distancing and encouraged face coverings would keep shoppers safe. Employees were required to start wearing face coverings on April 20. Some questioned how Walmart was able to continue selling nonessential items in their stores like electronics and toys when other local stores had to remain closed. Walmart on the national level has been one of the few retailers that saw sales increase during the pandemic. July 2020
High Country Magazine
The Testing Timeline
had already infected upwards of 20,000 ix months ago, no one in the genpeople in China was now in the United eral public was paying attention to a States and was spreading. strange virus that was starting to infect In North Carolina, Governor Roy CooChinese residents in the Wuhan province of per announced the first positive COVIDthe most populated country in the world. 19 test in the state on March 3, a resident Slowly the virus began to spread and from Wake County. One day prior to that, was given the name COVID-19 novel By Nathan Ham the High Country Press received its very coronavirus, a virus that was believed to first press release from Appalachian Rebe similar to influenza and the common coast to coast. West Virginia was the final gional Healthcare Systems on the topic cold. Other regions of China began to state in the country without a positive case of COVID-19, giving readers details on see the virus pop up. Suddenly, the virus until they received their grim news of a the symptoms of the virus and how High began popping up in European countries positive patient on March 17. Country agencies would be working tobefore finding its way to the United States. gether to prepare for any positive While many scientists speculate that the virus may have appeared “We have been preparing should we see a positive cases that might show up. On Sunday, March 15, Waearlier in the United States than case of COVID-19 in our community. Now that previously discovered, the very we have a positive case, we will continue to work tauga County received the news that a resident had become the first documented COVID-19 diligently to protect the public’s health. first in the High Country to test case was in mid-January from a positive for the coronavirus. 35-year-old man that had flown “We have been preparing should we see from Wuhan back to his home in SnohomOn February 6, the first COVID-19 a positive case of COVID-19 in our comish County, Washington. death was reported in San Jose, California. munity. Now that we have a positive case, Cases started adding up on the west The announcement of the death served as we will continue to work diligently to procoast, tearing through nursing homes and a stark reminder that the deadly virus that tect the public’s health. It is our top priorretirement villages, and spreading from
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AVERY COUNTY Latest Testing Numbers as of June 24, 2020
No. of Tests 1,002 Positive Tests 10 Active Cases 5 Recovered 5 ity, and we will work to keep the community informed,” said Jennifer Greene, the Health Director at AppHealthCare. The resident was employed at Samaritan’s Purse and had recently traveled abroad. “We are working in full cooperation with the local health department in identifying other staff who may have been in contact with the employee who has tested positive, and though we can’t know for sure whether their contact was prior to or after the virus was contracted, each of these employees has also self-quarantined. Samaritan’s Purse has significant medical expertise, including in the area of infectious diseases, and we are working extremely closely with AppHealthCare and all relevant local, state, and national health officials and organizations to ensure we are taking the strongest
Latest Testing Numbers as of June 24, 2020
Latest Testing Numbers as of June 24, 2020
No. of Tesst 1,216 Positive Tests 46 Active Cases 15 Recovered 31
No. of Tests 529 Positive Tests 46 Active Cases 6 Recovered 39
precautions possible,” said a statement released by Samaritan’s Purse. Testing became the next major priority for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and the health department. On March 18, the ARHS announced a new process for sick individuals to get tested for COVID-19. The process included an online health screening with a doctor that would determine whether a person should take the next step in the testing phase. The sick person would then be tested for the flu and if that test were to come back negative, a COVID-19 test would be conducted. Since testing was extremely limited early on, especially in rural areas like the High Country, this program was designed to test only the sickest individuals. Later that day, AppHealthCare an-
nounced the second positive test in Watauga County. This person was exposed to the previous positive test and had been in quarantine the entire time. By March 23, AppHealthCare had conducted 62 tests in Watauga County. Across the state, a total of 8,438 tests had been conducted with 297 positive COVID-19 patients in North Carolina. We will never learn the identities of these people who tested positive for COVID-19 or the area of the county that they reside in. March 24 was a Tuesday on the calendar, and it marked the third positive COVID-19 case in Watauga County. The person also had a travel history and was in isolation. At the same time, there were still no positive tests in Ashe, Alleghany, Avery,
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basic needs including working Mitchell or Yancey counties. with state partners to establish The next day, test numbers connections for supply chains revealed the North Carolina was and laying the groundwork for 18th in the nation with 398 positest result. We have reviewed our internal additional medical infrastructure capacitive COVID-19 tests, well behind New procedures and have instituted additional ty,” said Will Holt, Watauga County EmerYork’s staggering total of 25,665 and New processes to ensure that this detail is coorgency Services Director. Jersey at 3,675. dinated with Appalachian State University The final day of March was the first time The first COVID-19 death in North as planned in the future,” Greene said. that multiple cases had been confirmed on Carolina was announced on March 25. A This was the first known scenario the same day. A Watauga County resident resident of Cabarrus County in their late where the health department and the uniand a resident from outside the county who seventies had succumbed to the illness. versity worked together to get the individwas in isolation inside the county had both Another Watauga County positive tested positive. case put the total up to April started with four on March 26. On the seventh positive test the same day, Mitchell announcement for WaCounty had its first contauga County and the firmed case from the Toe second confirmed case River Health District. in Mitchell County on “We recognize that April 1. another case may cause Neighboring Ashe increasing concern in County received news of the community. Reits first positive COVIDmember, you can help 19 test on April 3. The us slow the spread of person was a close conthis virus. Stay home to tact to someone with the greatest extent that known travel history. you are able, especially “We have been if you are a person who preparing should we is at a higher risk for see a positive case of severe illness. If you A tent at the entrance of Watauga Medical Center was set up on March 17 for COVID-19 in Ashe do become ill, call your patients and one visitor to check in with a visitor badge County. Now that we healthcare provider or have a positive case, we call AppHealthCare will continue to work to speak with a public diligently to protect health staff member bethe public’s health. It is fore going to your proour top priority, and we vider or the emergency will work to keep the room,” Greene said. community informed,” An Appalachian Greene stated. State University student Ashe County Manwas the next positive ager Adam Stumb recoronavirus case in the leased a statement, sayHigh Country, this one ing, “we are confident in announced on Saturday, public health’s ability to March 27. The student lead this effort and aphad not been on campus preciate their partnersince March 4 and was ship with Ashe County already symptom-free. and other local agencies “This announceto protect our commument does not change The Watauga Medical Center set up a tent in the parking lot on March 20 for nity’s health.” anything about how this precautions in case of a spike in COVID-19 patients. April 3 also marked case was investigated or the day that Watauga County reached the the details surrounding the protection of ual tested and to inform the public that the mark of 200 tests conducted by the health the broader community through quaranperson had not been on campus for almost department. As a state, NC had completed tine of close contacts, but it does provide a month. 31,598 tests with 2,093 positive tests, and us an opportunity to demonstrate our in“Watauga County partners are conunfortunately 19 deaths. At the time, 86 tegrity by announcing this unintentional tinuing to work together to prepare for adof the 100 counties in North Carolina had omission of this important detail yesterday ditional medical and public health needs. recorded at least one positive test. in the original announcement. Our priIn addition, planning continues with other Ashe County was notified of its second mary goal is protecting public health and community partners to continue meeting COVID-19 test on April 7 and its third privacy of any person who has a positive 22
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positive test on April 9, who was also an Appalachian State student that had not been on campus in over a month. “With 98% of our students currently off-campus, we may continue to learn of confirmed cases in App State students who reside outside of Watauga County. As we learn of these cases, we are coordinating with local public health agencies to the greatest extent possible, in consultation with the North Carolina Division of Public Health Communicable Disease team,” said Margaret Bumgarner, the Administrative Director of Student Health Service at Appalachian State. Appalachian Regional Healthcare System experienced the fear of having to deal with a positive test among its employees. An ARHS employee tested positive for the virus on April 9. Although the employee did not provide direct patient care, they had come into contact with several other employees that were also quarantined. New updates across the state came in on April 10 where 57,645 tests had been collected with 253 of those being in Watauga County, 43 in Ashe County, and 25 in Alleghany. Alleghany had recently experienced its first two positive tests as well, bringing the total number of counties in the state with a positive case up to 91. There were 3,908 confirmed cases across the state with 423 people hospitalized and 74 confirmed deaths. The next day, April 10, a fourth Ashe County resident tested positive for the virus and had been in contact with people at Boone Family Funeral Home in West Jefferson. AppHealthCare said that anyone who had attended a funeral service from March 19 through April 2 should contact the AppHealthCare office to provide guidance on self-quarantining. “We are grateful for the Boone Family Funeral Home and appreciate their support and involvement in assisting with the contact investigation. We understand that people have many questions about individual cases and we want the community to know we are working diligently to keep the community informed while also protecting patient privacy. It is important that everyone practice kindness and understand that we all have a role to play in wearing cloth or other appropriate face coverings when we are in public settings since some spread can occur when someone has mild or no symptoms. We have no reason to believe anyone is 24
High Country Magazine
intentionally spreading the virus, and while we want to remain vigilant, we know our focus on identifying others at risk is for those with close contact. We urge the Ashe County community to continue staying at home as much as possible, practice social distancing and take prevention measures like wearing cloth face coverings in public settings, continue frequent handwashing, stay home when you’re sick, avoid crowds, and keep distance from others who are sick,” said Greene. David Boone, Owner, and President of Boone Family Funeral Home said they were working with AppHealthCare to identify close contacts. “We have implemented planning efforts by telephone for families and have changed our procedures to lessen the chance that others become unintentionally exposed. All employees who have been identified as close contacts have been in quarantine and are not working until quarantine is complete. We are committed to protecting our community and will follow guidance from AppHealthCare in order to do our part to slow the spread of this virus,” said Boone. Mitchell County had its fourth documented case announced on Saturday, April 11. Yancey and Avery counties were two of just nine counties in the state without a positive test at the time. An eighth Watauga County resident tested positive on April 13 and was in isolation outside the state. Two days later, AppHealthCare revealed that currently, Watauga County had access to only 105 test kits for residents. Ashe County had 77 test kits and Alleghany had 71 test kits available. “Our focus right now is on mitigation efforts and contact tracing after testing is done, more with areas that we have the greatest concern for spread like hospitals, healthcare workers, law enforcement, fire and EMS staff, and those living in congregate settings. We are talking through what testing will look like as we strategize with state partners about reopening,” said Melissa Bracey, Director of Communications & Compliance at AppHealthCare. April 29 marked one of the scarier moments of the virus outbreak so far. A positive test case in Ashe County, the county’s fifth one total, had been linked to a nearby “hot spot” at the Tyson Foods Processing Plant in nearby North Wilkesboro. When it was all said and done, all 2,244 employees at Tyson were tested for COVID-19 by May 9 and 570 of those employees tested positive. The out-
â€œWe have no reason to believe anyone is intentionally spreading the virus, and while we want to remain vigilant, we know our focus on identifying others at risk is for those with close contact.â€?
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Jennifer Greene, Health Director at AppHealthCare on spreading the virus at Boone Family Funeral Home in West Jefferson break made national news at The New York Times and CNN, among others. Watauga County learned of its ninth positive case on the final day of April, just as more info started to be released on when North Carolina would slowly begin reopening its state economy. On May 4, Alleghany County had its seventh confirmed COVID-19 case, linked to a manufacturing facility in Sparta, the countyâ€™s biggest town. On the same day, AppHealthCare revealed that the number of test kits available in the High Country had started increasing. As of that date, over 400 test kits were available in Ashe, Watauga, and Alleghany. Three days later, AppHealthCare released info that another Watauga County resident tested positive, bringing the total to nine while three more people tested positive in Ashe County, bringing the total to eight. Ashe County kept seeing its positive tests continue to creep upwards in the coming days. Five more positive cases were announced on May 10 and then on May 18, Asheâ€™s total case total had jumped to 27 cases after more residents were linked to the Tyson Foods outbreak in Wilkesboro and an outbreak among workers on a farm inside the county. Wataugaâ€™s first big spike in positive cases happened on May 14 when AppHealthCare learned that 16 subcontracted workers working on App Stateâ€™s campus had all tested positive for the virus. Avery County, who had outlasted every other county in North Carolina, finally had its first positive case on Monday, May 18. Mitchell County had six positive cases by this date. Averyâ€™s second confirmed case followed soon on May 21. Monday, May 25 will be remembered
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as the date of the first COVID-19 related death in the High Country. An Ashe County resident in their 70s with underlying health conditions passed away that morning. “We extend our deepest condolences, prayers, and sympathies to the family during this difficult time. Each life in our community is so valuable and we share in sadness about this loss,” said Greene. Two days later, three more subcontractors at Appalachian State tested positive for the coronavirus. More tests continued to be conducted on these workers. On Friday, May 29, AppHealthCare tested 137 different individuals, the highest single-day test total since testing started in March. Eleven more positive tests among the subcontractors were announced on June 2. Avery County received news of two additional positive tests on June 4, bringing the county’s total to four. The county began offering a second round of drive-thru testing on June 9. The previous drive-thru testing day happened on May 7. On June 6, AppHealthCare confirmed a total of 36 positive cases among subcontractors working on the new student housing project at Appalachian State. During
this time, numerous workers came forward to anonymously share their stories on work conditions and the fears of more and more workers contracting COVID-19. “It’s all about the health and safety of our families. It’s about coming out here and working safely and returning home to
“We extend our deepest condolences, prayers, and sympathies to the family during this difficult time. Each life in our community is so valuable and we share in sadness about this loss.” Jennifer Greene, Health Director at AppHealthCare on spreading the virus at Boone Family Funeral Home in West Jefferson
our family. If there is something out here unseen and we don’t know what it is, that’s a whole different ballgame,” one worker summed it up for everyone else. Looking ahead to the future of dealing with COVID-19 is impossible, practically speaking. States have seen spikes since reopening, other states have seen their cases on a continual rise and still reopened anyway. Research continues on antibody testing, contact tracing, and the development of an effective vaccine. On June 10, the United States surpassed two million COVID-19 infections and 115,000 deaths. Worldwide, 7.15 million people have been infected and 408,000 individuals have died. At least for the time being, it appears those numbers are going to continue to rise. If there are some rays of sunshine coming across the horizon, New Zealand announced on June 8 that they had zero cases of COVID-19 anywhere in the country. That doesn’t mean they won’t have any more cases pop up here and there, but it does show that if a country works hard enough to limit the spread of the virus and find close contacts of sick individuals, the virus can be controlled. t
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Executive Orders Timeline How The Executive Orders Unfolded March 10 – Declared a State of Emergency,
including adjustment of transportation regulations to respond to a state of emergency, consumer protection measures to prevent price gouging, and the establishment of a COVID-19 task force.
March 14 – Prohibited of mass gatherings (100 or more people), closed schools through March 30, and urged the practice of social distancing and use of hand sanitizer. March 17 – Closed of restaurants and bars for dine-in service, increasing availability of unemployment benefits. March 21 – Waived restrictions on childcare and elder care for first responders and healthcare providers, provided DMV flexibility. March 23 – Extended school closures through May 15, banned mass gatherings of more than 50 people, closed entertainment establishments, health clubs, bowling alleys, barber shops and beauty salons, massage parlors and tattoo parlors. Restricted longterm care visitations. March 27 – Issued statewide stay-at-home order through April 29, except to visit essential businesses or help family members. Gatherings of more than 10 people banned. Late March/Early April – several executive orders addressing items such as shareholder meetings, law enforcement training schedules, and disaster declarations for specific areas. April 9 – Issued stronger social distancing
requirements for retail stores still operating, issued changes to speed up benefit payments for those out of work.
April 23 – Extended stay-at-home orders through May 8.
May 5 – Phase 1 Reopening, including limited travel, attendance of small outdoor get-togethers, visit open businesses and state parks and trails. Most retail businesses were allowed to operate at limited customer occupancy, with restrictions in place. No sitdown service at restaurants or on-site consumption at bars. Schools remained closed. May 20 – Phase 2 Reopening. Stay-at-home order lifted. Restaurants, personal care and grooming businesses, childcare facilities and camps permitted with occupancy limitations and other restrictions. Mass gatherings still prohibited, and entertainment and fitness facilities still closed. 28
High Country Magazine
he COVID-19 coronavirus that first appeared on the west coast of the United States, but it did not take all that long for the virus to show its ugly face in By Nathan Ham the south. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency through an executive order on March 10 in preparation for the spread of the virus through the state. “The health and safety of North Carolinians is our top priority. We are taking the necessary steps to ensure that North Carolina is prepared and responding to this virus, and this order helps us do that,” said Governor Cooper. “Though we are still in the early stages in North Carolina, time is a valuable resource and we must work together to slow the spread while we can.” As Gov. Cooper started doing his weekly coronavirus briefings, North Carolinians were introduced to Dr. Mandy Cohen, the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary. Cohen along with others inside of Gov. Cooper’s coronavirus task force was the first to introduce guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “We all play a role in keeping our communities safe and healthy. These precautions can help us slow the spread of this virus and protect our more vulnerable neighbors,” said Dr. Cohen. “Let’s be guided by compassion and reason N.C. Governor Cooper at one of his weekly press briefings. and work to support each other as a community.” This was when we were all introduced to the idea of social distancing. Almost a week later on March 16, towns across the High Country began to issue its declarations of a state of emergency. Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock, Boone, Seven Devils, and Watauga County all issued a state of emergency to follow along with the recommendations of the state. The first major blow to the local economy came on March 17 when Gov. Cooper issued an executive order that would require all bars and restaurants to close its dining areas by 5 p.m. that day. Restaurants could still provide take-out and delivery services, but the days of customers coming into a restaurant to eat were put on hold, at least temporarily. In a move to quickly help small business owners that would soon be facing a major economic struggle, the U.S. Small Business Administration granted Gov. Cooper’s request for disaster declaration for small businesses suffering from economic losses on March 19. “Many small businesses are desperate right now and this SBA approval will help,” said Governor Cooper. “Even more is needed and we will continue to push for additional assistance while we work to protect the health of North Carolinians.”
The next day, Gov. Cooper issued another executive order, this one to help those that have become unemployed or have had their hours reduced due to COVID-19. The executive order suspended the one-week waiting period for benefits and removed the requirement of people to look for another job to receive their benefits. “We know this will be a hardship on owners, on customers, and on workers involved. We know this will cost people jobs, but we are doing all we can to alleviate problems however we can. We will work tirelessly and make the very best decisions we can,” Cooper said. Additional social distancing measures were taken on March 23 as Gov. Cooper issued an order stating that all K-12 schools in North Carolina would remain closed through May and all salons, movie theaters, and gyms would have to close by 5 p.m. on March 25. At the time 8,438 people in the state had been tested for the coronavirus and 297 had been confirmed as positive tests. “This is what we need to do to help slow the spread of the virus,” said Gov. Cooper. Gov. Cooper also addressed the unemployment situation during the media briefing, acknowledging the hardships that families are experiencing. “Families are taking it on the chin and they are hurting right now. We had 110,000 unemployment insurance claims this past week. We are talking about a system that generally does about 3,000 so the scale of that is astronomical. We know a lot of people have been put out of work by the restrictions and the slow down in business across the country and the world for that matter,” he said. On March 30, the real seriousness of the virus pandemic hit home when Governor Cooper issued the stay-at-home order for all North Carolina residents. “Our numbers continue to increase rapidly. This is a highly
Stay at Home order remains in place, people can leave home for commercial activity Those retailers and services will need to implement social distancing, cleaning and other protocols Gatherings limited to no more than 10 people Parks can open subject to gathering limits Face coverings recommended in public Restrictions remain in place for nursing homes and other congregate living settings Encourage continued teleworking
At least 2-3 weeks after Phase 1
Lift Stay at Home order with strong encouragement for vulnerable populations to continue staying at home Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars, and other businesses that can follow strict protocols (reduced capacity) Allow gathering at houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity Increase in number of people allowed at gatherings Open public playgrounds Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and congregate living settings
At least 4-6 weeks after Phase 2
Lessen restrictions for vulnerable populations with encouragement to continue practicing physical distancing Allow increased capacity at restaurants, bars, other businesses, houses of worship and entertainment venues Further increase the number of people allowed at gatherings Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and congregate care settings
Governor Roy Cooper announced his three-phased reopening plan on April 23.
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Boone Town Council Debates Quarantine
nce North Carolina began its reopening phases, retail stores, restaurants, salons and many other shops were ready to get back open to the public and hopefully begin the arduous task of getting business back to normal. With Boone being fairly reliant on tourism, especially during the summer months, the business community and the Boone Town Council were set for a face off when the town council proposed a 14-day quarantine in the town for out-ofcounty visitors before they were allowed to enter a public establishment in the town. Council member Sam Furgiuele proposed the amendment to the town’s state of emergency order and would target visitors coming to town for an extended stay or for people coming to town on a day trip. The council approved the restriction by a 3-1 vote with Nancy LaPlaca voting against the amendment and Loretta Clawson was unable to attend the meeting to vote due to an illness. Local business owners were not pleased with the initial decision. In a statement from the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO David Jackson, the chamber “strongly disagrees with the action taken by the Boone Town Council.” “The Boone Town Council’s action has caused great confusion and public backlash at a time when the State of North Carolina is also implementing new guidelines as they move into the Phase 2 Safer-At-Home order. We now face irreparable harm to the reputation of our business community and to the safety and wellbeing of our citizens,” the statement continued.
On Friday, May 22, Boone attorney Nathan Miller, on behalf of Anne-Marie Yates, Mountain Resort Management LLC, Hospitality Group of Hickory, and Smokey Mountain Hospitality LLC, filed a temporary restraining order against the town council decision in court. The Boone Town Council held an emergency meeting on Saturday, May 23 to hold a closed session to discuss what action to take now following the restraining order. A special meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, May 26 to receive public comment on the issue. Following numerous public comments, the town council decided to strike the emergency provision that would have prevented visitors and seasonal homeowners from entering indoor establishments in Boone without first quarantining for 14 days. This time around, the vote was 4-1 in favor of removing the quarantine requirement from the state of emergency declaration. Councilmembers Loretta Clawson, Dustin Hicks, Nancy LaPlaca, and Connie Ulmer voted in favor of removing the quarantine requirement while Sam Fergiuele, who originally proposed adding in numerous amendments to the emergency declaration, voted against removing the quarantine requirement. On June 16, the town council voted by a 3-2 decision to require anyone entering an indoor establishment in the town of Boone to wear a mask. The mask requirement has exceptions for people who may have health issues related to wearing a mask, people at restaurants who are eating and drinking at their tables and children younger than 10 years of age.
contagious virus that is deadly for some. To continue our aggressive battle to slow the spread of COVID-19, today I have signed a â€˜stay at homeâ€™ order for the entire state of North Carolina. Itâ€™s what we have to do to save lives,â€? said Gov. Cooper. All essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations, doctorâ€™s offices, auto repair shots, and the like could continue to operate and no special permits will be needed to continue to operate these businesses. Violations of this order were punishable as a Class 2 Misdemeanor. This also put a stop to mass gatherings that had more than 10 people. Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman issued a statement saying â€œwhile our goal is to have voluntary compliance as we encourage more people to stay at home and practice social distancing, we want to make certain that people are aware that violating this order may result in a Class 2 misdemeanor. We urge the Appalachian State community and our broader community of Watauga County to assist us as we help support the latest public health recommendations and that of the Governorâ€™s executive order. We know this is challenging, but we all have a responsibility to help protect EACH OTHER during this pandemic. There is a real need for all to understand and adopt a, hopefully, and temporary, â€œnew normalâ€? of healthy awareness.â€? The state continued to provide more consumer protections for folks having to deal with the blowback from the many things that COVID-19 was affecting. On March 31, Gov. Cooper revealed an executive order that ordered all electric, gas, water, and wastewater utilities to suspend shutoffs, late fees, and reconnection fees. â€œWe commend the governor for his action. This is a significant step in helping North Carolinians through this crisis and protecting public health. Weâ€™ll continue to monitor utilities treatment of consumers going forward,â€? said Al Ripley at the NC Justice Center. â€œWe expect all utilities to serve their customers in good faith and take this responsibility seriously. But we urge utility customers â€” especially those served by electric cooperatives and municipal utilities â€” to let us know if theyâ€™re still facing the threat of being disconnected or charged fees for late payment,â€? said Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst with Appalachian Voices.
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Executive Orders Timeline
As April got underway, Gov. Cooper’s executive order on April 9 limited building occupancy to 20 percent of the fire marshal’s posted limits and required marking six feet of distance for areas behind checkout lines in all stores. The order also required additional cleaning measures for retail stores. On April 15, the state began to entertain the idea of easing restrictions and removing the stay-at-home order. “This virus is going to be with us until there is a vaccine, which may be a year or more away,” said Governor Cooper. “That means that as we ease restrictions, we are going to enter a new normal. We want to get back to work while at the same time preventing a spike that will overwhelm our hospitals with COVID-19 cases. Experts tell us it would be dangerous to lift our restrictions all at once. Rather than an on/off light switch, we are viewing this as a dimmer switch that can be adjusted incrementally.” A week later, Gov. Cooper extended North Carolina’s stay-at-home order through May 8 and introduced the threephase reopening plan for North Carolina. “North Carolina cannot stay at home indefinitely,” said Governor Cooper. “We have to get more people back to work. Right now, the decision to stay at home is based on public health data and White House guidance. North Carolina needs more time to slow the spread of this virus before we can safely begin lifting restrictions. I know
that this pandemic has made life difficult for many people in our state and I am focused on keeping our communities safe while planning to slowly lift restrictions to help cushion the blow to our economy.” The phased reopening would be based on decreasing levels of COVID-19 infections, decreased numbers of hospitalizations, increases in laboratory testing, and increases in tracing capabilities. “Data has driven our decisions, starting with the aggressive measures Governor Cooper took early on to slow the spread of COVID-19. Those actions combined with North Carolinians’ resolve to stay home to protect their loved ones have put our state on the right path. If we stick to these efforts right now we will continue to see a slowing of virus spread and we can slowly begin easing restrictions,” said Dr. Cohen. With the school year winding down, the state officially announced on April 24 that schools would remain closed for the rest of the 2019-20 year for in-person instruction. “The decision to finish the year by remote learning was not made lightly, but it is the right thing to do to protect our students, teachers, and communities. This is a difficult time for many children and parents, and I am grateful for all the educators, administrators, support staff, and parents who have gone the extra mile to keep chil-
dren learning,” the governor said. The state legislation got to work and finally passed the $1.7 billion COVID-19 relief bill entitled HB 1043 Pandemic Response Act that assists small businesses, streamlines access to unemployment benefits, modifies education requirements, ensures continuity of government operations, and supports healthcare facilities on the front lines of the public health crisis. “Since this crisis began, North Carolinians have come together to support not only their own families but friends and neighbors, folks in their communities who need the most support in this unprecedented pandemic,” Speaker Tim Moore said. “I appreciate the bipartisan, bicameral collaboration among my colleagues in the General Assembly to respond with relief for North Carolinians whose lives are at risk in this public health crisis, and whose livelihoods hang in the balance of an economic shutdown.” North Carolina entered Phase 1 on May 9 and transitioned into Phase 2 on May 22. Restaurants and retail stores are slowly beginning to reopen at 50 percent capacity and are starting to see some people coming out to shop and eat more and more. While it will undoubtedly take some time to recover from this COVID19 pandemic, everything now suggests that North Carolinians are slowly heading in the right direction. t
Senator Jeff Jackson Offered Great Information W
e started receiving emails from North Carolina Senator Jeff Jackson, who represents the Charlotte area in District 37, around the first of March. His emails began catching our attention because of the straight shooting answers he was giving in newsletters about questions that, for the most part, were going unanswered by others. We first posted his email on our website on March 14 where he was explaining testing. This was when people were dancing around just how many test kits North Carolina had. In his March 14 email, he spelled it out that North Carolina had only 680 test kits available for the whole state. That was a remarkable piece of information that summed up the big question – who and how to get tested – 32
High Country Magazine
and from that number we learned pretty much nobody. The next day we would learn that there were 32 known cases of coronavirus in NC – jumping from seven in just five days. He also pointed out that number was probably way off because of the limited number of test kits. By March 22 he would tell us that positive cases had jumped to 246 across NC – an 80 percent increase in one day. Over the following days, weeks and
months, Senator Jackson’s no-nonsense approach to making information available was refreshing and welcomed – even though most of it wasn’t good news. We would learn about the status of ventilators available in NC and as new executive orders were released he would help explain what they meant. We learned that liquor stores were an essential businesses because of the number of alcoholics out there that would go crazy if they couldn’t get their booze, causing a whole new health crisis. He would explain what businesses would begin opening back up, include graphs and charts that gave a clear picture on infection and testing rates, and explain how relief money was being debated in the State House. Finally when bills were passed, he would share where exactly that money was going.
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closed for two weeks beginning March hen reflecting on the impacts 16. of the COVID-19 pandemic, All Blowing Rock Town owned public it’s not surprising that one buildings closed. Grandfather Mountain thing may come to mind: cancelations. closed. Blue Ridge energy Offices closed. Just as things seemed to be running F.A.R.M Cafe closed. The Paul H. Broyas normal, and App State students were hill Wellness center closed. Tweetsie Railrelaxing during spring break, which beBy Harley Nefe road Park closed. gan March 9, it was like someone flipped Even all App State spring sporting the switch. Very quickly, life in the High supposed to be held March 14-15 was events and concerts were canceled. Country would change. canceled along with all of the North Car“These are uncharted waters for us in On March 10, Governor Roy Cooper olina High School Athletic Association’s college athletics and in our society, for declared a state of emergency in North high school athletic events, Mountain which there is no playbook,” said Doug Carolina in response to COVID-19. View Speedway’s Open Practice, Watauga Gillin, App State director of athletics in a The following day, on March 11, App County Parks and Recreation sporting statement. “Our hearts go out to all that State extended it’s Spring Break until events and Boone Saloon’s live shows. are being affected by this pandemic.” March 23. All classes that were supposed In addition to cancelations, businesses The Watauga Education Foundation’s to be held March 16-20 were canceled. had to make other adjustments to their Shooting Stars 2020 talent showcase was If App State’s actions didn’t come as operations, such as changing hours and canceled March 18. a surprise, one of the first event cancelaservices. “While this was a difficult decision to tions did, and that was the Banff Centre AppalCART decreased the number of make, our nonprofit organization wants Mountain Film Festival, which is an interto make every effort posnational film competition sible to keep our students, and annual presentation educators, staff and comof short films and docuTHE FIRST CANCELLATIONS March - April - May - June munity members as safe mentaries about mountain and healthy as possible,” culture, sports and the Boone Roundball Classic March 14-15 a statement from the Waenvironment. The March tauga Education Founda19, 20 and 21 Banff Film Boone St. Patrick’s Day Parade tion read. “We join in reFestival screenings were March 14 sponsibility and solidarity canceled on March 12, Daniel Boone Rail Jam the global and community just one week prior to the March 14 response.” event. And that’s just it, the On the same day, Beech Mountain resort Skiing Closed March 15 implications of COVIDMarch 12, the Town of Banff Film Festival March 19-21 19 prompted a commuBoone canceled all events Grandfather Mountain nity response. Almost all with at least 100 particiClosed March 15 MerleFest 2020 April 23-26 businesses and individuals pants, including the St. were struggling together Patrick’s Day Parade and to find a way to adapt to the situation the Daniel Boone Rail Jam, which is a ski bus routes running by only keeping the around them. and snowboard competition. The Town of Green, Red, Orange, Pop 105 and Purple LifeStore Bank and Insurance was one Boone also canceled all town meetings. routes active. It also switched to operate of the first banks to announce the closing The following day, on March 13, the on its break schedule. of its lobbies. Access to banks remained music festival Merlefest 2020 was canChick-fil-A and Comeback Shack with the drive thru, ATMs and mobile celed. along with many other restaurants closed and online banking. “While this decision is disappointing their dining rooms. Starting March 23, App State transifor all of us, we fully support the direcGrocery stores including Publix, Waltioned from in-person instruction to altive from our county officials. The health, mart, Ingles and Harris Teeter changed ternative course delivery methods being safety and well-being of all involved with their hours to close early. online. Merlefest are, and always will be our priAppalachian Regional Library limited However, as many groups adjusted mary concern,” Merlefest organizers said its operating hours. their operations to follow federal and in a press release statement. Instead of changing hours and servicstate safety guidelines associated with In an attempt to control the spread of es, some businesses were forced to close. COVID-19, some instances still called for COVID-19, efforts to social distance and Beech Mountain Skiing, Appalachian closures. limit the amount of individuals in an area Ski Mountain and Sugar Mountain Skiing Chetola Resort announced its closure took place. closed their operations starting March on March 23. The Boone Roundball Classic, a bas15-17. “The wellness, safety and health of ketball tournament that was originally All North Carolina Public Schools
Cancellations Started in the Middle of March
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High Country Magazine
of both our college commuour guests, staff and lonity and the High Country cal community have always as a whole,” said Lee King, been our top priority, and president of Les-McRae, in a we believe this decision is in on April 8. “This was going to be a dream press release statement. the best interest of all parties involved,” come true and still will be one year later. And the cancelations kept coming. said Kent Tarbutton, owner of Chetola I’ll see y’all then.” By May 1, the Christmas in July FestiResort in a press release statement. “This Other canceled events include Appalaval 2020 in West Jefferson was canceled. was an extremely difficult decision; howchian Summer Festival 2020 and the 65th Other local events that were canceled ever, we must do our part to control the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. include Doc Watson Day and Mountain spread of COVID-19 and to protect our Ensemble Stage had to postpone and Home Music. entire Chetola family.” cancel some of its productions. Avery High spring sports seasons and Churches are another group that felt basketball championthe brunt of the social ships were canceled. distancing guidelines the The annual MemoCenters for Disease Conrial Day Celebration at trol & Prevention enBoone Mall was canceled couraged. Most churches on May 19. across the High Country On May 20, the canceled their services Blowing Rock Historior started showing their cal Society announced services through live vidthe cancelation of 2020’s eo platforms. Artist in Residence proOn March 30, Wagram. tauga County closed all On May 21, Waplaygrounds, courts and tauga County and Beech picnic shelters. Mountain Parks and “During this difficult Recreation canceled time, we recognize evtheir summer camps. eryone will need an outThe Town of Boone let for physical exercise announced the cancelato help manage stress A virtual broadcast from the Doc Watson Stage at the Appalachian Theatre played to an tion of the downtown and support their overall empty auditorium during a fund raiser on June 20. The theatre has been one of many venues to sit empty over these last several months. Boone July 4 parade and physical health. There, evening fireworks diswe have kept the use of play on June 3. trail and walking areas open for now,” On April 29, Blowing Rock’s Art in And this is just some of the local cansaid Deron Geouque, county manager, in the Park show scheduled for May 23 was celations that have taken place as a result a press release statement. canceled. This was the first cancelation in of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a Park trails and the Blue Ridge Park58 seasons of Art in the Park. growing number of cancelations, postway motor road remained accessible to Also on April 29, the Board of Direcponements and closures due to COVIDthe public; however, not in their entirety, tors of the Blowing Rock Charity Horse 19, and what the future holds for the as specific sections had to close. Show Foundation and the Saddlebred High Country, and even the world, is Another event that was affected by Show Committee canceled their show. currently unknown. What can be said is COVID-19 was Luke Combs’ concert that Lees-McRae also canceled all summer that everyone is facing the circumstances was scheduled for May 2 at Kidd Brewer conferencing and events. together, and despite the amount of canStadium on App State’s campus. “More than ever, summer is a time for celations, postponements and closures, “I’m sorry we’re having to do this, our college to connect with the commuit’s a moment in our history that we will but the show at Kidd Brewer Stadium has nity through exciting events and oppornever forget. t been rescheduled to May 1, 2021,” Combs tunities to be involved. However, what is announced on his social media platforms more important is the continued safety
App Theater Pic
High Country Magazine
Economic Impact of a Cancellation
ot only have the repercussions of COVID-19 across the High Country resulted in many cancellations and postponements of events and closures of businesses, but it has created a large economic impact. One major event that impacts the High Country’s economy every year is An Appalachian Summer Festival that is presented by the Appalachian State University’s Office of Arts & Cultural Programs. An Appalachian Summer Festival is an annual arts festival presenting and producing programs in music, theatre, dance, film and visual arts. The festival began in 1984 as a chamber music series and retains strong roots in classical music, combined with a variety of other programming geared to almost every artistic taste and preference. It has also risen in stature to become one of the nation’s most highly respected summer festivals, acclaimed for the breadth and quality of its artistic programming. An Appalachian Summer Festival is celebrating its 36th season in 2020; however, due to the global pandemic, it will remain
online only and free to the general public. According the An Appalachian Summer Festival’s website, organizers stated, “We know how healing the arts can be in times of crisis, and we wanted to continue to keep alive the values embodied by the festival — artistic excellence, access to the arts for all, audience engagement and community building through the arts — and to stay connected and creative during these unprecedented times.” For the 2020 festival, content will be delivered in a variety of ways including pre-recorded selections with special messages, live streams of concerts and play, artist Q&As, virtual tours, artist exhibitions and film screenings via An Appalachian Summer Festival’s website. Generally, An Appalachian Summer Festival’s annual budget of approximately $1,043,000 is raised through ticket sales and donated income and covers all of the festival’s expenses except the full-time, year-round staff that is hired by Appalachian State university.
These expenses include fees for the local, statewide and national artists that perform at the festival each season and the 20-30 student and temporary employees whose labor keeps the festival running each summer. While an economic impact study has not been conducted in recent years, a 2003 study by researchers at Appalachian State University indicated that the arts in Watauga County had a collective economics impact of approximately $26 million. When artists attend art events, they purchase event tickets — but during their stay, they also support a number of other businesses across the region, by staying in hotels, enjoying meals at area restaurants, attending other area attractions and shopping in retail establishments. Due to An Appalachian Summer Festival being free and held online only this summer, one must wonder just how large the economic impact will be.
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School Disruptions Timeline S
tudents in the High Country and all parts of the world had to deal with a whole new way of life with the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus changing all of the norms that these children associated with the education system. On March 13, Watauga County Schools announced that all out-of-county and outof-state trips and school activities would be canceled until at least April 6. During the same period, youth and high school sports came to a grinding stop, hoping that the virus would be gone soon enough to finish the spring sports seasons. “We are taking seriously the recommendation to limit travel to areas of increased risk for exposure to coronavirus and to limit unnecessary large gatherings,” Watauga County Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott said. “We are getting frequent updates from the relevant authorities and are continually assessing our plans based on their recommendations.” The school system also had to begin planning for the worst-case scenario, if students ended up having to be out of school for a longer time or even have to finish the semester with online education platforms. “School and district leaders are developing plans for what mandatory school closures would look like for our district,” Dr. Elliott said. “We are evaluating how we can continue to educate students and continue vital operations as best as possible with closed doors. Our planning includes not only the continuation of instruction but providing meals and other essential services to our families. We will also develop plans that to the extent possible minimize the financial impact to our employees.” On March 13, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper made the tough decision to close school for students for at least two weeks, beginning on Monday, March 16. In an effort to keep children fed during this time, Watauga County Schools established feeding sites across the county that began operation on March 17. Lunch and a packed breakfast for the next day would be served at Bethel, Mabel, and Green Valley schools from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each of the days that schools are closed for students. Dinner and breakfast for the next day would be served at Hardin Park School and Brushy Fork Baptist Church, located at 3915 Highway 421 North in Vilas, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day that school is closed for students. All children under the 38
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By Nathan Ham age of 18 were eligible to get free meals at these sites regardless of where they live or attend school in Watauga County. Meals are similar to what students receive from a normal school lunch/breakfast and included items like sandwiches, vegetables, and salads along with milk, fruit, and juice. As COVID-19 cases continued to increase, Gov. Cooper was forced to an-
A student waves to his teacher after schools had closed. nounce a statewide stay-at-home order that would keep schools closed until at least May 15. “We are focusing on three priorities right now,” Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott stated. “We are working to protect the health and safety of our employees, continuing to provide educational resources and remote learning for our students, and continuing to provide free meals to all children in the community.” Elliott stated that after consultation with AppHealthCare director Jennifer Greene and Watauga County Director of Emergency Management Will Holt, the school system will continue to operate with limited staff members and will remain
closed to the public. “I continue to urge our staff to put their health and safety first,” Elliott stated. “Those who can perform their work from home are encouraged to do so. The school buildings will remain open for school staff who need to access their resources and our drive through meal service will continue for as long as we can manage it.” This marked the beginning of an indepth remote learning program for students in the county. Students in third grade through 12th grade were given approximately 3,800 Chromebook computers for their online learning programs and children in kindergarten, first and second grade had packets they worked on that were put together by their teachers. “We will continue to provide meals and learning resources for as long as possible,” Elliott added. “The staff of our school system has stepped up in an unprecedented way to help take care of this community. I could not be more proud of them.” It quickly became a reality that students would not be able to return to the classroom at any point in May, so Gov. Cooper announced that schools would be closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association also canceled the rest of the spring sports season. Senior students would certainly never forget their final year of high school and all of the immense changes they had to deal with: no senior trips, no prom, no spring sports championships. However, thanks to some great efforts from volunteers and the school systems, both Watauga and Avery County seniors were able to have a unique graduation ceremony. Avery County High School grads held a special ceremony at Grandfather Mountain’s McRae Meadows on May 29. Watauga held their special ceremony on May 30 on the high school campus. Both ceremonies were drive-thru events, but all graduates were in their caps and gowns and were still able to have pictures made and celebrate with their family members. “Our students have been through so much this year,” Dr. Elliott said, “And in a lot of ways it is our seniors who have felt the disruption most acutely. While circumstances have denied them some of the traditions and events that we hold dearly to mark the end of our high school education, we want to do everything in our power to ensure they can have the best-possible graduation.”
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Looking Ahead To Fall Classes
s we wrap up the month of June, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has already been devising plans on how to possibly reopen K-12 schools this fall for the 2020-21 school year. Right now, the state has put together three different plans to consider for the start of the academic calendar, based on how well the COVID-19 coronavirus is being contained by then. “Getting children back to school to learn is a high priority, but they must be able to do so in the safest way possible,” said Governor Roy Cooper Cooper. “Every child, family, and public school educator in North Carolina deserves strong protection to lower the risk of virus spread.” Plan A is the plan that all parents, teachers, and students are hoping for. This plan is the least restrictive of the three plans and it features all students attending class in person with minimal social distancing. This plan would mean that the state has done a better job through the summer with limiting the spread of the virus and ramping up contact tracing work to keep the chances of spreading lower. Students and staff would still be screened for symptoms, such as a fever, each day. The next plan would require moderate social distancing that would add additional restrictions for reopening and reduced class density. Schedules would be split with morning and afternoon class sessions and school buildings would operate at 50-percent capacity. This plan would be used if COVID-19 metrics do not improve or
worsens significantly. Plan C is the most restrictive school operation model where schools would suspend all in-class instruction similar to how the spring semester ended. Classes would only operate through remote learning software for all students. “We are working together to balance the need for all of our children to get back to school – especially children who rely on public schools for their education, health, safety, and nutrition – while at the same time proceeding cautiously and deliberately to protect their health and safety,” said State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis. “I know meeting these public health requirements will take a tremendous effort by our schools – but I also know we are doing the right thing and that our schools will rise to the challenge.” Optimism is on the rise for public universities in the University of North Carolina System. The 17-campus UNC System is preparing to open the fall semester on time with in-person classroom instruction. “I expect to reopen our campuses for the Fall 2020 Semester and look forward to welcoming our faculty and students back to their classrooms and labs this fall. To do so, we are working closely with our chancellors to chart a course forward,” said UNC System Interim President Bill Roper in a statement. “I anticipate that operations at each institution will not be the ‘normal’ we were all used to prior to COVID-19. But, working together, we will all eventually see our 17 campuses once again operating at
full capacity, serving as North Carolina’s most vital hubs for teaching, research, and service. I am confident that they will be more vibrant and more critical to our state than ever before. Above all, our steps forward will be contingent on what we discover through ongoing monitoring of infection rates and North Carolina’s testing and treatment capacity. We will continue to follow the advice of the nation’s infectious disease experts and our own experts at UNC Health. We will remain in frequent contact with Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of NC Department of Health and Human Services. And we will continue to coordinate our operations with Governor Cooper’s executive orders.” Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts said that classroom plans for the semester are being developed and that airflow systems are being maximized on campus to allow for increased outside air exchange. Additional cameras, microphones, and projectors are being purchased as well. “All of these efforts are taking place thanks to faculty, staff, and academic leadership, and I would like to thank our academic department chairs, our faculty, and our Environmental Health & Safety and Emergency Management, Building Services and Facilities Operations staff in particular for their incredible work in this regard,” Everts said. “We are first and foremost a university, a center for learning. Appalachian’s faculty, staff, and students continue to elevate the Appalachian Experience.” t
High Country Magazine
“Planning any graduation ceremony is a monumental undertaking that the staff at Watauga High School pull off admirably every year. With well over 300 graduates and their friends, family, and staff, the graduation ceremony is a feat of planning even when we have a secured venue and everything goes to plan. Planning for this year’s graduation was a combination of efforts from almost everyone at WHS — from planning for traffic management to organizing a live stream of the event, to our incredible community and local business support. So many people went above and beyond in an effort to make sure this year’s class was able to have the best graduation ceremony it was possible to offer them,” said Garrett Price, the Director of Communications for Watauga County Schools. Price said that there was a tremendous amount of support and positivity from parents and everyone that took part in the graduation ceremony. “They all absolutely made the best of it and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. Even as the lines extended, people were so patient and really supported each other in allowing all our seniors to have their moment on the stage. The graduates themselves could not have been more gracious and supportive of each other and the drivethrough event. This class has been through so much and they have demonstrated their resilience time and time again,” said Price. Dr. Elliott commented that this was certainly a special graduation ceremony that no one would likely ever forget. “The class of 2020 has always been a very special group of students and I knew they deserved something special for their graduation — especially after what they’ve been through the past few months. I appreciated everyone’s patience at the ceremony. Our families seemed in good spirits. Families and students were able to spend time together and interact with each other in ways they would not have in a normal graduation ceremony,” said Dr. Elliott. “There will probably never be another graduation ceremony like this again, and this class deserves that special memory. This graduation was a tremendous effort by the high school staff, the Watauga Education Foundation, and the entire community. This community very much rallied around these students to give them a special celebration.” t
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A Graduation to Remember W
hen you think of your average high school graduation event, you think of graduates and their families celebrating the biggest moment of their young lives. Guest speakers typically share some words of wisdom and hope for the future for each graduating class, class presidents and valedictorians speak to their classmates, and finally everyone erupts into cheers and throws their caps high into the air. Graduation ceremonies in 2020 are nothing like that. In Watauga and Avery counties, graduating seniors may have missed out on all of those “normal” graduation moments, but they still got to have their special moments of celebration. Both high schools organized drive through graduation ceremonies where friends and families could gather with their graduating senior and still be safely following all social distancing guidelines. Avery County held its graduation on Friday evening, May 29 at MacRae Meadows near Grandfather Mountain. Prior to the ceremony, Avery County Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman shared thoughts on
The scene from last year’s Watauga graduation how they were preparing for the event. “We’re still looking at recognizing all of those traditional speeches that are made such as those from the valedictorian, salutatorian, and making sure all other traditional graduation happenings are in line for our 2020 ceremonies. There are still a lot of possibilities that are being considered in making this graduation most special,” Dr. Brigman said. “We wish nothing more than to be able to hold our usual graduation ceremony and to celebrate the success of our graduating seniors in the full assembly we’re used to, but since that is not possible at this time, we want to hold a cer-
emony that includes as many traditional elements of graduation as we can,” said Chris Blanton, the principal at Watauga High School, said prior to Watauga’s ceremony outside the high school on Saturday, May 30. Watauga County Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott spoke with students and families during the planning process to determine the best way to still be able to honor seniors with a graduation ceremony. “We had the opportunity to meet with student leaders in the graduating class to get an idea of what their priorities were for a graduation ceremony. Two themes very quickly came to the top. Seniors want to be able to cross a stage to get their degree, and they want their families to be able to be there when that happens,” Elliott said. “We’ve been in contact with local health officials and emergency management, and based on their recommendations, we think the best way to ensure as many family members can attend the ceremony as possible is to hold commencement outdoors with each student being recognized one at a time.” t
Avery High School
very County High School celebrated its senior class on May 29 with a special drive-thru graduation ceremony at MacRae Meadows near Grandfather Mountain. The high school received permission from Jesse Pope, the Executive Director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation to use MacRae Meadows for the drive-thru event. For 112 graduating seniors, this meant that COVID-19 wouldn’t keep them from celebrating one of the most important days of their teenage lives so far. Each student was allowed to bring two passenger vehicles of friends and families for the drive-thru ceremony. Students and their families arrived at the Newland Town Square at their respected times, where deputies and volunteers were there to direct them and escort them to McRae Meadows, where there was a stage set up. Seniors departed their cars before their families approached the stage area. Attendants were present to assist and to line them May 29 up while being spaced out. Families pulled forward in their cars as their senior prepared to walk across the stage. Numerous school personnel were there to congratulate the Class of 2020. Regina Barrier, Avery County Teacher of the Year, read each student’s accomplishments and then instructed students to turn their tassel from right to left. Superintendent 42
High Country Magazine
Dr. Dan Brigman, principal Phillip Little and assistant principal Kimberly Coleman were there as well. Photographers were there to make sure that students and families had plenty of photos for the most unique graduation ceremony in the five-decade history of Avery High School.
Watauga High School Graduation
imilar to neighboring Avery County, graduating Pioneers from Watauga High School got to take part in a unique outdoor drive-thru graduation event on Saturday, May 30 at the high school. Graduates stood on a newly constructed stage outdoors, put together by welding instructor George Wilson, one at a time. Their friends and family in their vehicles would cheer them and then everyone would move to a designated area for graduates to take photos with their families. “Planning any graduation ceremony is a monumental undertaking that the staff at Watauga High School pull off admirably every year. With well over 300 graduates and their friends, family, and staff, the graduation ceremony is May 30 a feat of planning even when we have a secured venue and everything goes to plan. Planning for this year’s graduation was a combination of efforts from almost everyone at WHS — from planning for traffic management to organizing a live stream of the event,
to our incredible community and local business support. So many people went above and beyond in an effort to make sure this year’s class was able to have the best graduation ceremony it was possible to offer them,” said Garrett Price, the Director of Communications for Watauga County Schools. A pair of school board members thought the event was well organized and was the best way possible to honor this graduating class considering all of the issues that COVID-19 dealt to this senior class. “They planned it out so thoroughly and we’ve got good weather which is fortunate. I think the families are really enjoying it. In some sense they are getting to spend more time with their graduate up at the stage than they would have if they had been seated at the convocation center,” said Jay Fenwick. “We are really proud of the whole high school team for making this work. It’s quite an operation. It’s all for the students getting to have their moment.” Board member Steve Combs, whose daughter Victoria was one of the mem-
bers of the Class of 2020, thought it was a nice send-off for the seniors. “I thought overall with the circumstances and what we had to deal with, everything went well. I had several parents comment back to me and say they thought it went well and several said they liked it better than the traditional graduation and some of the students did too,” Combs said. “I think the kids got a lot out of it and enjoyed it, and they were able to see their friends and get their pictures taken like normal. I thought it went great.”
“I think the kids got a lot out of it and enjoyed it, and they were able to see their friends and get their pictures taken like normal. I thought it went great.” July 2020
High Country Magazine
ppHealthCare has been around since 1933, with its mission being to promote safe and healthy living, prevent disease and to protect the environment. Chances are that most people haven’t had much contact with AppHealthCare, except maybe to get a septic system permit. However, that all changed on March 15, when AppHealthCare announced the first case of COVID-19 in the High Country that occurred in Watauga County. “We have been preparing should we see a positive case of COVID-19 in our community. Now that we have a positive case, we will continue to work diligently to protect the public’s health. It is our top priority, and we will work to keep the community informed,” said Jennifer Greene, who is the health director of AppHealthCare, in a press release from March 15. The role as the district’s health department, which is fully accredited and covers Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga counties, would make AppHealthCare the agency that the public would hear from first about positive tests, developing testing procedures and helping to announce and explain executive orders from the governor. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, AppHealthCare has been on the forefront of keeping the High Country community informed. Just three days after the first case of COVID-19 occurred in Watauga County, AppHealthCare announced a second positive case on March 18. “We want to encourage the public to practice social distancing and take preventative measures like frequent handwashing, staying home when you’re sick and keeping distance from others who are sick,” said Greene in a press release on March 18. By March 24, a little less than a week, a third Watauga County Resident tested positive for COVID-19, on March 26, a fourth case was announced and on March 27, a Jennifer Greene - Health fifth case. And Director at Appalachian from there, the District Health Dept. 44
High Country Magazine
By Harley Nefe cases just kept adding up. As of June 19, the total cumulative confirmed case count for Watauga residents is 39, with nine cases actively in isolation. Also as of June 19, there were 28 individuals who were in quarantine due to being in close contact with a known positive case. Those individuals were monitoring their
AppHealthCare building in Boone, located off the Poplar Grove Connector Road.
Covid testing tent located behind the building. systems and were offered testing. Originally established as The Appalachian District Health Department, a few years ago, the department rebranded and adopted a new name of AppHealthCare. According to the website, “The rebranding initiative represents our ability to continue to provide high quality patient care and essential services that are critical for the health of the public.” “Our tagline is ‘Caring for Our Community’ and drives us to maintain focus on our mission and purpose to provide high quality care and meet the needs of the public’s health,” said Melissa Bracey, who is the director of communications & compliance of AppHealthCare. AppHealthCare also provides a variety of services to meet the needs of the community, including clinical, environmental health, nutrition, community health, dental health, integrated behavioral health, substance use disorder and preparedness
& communicable disease services. “We take pride in serving our community and remain committed to providing high quality care and service for our patients and communities. The work of public health usually happens in the background as we ensure facilities are serving food in safe environments, advocating for tobacco-free policies, providing essential medical and dental care for families, investigating infectious diseases to name a few,” said Greene, who has worked for AppHealthCare since 2004 and was named health director in 2017. “COVID19 has brought to light the critical role public health plays everyday in our lives. A healthy public health system provides the foundation and infrastructure we all need to be safe, healthy and thriving. As a public health agency, we work with many community partners and individuals to collectively ensure our public health system is doing what it should for each individual and family in our communities.” AppHealthCare has been working with multiple state and local agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Emergency Management to implement safe policies to protect the community and continues providing information including how many COVID-19 tests have been administered. AppHealthCare also created a webpage on its website dedicated to information about COVID-19, including signs and symptoms, testing and protection. In addition, AppHealthCare has also launched the Show Your Love campaign that highlights if you leave your home, show your love and wear a cloth face covering, wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer and wait six feet from others. “We recognize the importance our community actions have on combating this virus. We live and interact in a community with others, and actions we take as individuals affect our community’s health as a whole. Now more than ever, we must see how connected we all are and realize we are stronger together,” Greene said. “This campaign brings together many partnerships and demonstrates the collective impact we can have together, while leading with kindness for others.” t
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High Country Magazine
Watauga County Schools Make a Difference with Student Meal Program
have as much work to do. That’s definitely hildren in Watauga County finnot the case. Not only are the workers ished the 2019-20 school year preparing lunch, dinner, and breakfast for without setting foot inside a the following day, the workers also have school building for two months. Despite to make sure they are deep cleaning and having to continue their classwork from sanitizing everything extremely well to home with remote learning activities, the By Nathan Ham prevent any cases of COVID-19 to spread familiar faces from breakfast and lunch inthrough the meal program. side cafeterias across Watauga County still “Far and away the most remarkable find a way to make a big difference in the child nutrition program. The greatest challenge has been to keep up the daily pace thing is how hard these cafeteria folks are lives of many of these children. working. There are no kids in school right As the COVID-19 coronavirus began and hard work to make it all happen.” That is where the cafeteria staff comes now, but I think they are working hardto expand to all 50 states, governors and education professionals had to make the in. At Bethel School, Mabel School, Green er right now than they ever would. The hard decision of canceling in-person class- Valley School, Valle Crucis School, Watau- volume is higher in some cases and they es for public K-12 schools. North Carolina ga High School, and Hardin Park School, are doing different jobs, which has been Governor Roy Cooper’s initial stay-at- cafeteria workers and other faculty mem- a challenge. Those folks are really somehome order took kids out of school in late bers who wanted to volunteer their time thing special,” Price said. “I am so proud of our cafeteria staff March before officially closing schools for helping out would prepare breakfast, and our bus drivers for the remainder of the working harder than year on April 24. ever. I am also very Educators were appreciative of the able to navigate remany other employmote learning classes ees, including teachers, and children eventually teacher assistants, nursgot used to the idea of es, office staff, and adlearning from home. ministrators who have However, one thing all pitched in to pack that can’t be supplied meals, load buses, and through a Zoom meetdistribute the meals. It ing is food. Accordhas been a huge team ing to statistics from effort and I could Feeding America, 1 in The staff at Watauga High School preparing shelf-stable bagged meals to be not be more proud of 7 children across the distributed for over spring break. them,” said Dr. Elliott. country are not sure The meal program even set up remote where their next meal will come from and lunch and dinner meals five days a week an estimated 16 million children struggle for any student age 18 and under. Students pickup locations for students and parents and parents could simply drive up to one that might not have been able to make with food insecurity. “We knew right away that we would of the pickup locations and have food de- their schedule fit with the times that meals were available at the schools. plan to continue providing meals to chil- livered to their vehicle. “It’s really remarkable to me and a re“For folks who aren’t able to physically dren one way or another, we just did not know how hard it would be to sustain this minder to me that just how big of a part in make it to a food distribution site, our transvolume of meals for this long. Under the a kid’s day that cafeteria workers play. You portation department and our child nutrileadership of our Director of Child Nutri- have folks whose whole job is to serve chil- tion people have set up bus routes that run tion, Monica Bolick, we quickly changed dren their lunch,” said Garrett Price, the like they would on a normal day except they menus and bulk supply orders to support Director of Communication for Watauga are delivering food. We just want to feed as the kind of meals, which could be deliv- County Schools. “As people pull up, the many folks as possible,” Price noted. Dr. Elliott says that the meals program ered and distributed in a drive-through cafeteria workers are recognizing their car, method,” said Watauga County Schools they are recognizing their parents. It’s very has been a “real lifeline for many families.” “At a time when many of our parents Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott. “At first much a community effort and it’s very the program was not financially sustain- much driven by these people that live and have lost their jobs or seen their incomes reduced, the free meals provided real and able, but then the state increased the meal work in these communities.” You might think that with kids not in immediate financial relief. Parents have reimbursement rate and provided additional COVID relief funds to support the school, cafeteria staff members might not been very appreciative of the effort of 46
High Country Magazine
Workers and volunteers at Green Valley and Hardin Park Schools were on duty rain or shine 5 days a week distributing prepared meals at drive through locations for just about anyone who showed up during the allotted serving times. school staff to ensure that any child who needs nutritious meals can receive them,” Dr. Elliott added.
Boots on the Ground With all of the extra food preparation, cleaning, and food delivery effort needed to get meals to children that may desperately need it, none of that would be possible without workers and volunteers on the ground. Becky Trivette, Hardin Park School’s cafeteria manager, says that they normally have 10 faculty volunteers that work at different times handing out meals in the morning, afternoon, and riding the bus along with the bus driver to hand out meals at the delivery locations. There is not an exact science to how many meals will be provided to families, but Trivette and her staff get the menu for each day and start cooking and packing the food. The menu is planned out by the director of child nutrition just like any other normal school day. “On a regular school day, I have no problem planning on 450 meals because I know what is going out the door. Now, I plan for 450 and I might not get rid of 450, I might get rid of 400, or I might need 500,” said Trivette. “If the weather is nice, you know we will be getting rid of all of them.” As families drive up in the parking lot to get meals, one of the volunteers will ask how many meals they need. Often times though, the same familiar faces have been by enough times that the cafeteria staff knows them by their car and already has a pretty good idea of how many meals they
are there to pick up and how many smiling faces they are about to see. “It’s good to see our kids. We don’t get to see many of them, and now we get to see kids from all over the county, not just kids from within our community,” says Trivette. “We have definitely gone through a bunch of emotions since this started, both good and bad. It’s definitely different for us as well.” For those that cannot get to the schools to pick up food during the specified times, the meal delivery service has become essential. “We prepare 90 to 100 meals for delivery to the bus stops. We pack the bus and the driver leaves out of here by 3:45 p.m. to get to her first stop by 4,” Trivette said. Hardin Park operates four different bus stops, and it can be hard to predict just how many people will show up at each location. “Some days the driver calls and says she has run out and has to come back for more and then take off to the next stop,” said Trivette. While it may still be some time before children can experience their normal school routine again, a lot of parents have said that having the school meals is some form of familiarity for them during a time of immediate change that no one in this generation has ever had to experience before. “It’s a big help to be able to come and get food. I appreciate it greatly and so do my kids,” said one parent. “My kids miss school and say they’re ready to go back, and they like the school lunches; they are always excited to see what they
have today.” Other parents shared more positive thoughts about the meals program and the folks doing all of the work. “These ladies have been out here rain, shine, cold and wind and they have been very sweet, kind and patient,” one mother said as she waited for three meals for her children. “It’s very important to us, these ladies are fabulous and my children love all the food. It’s one less meal I have to deal with,” said another mom who has continued working a full-time job through the COVID-19 pandemic. For one set of grandparents who arrived to pick up food, the grandmother said that being able to have this opportunity to pick up meals for that evening and breakfast for the following day was a huge help. “I’m a grandparent raising kids, this helps a lot more than some realize it is helping,” she said. Dr. Elliott echoed the importance of being able to provide some sort of normal school activities for children, and what better way possible than to provide them with some healthy meals. “The daily routine of getting a school meal has been a small way that students and their families have remained connected to their schools, whether it is coming through the meal line each day and seeing school staff or being at home and seeing the school bus coming by to deliver meals. I have seen students holding posters out their car windows telling the staff how much they miss school and how much they appreciate the meals,” said Dr. Elliott. t July 2020
High Country Magazine
App State COVID-19 Timeline It Started with an Extended Spring Break and Ended with a Virtual Graduation
rom an extended spring break, online classes, canceled events, virtual graduation and the unknown for upcoming semesters, the life of Mountaineers amongst the COVID-19 pandemic is another perspective worth capturing. The 2020 spring semester kicked off like normal, with classes in session and Appalachian State University faculty, staff and students wondering how much weather from the winter season would impact operations. However, little did anyone know, it wasn’t the cool Boone temperatures and precipitation that would largely affect the semester. On Feb. 6, App State’s emergency response team announced it was monitoring the COVID-19 virus, which was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. There were no confirmed cases in North Carolina at the time. According to the statement from App State on Feb. 6, “Appalachian has been working closely with our local and state public health partners to monitor COVID19 and prepare in the event it should affect our campus.” The announcement also briefly explained what COVID-19 is, how it spreads, symptoms of the virus and how to protect oneself. By March 1, App State developed a resource and information website for those seeking information and guidance regarding the university’s preparation and response to COVID-19. According to an announcement from March 2, Chancellor Sheri Everts said, “Though incidents in the United States are low, we remain vigilant. Our staff is in regular contact with the UNC System and local and state public health officials, and we are following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.” App State’s Spring Break was scheduled in the academic calendar for March 9-13, and on March 9, App State sent out an update announcing that classes will continue as scheduled. At the time, there were no cases of COVID-19 in western North Carolina. However, during the beginning of the 48
High Country Magazine
By Harley Nefe break, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency in North Carolina in response to COVID-19 on March 10. “The declaration activates the Emergency Operations Center to help agencies coordinate from one location and makes it easier to purchase needed medical supplies, protect consumers from price gouging and increase county health departments’ access to state funds. It also increases the
Appalachian State Chancellor Sheri Everts state public health department’s role in supporting local health departments,” according to an App State announcement on March 11. Also on March 11, App State extended spring break until 8 a.m. on March 23, which canceled all undergraduate and graduate classes between March 16 and March 20. Students living in residence halls were encouraged to remain home or off campus. This announcement also canceled or postponed all events with 100 or more in-person participants. Lastly, any
university-sponsored travel outside of the state of North Carolina was suspended. “Mountaineer resiliency is in full force as the university community rallies to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19,” Everts said in a statement on March 13. “Across our campus, faculty, staff and students are exhibiting tremendous ingenuity, determination and resourcefulness as we pull together to safeguard and protect our community.” By March 13, App State personnel canceled all late-spring and summer 2020 faculty-led programs. By March 15, all spring 2020 semester study abroad programs were canceled, and by March 18, all summer 2020 semester study abroad programs were canceled. App State brought around 128 students home from international programs and suspended or canceled 58 more international programs that were scheduled for the spring and summer. “As we all work to process and make sense of the ways coronavirus is changing and evolving our world and the Appalachian community, we are facing more questions than answers right now,” said JJ Brown, vice chancellor, in an issued statement to App State students on March 19. “Please be assured the App State faculty, staff and administration are working around the clock to find solutions and support you. There are many people working at the university to navigate the transition to online classes and services, all while keeping our campus clean and safe. No one knows how long we will be operating under these new circumstances, but we are committed to supporting you along the way.” Also on March 19, Mark Ginn, vice provost for undergraduate education, released a statement to App State faculty and staff that said, “The stories we have heard of faculty working to provide a quality academic experience for our students and working to help their less technologically savvy colleagues to adapt to this delivery method are truly inspiring. We wish to take this opportunity to thank you for your work, both the work you have already done, and the work that we know you will continue to do.” Nearly 600 App State faculty attended
workshops, support and training sessions to help with the transition. On March 20, the UNC Board of Governors Interim President Bill Roper announced in a meeting that spring graduation ceremonies would be disrupted and campuses should make independent decisions about how to move forward with commencement ceremonies. For App State, Everts announced that there would be a virtual commencement in May, and May graduates would have the option to participate in the December 2020 Commencement. “There are many details to work out, but please know my leadership team and I are committed to preserving, to the greatest extent possible, the essence of the celebrations and milestones of the final weeks of the spring semester, including commencement,” Everts said in a statement on March 20. “We don’t know exactly what that will look like, but we are working hard on virtual solutions.” In the history of App State, a commencement ceremony has never been canceled, not even for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic or World War II. “It was unthinkable for us to consider canceling our May Commencement ceremony, especially with the available technology that is allowing faculty to continue teaching and engaging in research,” Everts said. Starting March 23, App State transitioned from in-person instruction to alternative course delivery methods. There were 2,600 course sections that made the transition in two weeks. 160 students who met the criteria to stay on campus remained in their residence halls. Many others picked up their essentials and returned to their homes. The residence halls were thoroughly clean, and only residents were allowed in the buildings. Typically, there are around 5,600 oncampus residents at App State. Reduced staffing for facilities on campus meant App State started operating under limited capacities. Academic classroom and office buildings, Plemmons Student Union and University Libraries kept their core services available, but some buildings switched to key or card access only. Lastly, dining facilities switched to a reduced schedule and takeout only. This required more than 2,150 faculty and staff to work from home or at off-campus locations. On March 24 Roper sent an announcement to the UNC System chancellors suspending all non-essential human resources
activity including salary adjustments, position actions and new hires. “I am deeply saddened by the circumstances in which we find ourselves,” Everts said in a statement on March 27. “While we regularly train for numerous crises and disasters, the reality of leading our university through an extended global pandemic sets in with significant gravity at unexpected times throughout the process. We are simultaneously planning for every conceivable scenario, responding to each new circumstance, and learning to anticipate every eventuality as the ground continues to shift beneath our feet.” Also on March 27, Gov. Cooper issued a stay-at-home order in an effort to help mitigate the ongoing spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina. The order was in effect from 5 p.m. March 30 through April 29 and banned gatherings of more than 10 people while also directing everyone to physically stay at least six feet apart from others. App State then created the Mountaineer Emergency Fund to help students who are facing financial challenges that are significant barriers to academic success. The fund is designed to assist students through unforeseen financial emergencies or urgent situations that would prevent them from continuing their education at App State. From the fund, short-term grants can be provided to students to help cover expenses such as child care, food, prescriptions, housing, books and other needs. “With the fund merely days old, we have already granted allotments to students struggling with job loss and those with child care and utility bills piling up,” Everts said in a statement on March 28. For faculty and staff who are facing financial difficulties, zero-interest emergency loans started to become available with minimal payments to be made through monthly payroll deduction. Also on March 28, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in an App State student was announced. The student diagnosed is a resident of Watauga County and lives off campus. They were symptom free, had not been on campus since March 4 and were self-quarantining since returning to the United States from overseas travel. “As we continue to manage the daily challenges the likes of which our institution has never seen, I want you to know we will come out the other side,” Everts said in a statement on March 30. “Our university will be forever changed by COVID-19. We will work to keep our community safe and healthy and our university intact. We keep,
at the forefront of every decision, the welfare of our faculty, staff and students.” Also on March 30, Roper announced that UNC System institutions would issue prorated dining and housing refunds to individuals who have the plans and that operations would continue online through Summer 2020. Going forward into April, App State adopted a pass-no credit alternate grading system for Spring 2020, meaning that undergraduate and graduate students would have the option of choosing the different grading system on a course-by-course basis for a time period after grades were submitted or they may keep their assigned grade. Students would also have the option to withdraw from a course up to 24 hours after final grades have been posted. On April 8, the Appalachian District Health Department informed App State that another App State student who is a resident of Ashe County and lives off campus tested positive for COVID-19. The case was travel related, and the student was not on campus since March 4. “Our hearts are with this student and all of the members of our Appalachian Community whose lives are touched by this dangerous and pervasive virus,” Everts said in a statement on April 9. App State was closed April 10 due to the state holiday. On April 11, App State informed the community about federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, which provided grant assistance directly to students as well as to the university. App State’s allocation was $15,927,932 with 50% of that amount being provided in the form of direct aid to students in the form of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grants. The legislation specified grant allocations must be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19. Qualifying expenses include a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, relocation expenses, health care, child care and transportation. The last day of classes for App State was April 29, with final exams being May 1 and May 4-7. On May 7, App State announced that an App State employee, who is a resident of Ashe County, tested positive for COVID19. The individual fully cooperated with isolation instructions and recovered at home. Close contacts to the individual diagnosed were quarantined. July 2020
High Country Magazine
By May 8, Gov. Cooper commenced phase 1of his plan to lift COVID-19 restrictions in the State of North Carolina. On May 14, App State announced 16 subcontracted workers who are non-Watauga County residents tested positive for COVID-19. App State’s Spring Commencement took place on May 16 at 11 a.m. in a virtual format. On May 19, two additional Watauga County residents with university connections tested positive for COVID-19. On May 20, Gov. Cooper announced
North Carolina’s move to a “safer at home” modification of phase 2 that was scheduled to be in place through at least June 26. By May 26, all fall 2020 semester study abroad programs were canceled. On May 27, App State announced that three additional subcontractors with university connections tested positive for COVID-19. While what the Fall 2020 semester will look like is still not certain, planning and preparation is underway. What is already known, according to an update from Everts, is that App State will
begin the Fall 2020 semester on Aug. 17, and the two-day Fall Break will be eliminated in order for the last day of classes to be on Nov. 24. All final exams for Fall 2020 will be held online. The December Commencement will be held on schedule, and as of June, App State is planning for an in-person ceremony. “I am thankful to work alongside Mountaineers who are invested in the success of the entire Appalachian Community,” Everts said in a statement on June 12. “We have and will continue to adapt for the pandemic, and we will work harder” t
Lees-McRae Announces Campus Operation Updates, Campus Closed to the Public
ees-McRae College acted quickly following Governor Roy Cooper’s stayat-home executive order on March 27 by canceling all in-person classes on campus in Banner Elk and in-person classes held at Surry Community College. All of those classes were completed remotely for the remainder of the spring semester. LMC also closed the campus to the public, which included the Mill Pond and all athletic complexes.
High Country Magazine
The college has canceled all public events prior to July 1 and will hold a special commencement ceremony for the class of 2020 during the annual Homecoming weekend in the Fall of 2020. Lees-McRae employees were able to return to campus for work on Monday, June 1. The college says they are continuing to monitor and respond to the spread of COVID-19 with the health and wellbeing of students, faculty and staff as the top priority.
App State Graduation For The First Time in 120 Years, A Cancelled Commencement Ceremony
tudents wearing black State Alumni who posted and gold academic reonline and said, “As I’ve said galia, walking across repeatedly, I love this univerthe stage and receiving a disity, and I love the people in ploma looked a little differit! I’ve met so many friends ent for graduates during Apand have had so many great palachian State University’s experiences since I came Spring 2020 semester. to campus in Fall 2016. It’s Typically, the cheers of amazing how far four years family and friends are conwent by! COVID-19 took a tained within the walls of special day away from 3,600 the Holmes Convocation students, but it can’t take Center on campus; however, away the fact that we still due to the implications of graduated, and we’re all off the COVID-19 pandemic, to doing whatever our paths Founders Plaza on the App State Campus was the backdrop for the live streamed graduation celebrations took video graduation ceremonies held on May 16th. Photo by Marie Freeman, App State may lead us! Thank you for place near and far, as Mounit all! I love you, Appalataineers gathered virtually to acknowledge the Class of 2020 chian!” during the university’s Spring 2020 Commencement. During the ceremony, Everts conferred degrees to 3,651 May “While we wish we could be together in the Holmes and August graduates, who registered to be recognized in the Convocation Center, our university’s historic first virtual com- spring ceremony. This number breaks down to 3,134 undergradmencement ceremony will be distinct and memorable,” App uates and 517 graduate students. State Chancellor Sheri Everts said. We are looking forward to The name of each candidate who registered for Spring 2020 honoring our graduates, who have all worked incredibly hard Commencement was read and displayed during the event. Prior and overcome significant obstacles to achieve this pinnable of to the virtual ceremony, graduates received a commencement their academic careers. We will be with them, in their living packet in the mail that included a diploma cover and other items rooms, kitchens, dining rooms and on their front porches, to to celebrate, remember and share their achievement. celebrate their success.” Throughout its 120-year history, App State has never canApp State’s virtual commencement, which was streamed on- celed a commencement ceremony, even despite two world wars line on May 16 at 11 a.m., was attended by individuals from and a depression. across the world and all 50 states. The online video has received May and August graduates also have the opportunity to parnearly 30,000 views and counting. ticipate in the December 2020 Commencement, which is curApp State also created a Spring 2020 Commencement page rently scheduled to be in-person on Dec. 11. t Harley Nefe to their website with links to the commencement video, schedule and additional information. Graduates also were encouraged to post pictures of their celebrations and accomplishments on social media tagging App State in order for a chance to be featured on the commencement webpage. Hundreds of students participated, including App State graduate Sophia Yang who posted, “Appalachian State taught me love and compassion. The amazing faculty and peers at App and beyond encouraged me to persevere through the toughest times. They motivated me, challenged me and guided me on my journey to find meaning.” Dale Hagwood is another new App Chancellor Sheri Everts gives her commencement address via live streaming video. July 2020
High Country Magazine
Meet Typhoid Gary Air Force Veteran Becomes Patient No. 6 in Watauga
he worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has brought many unprecedented happenings to the High Country and to the world. In January 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and prevention identified the first case of COVID-19 in the United States. Just two months later, on March 3, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced the first case in North Carolina. Here in the High Country, where we are often isolated from major world issues, cases started popping up across Watauga, Wilkes, Ashe and Caldwell Counties. Avery County, the last county in North Carolina to report a positive case of COVID-19, got its first patient in early May. Stay-at-home orders went into effect, businesses closed or modified operations, citizens purchased masks and hand sanitizer to protect themselves, our health departments, hospitals and clinics braced themselves to help their communities and toilet paper and disinfectant stocks ran low. But amidst the worldwide pandemonium, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and former medical professional was coming down with what felt like a case of the flu. Meet Gary Button, whose positive COVID-19 status was reported in Watauga County on March 31. A decorated Air Force veteran who retired to Boone a few years ago at the urging of his family, Button started to feel ill after a trip to Charlotte where he visited several establishments around St. Patrick’s Day. After returning home to Boone, Button began to fall ill with flu-like symptoms that continued for a few days. “I’m patient #6 in Watauga County, you can call me Typhoid Gary,” said Button. rn Virginia. I love Boone, I love the area, I love the scenery and the mountains and the town. Unfortunately though, for a single fellow, there isn’t a lot to do. So, my brainy idea was to get an apartment in Charlotte as a getaway spot. In midFebruary, I got a one-bedroom apartment in uptown and for the next four weeks I loaded my van up and went back and forth between Boone and Charlotte with furniture and supplies.” Around March 20, after many back and 52
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By Madison Fisler Lewis forth trips to Charlotte and many nights on the town, Button returned to Boone to take his ill dog to the vet. “It sounds like a bad country western song,” Button said. “After I rushed back to Boone and my dog died, I started feeling poorly. At the time, the coronavirus was just getting started. You would hear about it on
Gary Button, in the emergency room, while being checked out for testing for Covid-19 virus. the news and they would tell you the symptoms to look for. I started to get a headache and stomachache, but I didn’t have a fever.” At this time, the COVID-19 pandemic was continuing to spread through the state and was present in all counties except Avery County. On March 17, AppHealthCare issued a press release encouraging High Country residents to assess their risk and take action to protect themselves from infection. Governor Roy Cooper issued an order to close bars and restaurants for dine-in customers. Religious organizations were encouraged to find alternatives to their gatherings and businesses were continuing to exercise caution and encourage
social distancing. Within a few days, Button’s symptoms began to worsen. He decided to go to Watauga Hospital in Boone to see a doctor. “I went to the emergency room and usually there are a ton of people there,” Button said. “Usually there is a lot of waiting. I’m a retired military guy so I’m used to ‘hurry up and wait’. But at two in the morning it was unreal, not a car in sight. When I went in, there wasn’t a soul. I told the receptionist that I thought I might have the coronavirus, and I felt like a fool even saying it. She gave me a mask and immediately they took me to be seen.” At this time during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of North Carolina was facing a critical shortage of tests for the virus, as well as a shortage for other medical items and personal protective equipment (PPE). Guidance from health authorities was to test by elimination, testing patients for illnesses with similar symptoms to eliminate all possibilities before testing for COVID-19. This system was aimed to preserve COVID-19 tests for patients who likely had it. “My bloodwork and chest x-ray came back negative, so the nurse came to do the nasal swab, which isn’t a little Q-Tip,” Button said. “If you didn’t know, that swab looks like a harpoon! They took my swabs to the lab and it came back as presumptively positive for COVID-19—I was Watauga COVID-19 patient number six. Although I had some shortage of breath, it wasn’t severe enough to be admitted. My blood oxygen levels were still okay, so I did not have to be hospitalized. I was sent home into isolation and told to wait to hear about the official test from the state lab and for a call from the health department.” Soon after his presumptive positive COVID-19 test, Button’s symptoms got worse. In the 10 days between when he got the presumptive diagnoses to when he got the official diagnosis from the state laboratory, he developed a severe dry cough, nausea, chills and more. “I got to a point where I couldn’t speak a sentence without coughing for 10 minutes,” Button said. “The fever went away after two days, but the coughing got so
1852 Highway 105 Ste 3 Boone, NC Monday - Thursday: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Friday: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm 828-264-1395 www.appblinds.com
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bad that at one point I bruised my ribs just from coughing, I had huge purple bruises on my sides! One by one the symptoms started to resolve, but the cough was getting worse and worse.” Ten days after his presumptive diagnosis, Button was officially diagnosed and recorded as one of North Carolina’s thousands of COVID-19 cases. Following this, he received a call from the health department for contact tracing purposes. Contact tracing involves interviews of patients by officials to determine who else they may have infected before they were isolated. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ website, contact tracing is a proven, effective way to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing identifies people that have recently been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This helps us more rapidly identify those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and quickly get them the necessary supports and resources that can help protect them and their loved ones. For his part, Button told the official the places and establishments he frequented while in Charlotte and in Boone, and who he had contact with. While he was ill and recovering at home, Button says what helped him the most was the kindness of his family and friends who stepped up to take care of him. His cousin, Jan Todd, and her husband, Tony, brought Button supplies, medicine and food despite the risk to themselves. “We were the ones who encouraged him to move to Boone so he could be closer to family,” said Jan Todd. “At that time, the news about the virus was very new and it wasn’t very prevalent in North Carolina. We were just beginning to hear about things popping up in the state and when he told me that he had tested positive, I was really concerned.” To check on her cousin, Todd utilized texting every day, due to his inability to speak over the phone. “I would ask how he was doing and I was very concerned about not just his physical condition, but his mental condition,” she said. “Being in a new place and being alone without much of a support system is hard, so we tried our best to check in often and lift his spirits. You just have to try to be sympathetic, but also keep a positive outlook and try to make their day better any way that you can.” During his time in isolation, Todd and her husband brought meals, supplies and medicine to Button, but maintained prop54
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er social distancing. “Where I live I have a long driveway with cars out front of my house,” Button said. “Every few days I would see Jan in her mask and gloves tip-toeing from her car to leave supplies on the hood of my car—she looked like a NASA astronaut! As soon as she dropped off the food or medicine or whatever it was, she would run back to her car and jump in as fast as her little legs could take her!” After a few weeks, Button and Todd began to wonder why they had not heard
Gary at home June 19th, now fully recovered. from any healthcare professionals since the contact tracing interview. “We were a little concerned that nobody was reaching out to him after his diagnosis was confirmed,” Todd said. “After the contact tracing, nobody reached out to him to see if he was okay, if he was recovering or even to retest him. At the time we really didn’t know when it was safe to see him again.” Button echoed those sentiments, and expressed confusion as to why no health care professionals checked on him afterwards to check on his recovery. “I’m grateful that I did not have to be hospitalized or intubated, even when breathing got real hard to do. One thing that surprised me though is that after my diagnosis, neither the health department or the hospital contacted me to check on me. Not even ‘hey Mr. Button, are you dead?’! Contact tracing takes a lot of time, and all of these hard working [health care] individuals were doing a great job and working so hard, but when I never heard back from anyone, I was surprised.” Five weeks after his initial illness began, the last of Button’s symptoms resolved. Looking back on his ordeal, Button recalls his time in the military and the years he worked in military healthcare.
“I am a retired U.S. Air Force officer, and I was a hospital administrator,” Button said. “The first half of my career I was inside hospitals as the associate administrator or director of one or more of the departments. After that,I went to St. Louis where I did medical evacuations. I would help get people from tiny local hospitals to regional medical centers to get them the care they needed.” In addition to medical training in the Air Force, Button has a unique perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Clemson University and a master’s degree in public health epidemiology from the University of South Carolina. The final portion of his 20-year Air Force career was spent as a medical planner. It was Button’s responsibility to plan for emergencies and determine necessary medical support. He spent two years in Europe and he spent his last five years at NATO in Norfolk, Virginia as a medical planner. “When you work in a hospital for so long, working with disease so often, you see all kinds of things,” Button said. “I think that having a positive attitude and sense of humor really helped me get through this. When you’re so sick you feel like death is rapidly approaching, and having nightmares about being put on a ventilator, it can be hard to be optimistic. But you just have to keep moving forward.” His background in medicine and his graduate studies helped Button to better understand the situation when he became ill and how it was transmitted. Button says that with current circumstances, it’s more important than ever to wear a mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing. As to what helped to get him through his ordeal, Button credits his social support network, friends and family who helped him while he was ill. His family members and friends went beyond bringing him food, supplies and medicine. “What really got me through was my loved ones showing how much they care. They would call me every single day just to check on me. It was hard for me to talk, but just knowing people were thinking of me while I was sick and isolated for more than a month helped me stay positive and kept me going. Nobody is immune to this virus—it can happen to anyone, even a medical guy like me. Don’t think that because we are in this beautiful mountain community we are safe from everything. This virus can spread quickly and exponentially, but I am cautiously optimistic. Be careful, take precautions and be informed.” t
Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild, Sew Original and Other Volunteers Come Together to Make Fabric Masks in the High Country
earing facemasks has become a hot topic of conversation. The CDC’s first recommendation on wearing facemasks came on April 7 encouraging anyone in a public setting to wear cloth face coverings, particularly in areas where social distancing can become more of a challenge, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. “The use of cloth masks makes so much sense toward combating the spread of COVID-19. As such, we encourage everyone to use them, particularly in public locations where social distancing is difficult to maintain,” stated Rob Hudspeth, Senior Vice President for System Advancement, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS). That’s when community members began to step up and make masks for anyone that needed them. The Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild was one of the first groups of volunteers to put their skills to use. After that, the Small and Mighty Acts Civic Group also began making masks to donate to High Country Residents. Jennifer Greene, the Health Director at AppHealthCare, shared her appreciation for the volunteers. “We’re very grateful, there are some great people in our community that are spending their time to make these masks for people and that’s really amazing. It’s one of the bright spots we have to focus on during this difficult season that we’re in,” Greene said. “It’s a great grass-roots thing and it’s really great to see people trying to step up and help their neighbor.” Cara Hagan, who helped organize the mask donation event for the grassroots group Small and Mighty Acts, says it’s all about protecting the community. “It’s about community care and this idea of I’m not wearing a mask just for me but I’m wearing one for you too. There is still so much we don’t know about the virus and who is susceptible to it,” says Hagan. “As long as we don’t know who is carrying and who is most adversely affected, it’s in our best interest to do whatever we can to protect each other and ourselves.” As of June 20, everyone entering an indoor establishment in Boone will be required to wear a face covering with certain exceptions being made.
Kathy Hill, manager of Sew Original in Boone, is showing one of the mask kits that volunteers can pick up to make masks.
Melinda Rose sits at a sewing machine making a mask.
Cara Hagan helped organize the “Mask Mask Revolution” event organized by Small and Mighty Acts civic group.
This mask is just one of many of the unique designs created by volunteers. July 2020
High Country Magazine
Dealing With Suddenly Closing For Businesses ... “It was a kick in the gut. We were in shock.”
hen John Mena, owner of Haircut 101 in Boone, was cutting Leslie Kramer’s hair on March 25, he never dreamed that his next customer would be the very same Leslie Kramer, nearly two months later. Like many businesses in the country, Haircut 101 was closed for seven weeks in the spring during stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of COVID-19. Mena said in late February and early March, there was a lot of talk about a dangerous virus running rampant, particularly on the west coast and in large cities. “We live in a secluded bubble up here in the mountains. Hot spots in New York and San Francisco, where the population is so dense, made sense. But up here? We pricked up our ears and started talking about how it might impact us, particularly with a mobile population and lots of tourists,” Mena said. Appalachian State University students left for spring break on March 6. Since about two-thirds of Haircut 101’s clientele is comprised of students during the school year, some of the staff took vacations during Appalachian’s spring break as well. “We typically take off when the students aren’t in town, because our business slows down considerably. In the summer, we serve a lot of summer home residents and even tourists, but during spring break our business is usually pretty slow,” Mena explained. This was to be a spring break week like no other. The novel coronavirus began to dominate the news, and by mid-week North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency, Appalachian announced a one-week extension of the students’ spring break, and the NCAA cancelled the spring basketball tournaments. “March Madness” took on a whole new meaning. Executive orders began pouring out from the Governor’s office (see sidebar), and Mena realized a shutdown for his business was inevitable. Appalachian announced students would not be returning to campus for the rest of the semester. On March 23, Executive Order 120 issued closed entertainment establishments, health clubs, bowling alleys, barber shops and beauty salons, massage parlors and 56
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By Jan Todd tattoo parlors, effective March 25. “It was a kick in the gut,” Mena described. “We were in shock.” Most small businesses operate monthto-month, Mena said. “We don’t have money just sitting in the bank, ready to cover a couple months of expenses with no income coming in.”
some point, but I told all of my employees to get on unemployment right away, because I didn’t have money to keep paying them with nothing coming in. I filed for unemployment myself, which I could since I have an S-corporation. It took a long time for the applications to be processed,” Mena said. Online applications and response times were slow and frustrating as millions across the country attempted to decipher instruc-
March 25 On Wednesday, March 25, leading up to the 5:00 deadline, John Mena wold serve his last customer, Leslie Kramer. “The first year I opened this place, I didn’t pay myself for an entire year. I paid my bills from my savings. Employees were the first ones to get paid, and if there were funds left over, I could write myself a measly paycheck. Operating a small business is difficult in the best of times,” he continued. With 11 employees working at Haircut 101, depending on the income for their livelihood, Mena immediately called his bank and asked what to do. “They were very willing to work with me, and deferred my business mortgage payments for three months, which means they extended the end date so I could skip payments and just pay longer. That helped immensely,” he said. However, the relief on the mortgage payments wasn’t enough. Insurance payments, utilities and other bills, and payroll expenses had to be considered. “I figured we’d be back in business at
tions and file for unemployment benefits and other loans. After weeks of waiting and checking the status of applications, Mena’s checks finally arrived, but he was concerned about the long term implications of the assistance from the government. In addition to standard state-level benefits, the unemployment checks included an extra $600 per week in enhanced benefits from the federal government as part of COVID-19 relief programs. “I wondered how that could be? How will the money be paid back?” Mena wondered. “Nobody gets money for free. What will our future look like? Will we be paying more in taxes? Probably. It’s scary. There are so many different questions and things up in the air.” Mena consulted with his network of small business owners in Boone, asking questions, sharing advice and support as the community contemplated what was ahead.
Many local restaurants and retailers rely on tourist traffic, as well as on the student population as both customers and employees. “The past two months have pulled the rug out from a lot of small businesses. Unfortunately, there will be quite a few that aren’t able to open back up. It is disheartening,” Mena said. Mena applied for Small Business Association (SBA) loans, spending time after the shut-down to pull together numbers for his accountant to assist in the process. “The SBA does have a lot of stipulations on how the money can be used, but we able to secure a pro-rated loan at a very reasonable rate for 30 years – just like another mortgage — to get through the months with no or reduced income,” Mena said.
so much. We have students and faculty coming in from all over the world and Boone is a very inclusive place.” The salon has been a success in Boone. “What we do here is not just about cutting hair,” Mena said. “It’s about making people feel good about themselves. It is very rewarding for me. The staff here is close. We’re like family and work well together.” “Hairstylists are touchy feely kind of people, creative,” Mena continued. “When we’re not working, we’re not fulfilled. When we were closed down for the coronavirus, I had my phone blowing up with calls and text messages. My clients asked if we were okay and let me know they were praying for us. It was amazing.” During the two months the salon was
May 22 58 days later, Leslie Kramer would be his first customer back when hair salons were allowed to reopen at 5:00.
Not Time to Retire Despite the uncertainty of the future and the reality of taking on more debt, 62year old Mena never consider simply retiring his business. “I’ve been here in Boone so long that I’ve given kids their first haircuts and now I’m giving their kids their first haircuts. It’s like being a part of a family,” he shared. Mena moved to the High Country in 1987 to open a salon with partners in Banner Elk. The partnership dissolved, and he opened his own shop in Boone at the end of 1989. His father was in the U.S. Army, and Mensa lived all over the world when he was growing up — but now considers Boone as his home, the first place he established deep roots. “Traveling around gave me an open experience with different cultures and races, and it was really neat,” Mena described. “That’s one of the reasons I love this place
closed, Mena said he spent a lot of time walking his three dogs, sometimes clocking 10-15 miles a day in total. “One of my dogs refuses to walk now. He had enough,” laughed Mena. “Two weeks into this pandemic, I discovered I don’t like retirement! I work six days a week but to me, it’s not work. I love what I do, so it doesn’t seem like work and I really missed it,” Mena shared.
Back in the Chair – But On the Edge When the time approached to re-open, Mena deep cleaned the salon and repainted inside. “I took all the equipment out and scrubbed everything from the rafters down,” he said. :It was very cathartic, and gave me something to focus on instead of worrying about COVID.” Every employee returned when the business reopened on May 22. It wasn’t full steam ahead, though. The salon, like many
other businesses, was limited to 50% capacity — a level that Mena said isn’t enough to sustain the business for very long. New regulations are in place. Temperatures are taken as people enter the salon. Stylists and their customers wear masks. An ultraviolet (UV) light machine is turned on at night to kill bacteria and viruses, and the staff uses UV light wands on equipment throughout the day, sanitizing their stations between clients. Mena faces the future with some trepidation. “We’ll try to save as much money as we can to try and head off any repercussions. I don’t know if we as a country can afford to have another shutdown like this one,” he said. Mena said the shutdown and aftermath has been painful for business owners, employees, customers and the population at large — with nobody knowing when “normal” will be restored. Uncertainty keeps him on edge. “We’re hearing about the spikes in COVID cases and are living under the veil of another potential shutdown, and wondering what the economy will look like in the next few months, the next year. On the local level, we’re concerned about how we’re going to come out of this,” he said. Mena continued, “As a business owner, I wake up in a sweat at 4:00 a.m., wondering how to plan for the future. How do I take care of my employees? How much inventory should I order? Will the banks be willing to prolong mortgage payments again if we have to shut down or slow down? There isn’t an end in sight for this.” Still, Mena considers himself a positive person and said he has seen some good come from the pandemic. “Even though we were socially distancing, we realized how connected we are, and we started supporting one another. We bought from local farmers. We supported local restaurants by ordering takeout. We spent more time with our family nucleus. During the shutdowns I saw more kids riding bikes, skateboarding, playing outside with one another than I’ve ever seen in the past 25 years. It’s cool to see them out there just being kids — using imagination to create games and things to do,” he said. “I hope we’ll go back to a calmer, simpler lifestyles,” Mena continued. “This is a fabulous community and we need to support each other, buy from our local businesses. Everybody needs to be responsible for their own health and well-being and be considerate of others.” t July 2020
High Country Magazine
Avery Post Newspaper Closes, Ending Nearly Half-Century Career of Local Icon Bertie Burleson
hidden casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus was the sudden closure of the Avery Post newspaper. Bertie Burleson has been a media icon in Avery County for nearly 50 and had been the editor and publisher of the Avery Post for 19 years. The paper printed its last edition on May 13.
“We are closing the Avery Post following months of businesses being closed due to COVID-19. Words cannot express what you, our advertisers, our ministers and community writers have meant to us You have forged bonds with us that will last, as long as we live; all of you have been a blessing, not only to our community, but to our May 18 subscribers in other states. We will always be grateful to you and cherish you as long as we live,” Burleson said in a statement along with her daughter and associate editor, Lydia Hoilman. Burleson started her writing career with stories that were published in the North Carolina State Magazine in 1969 and 1970. Bertie began working full time at the Avery Journal in 1971 and worked there until 2000 when philosophical differences with then-publisher Glen Grizzard made way for
Bertie’s exit and eventual creation of the Avery Post in 2001. “God has richly blessed me to have the opportunity to live in Avery County with my family and other people I love so dearly and to do the work that I love for such a long time,” Burleson said. “Life has been good to me.”
Annual Memorial Day Celebration at Boone Mall Canceled, Unannounced Event Held At Veteran Memorial in Boone
or the first time in 13 years, the annual Memorial Day celebration at Boone Mall had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. The event is co-sponsored annually by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), the Watauga Community Band and Boone Mall. There was still an impromptu Memorial Day Celebration held in downtown Boone at the Veterans Memorial on May 25, just without a large public crowd due to social distancing concerns. Military Officers May 25 Association of America’s High Country chapter placed a wreath at the memorial to honor the brave heroes who have sacrificed everything fighting for this country. 58
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“We are sorry that we could not do our traditional Memorial Day event out of respect for the health and safety of our community, but the town was very gracious to allow us to have this very informal ceremony today because we felt it was extremely important to honor our fallen heroes,” said Captain (Ret.) Fred Schmidt, United States Coast Guard. “On behalf of a grateful nation and representing veterans, and military organizations in the area as well as the greater High Country community, we present this wreath to honor our fallen heroes and families.” Marine LTC (ret.) George Brudzinski, a member of the HCCMOAA, placed the wreath on the memorial.
I wanted to PROTECT my heart. Now I just want to protect THEIRS. Apply to become a foster parent TODAY.
www.crossnore.org/foster-care-adoptions July 2020
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Best Western Hotel in Banner Elk Opens Back Up Under New Guideline Restrictions with Safety and Cleaning at the Forefront
pring and summer months in the High Country are the peak times for tourists to visit the area. As North Carolina slowly began to lift many of the stay-at-home restrictions and reopen the state’s economy, hotels were left scrambling with how they were going to reopen safely. At the Best Western Hotel in Banner Elk, they became the first hotel to reopen to more than just essential workers. “We have enhanced our cleaning measures. To keep everyone safe, we’ve got Plexiglas covering the front desk. We’re not doing stay-over serMay 8 vice right now, so anybody staying multiple nights doesn’t get housekeeping, but they do get a bag on their door with extra amenity items,” said hotel manager Shannon Maness. “When they check out, the room is put out of service for 72 hours. We have a fog machine that fully disinfects the room. Then it sits again and we do a deep clean.” Thankfully for the employees there, they were all able to keep their jobs during these challenging times.
“We have been working on a lot of deep cleaning of public areas and stayed fully staffed working on projects that needed to get done. Things we would normally outsource such as window washing and carpet cleaning, we have been able to do,” she said.
Over 1,000 Watauga Students Receive Free Art Kits from BRAHM & Kennedy-Herterich Foundation
ver 1,000 Watauga County students were able to enjoy a free art kit courtesy of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum and the Kennedy-Herterich Foundation. Children in kindergarten, first and second April 28 grade from all eight Watauga County elementary schools received the art kits on April 28. Each kit contained washable markers, washable tempera cake paints, brushes, heavyweight drawing paper, and a packet of drawing and painting inspiration cre60
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ated by BRAHM’s Education Center Director, Jennifer Garonzik. Garonzik reached out to art teachers in the county and worked with Meredith Jones at the Watauga County Schools central office to gather population numbers and coordinate distribution. Garonzik and BRAHM Executive Director Lee Carol Giduz approached the Kennedy-Herterich Foundation as a potential sponsor for this project I am blown away by the continued support and dedication of Ms. Herterich and the foundation. They have sponsored
field trips for underserved youth here at BRAHM in the past. And now serving every household for this age group in our county in this manner shows Ms. Herterich’s giving nature and determination for providing creative art opportunities for all children,” said Garonzik. “In BRAHM’s typical outreach, we work with groups of 12-40 students at once. In the case of our long running Young at Art outreach with Blowing Rock School, I see over 200 students each month. The reach of this latest project is by far the largest we have undertaken.”
Healthcare Workers and Patients Saluted at Watauga Medical Center on Friday Morning
pril 17 was a powerful day in the local medical community. Law enforcement, emergency management, fire departments and rescue squads from different parts of the High County had lights on and horns and sirens blasting as a salute to workers at Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital. “The community response has been incredible. To me, it gives a sense of hope in our community and we, as a healthcare team, feel the love and support of the community and we could not do this without them. We’re really appreciative of the effort,” said Chuck Mantooth, President/CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
Rob Hudspeth, the Senior Vice President of System Advancement for ARHS, shared some emotional feelings as he arrived at Watauga Medical Center that morning. “The emotion of the moment was overwhelming. When they drove through our parking lot, it was wonderful to see patients up and out of April 17 their beds, peering from the window of their hospital rooms. This has been a difficult time for many of them, being sick and not able to see family. This gesture from our emergency responders gave all of us a few moments of hope and happiness,” said Hudspeth.
The Food Hub Has Seen a 583 Percent Increase in Sales and a 400 Percent Increase in the Number of Customers
uring this era of the coronavirus, the High Country Food Hub has become such an important lifeline for farmers to sell their products and for local people to have healthy food choices. “The Food Hub has seen a 583 percent increase in average sales and a 400 percent increase in the average number of customers that it serves comparing February 2020 to April 2020,” said Liz Whiteman, the Operations Director for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. “We’ve also seen an increase in the number of local farmers and producers who see the Food Hub has a viable market channel.” Farmers used the Food Hub to sell products that they would
normally sell to restaurants, but have not been able to since many restaurants had closed or had drastically cut back their orders. Nobody really knows when things might go back to normal, but for the time being, the Food Hub is appreciative of all of their customers and farmers who have come together to promote local food Every Wed. sources and healthy food options. “We’re happy about this unexpected growth of the Food Hub, and hope that customers will continue to support local farmers by purchasing local produce and meat as we return to some type of normality,” Whiteman said. July 2020
High Country Magazine
ots of people began struggling financially as the COVID-19 coronavirus forced state and local governments to close unessential businesses. Workers were being laid off with no guarantee of when or even if they would return to a job. Small business owners had to deal with breaking bad news to employees and at the same time, figure out how to pay their own bills. State and federal government agencies knew they had to do something to keep the state and national economies from completely collapsing. On April 3, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan program was launched as a way for small businesses to be able to maintain their payrolls without having to lay off any employees. The program initially launched with $349 billion in funding. “Bankers are working as fast as humanly possible to meet the overwhelming demand for Paycheck Protection Program loans,” said North Carolina Bankers Association President & CEO Peter Gwaltney. “North Carolina banks have committed significant resources to originate these loans for small businesses in the communities that they serve. Our member banks are proud to play a role in the administration of this important economic relief program.” By April 13, there were already a total of 23,786 approved loans totaling $5.72 billion for North Carolina small businesses. “North Carolina’s small businesses are the engine of our economy, but they’ve been struggling to get through this crisis and keep their employees on payroll. That’s why I
By Nathan Ham supported the creation of the Paycheck Protection Program and why I believe we need to make sure this money gets to small businesses as soon as possible, make improvements to the program, and reach bipartisan consensus to provide more funding for our small businesses,” said Senator Thom Tillis. “From the many conversations that my staff and I have had with small business owners over the last several weeks, I understand this program is far from perfect with issues that need to be worked out, with many North Carolinians facing difficulty signing up or experiencing frustrating hurdles put in place by their banks. This feedback is incredibly important, and Congress should work in a bipartisan manner with the Trump administration to improve the program and support more small businesses.” The federal government’s move to pass the $150 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act added more money to the pool for states to be able to help their citizens. From that bill, North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell was able to report that the state would receive a little over $4 billion. In addition to the CARES act funding for the state, each person in the country making less than $75,000 annually would
receive a $1,200 Economic Impact Payment from the federal government and $500 for each dependent under the age of 17. At the local level, Watauga County received a little over $1.1 million from the CARES Act. AppHealthCare received a bulk of the money with $639,018. Appalachian Regional Healthcare System received $200,000 and Watauga County Schools received $125,000. The Town of Boone received $38,382 while Blowing Rock received $21,153, Beech Mountain received $20,290 and Seven Devils received $20,175. These funds were all part of the $85.4 million in federal funds allocated to North Carolina. “Everyone is working hard to make ends meet, including county governments as they finalize their budgets,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. “These funds will help communities respond to the COVID-19 crisis with testing, personal protective equipment, and more.” CRF funds may be used for medical needs including the COVID-19 related expenses of public hospitals and clinics, including testing; public health expenses, such as personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, as well as the cost of cleaning public areas and facilities such as nursing homes; payroll expenses for public safety or healthcare employees dedicated to responding to the COVID-19 emergency; and expenses to comply with public health measures, including teleworking, distance learning, food delivery, paid leave for public employees, expenses for maintaining prisons, and protecting the homeless population. t
Senator Richard Burr Sells Off $1.7 Million in Stocks After Being Briefed on Potential Impact of COVID-19 Coronavirus
Senator Richard Burr 62
Despite the constant COVID-19 news coverage, Senator Richard Burr still took some of the news spotlight on March 20 after selling $1.7 million in stocks after receiving private briefings about the potential economic impact of COVID-19. NPR first broke the store and included audio recordings of him warning a select group of members of the Capitol Hill Club but then saying nothing in a FOX News op-ed. The investigation into Burr continued in May when the FBI seized a cell phone that belonged to Sen. Burr. Burr then decided to “step aside” from his role as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The senator has denied any wrongdoing. “I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13. Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time. Understanding the assumption many could
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make in hindsight, however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency,” Sen. Burr said in a statement. According to multiple media outlets, the stocks that he and his wife sold were companies that owned hotels, and the sale of these stocks followed confidential senate briefings. Burr cut his political teeth in western NC, first running for the NC House of Representatives District 5 seat in 1992. Burr lost that year, however ran again in 1994 and won the seat representing the district that still includes Watauga and Ashe counties. Burr would go on to serve in the U.S. House, winning four more elections, until running for U.S. Senate in 2004 where he defeated Democrat E rskine Bowles. Burr has remained in the Senate and said he plans on retiring when his current term ends in 2022.
Virtual Concerts Raise Money for Local Restaurant Employees Who Are Out of Work
David Brewer live streams from the basement of his house.
Local musician almostmadi live streams from The Local
ive music entertainment has been one of many things that have not yet started to make a comeback in the High Country and most other parts of the country. Thanks to some local restaurant employees and event organizers, the idea of virtual concerts was born. The trend started with employees at The Local streaming a concert by local musician almostmadi on Facebook Live. “Music has always been a stronghold at The Local. We wanted to be able to offer an experience where you at home can feel like you are watching someone live,” said Laura McGarr, who books all of the musical acts for the restaurant. The concert was set up to where viewers could tip almostmadi through the Venmo app and also donate to a GoFundMe account set up for employees that have been displaced due to the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic. Next up was the Virtual Concert Dinner Series, organized by founder Michael Greene, who moved to Boone last fall. All donations from those who watched the concerts online went to the staff
of the restaurant that was being featured in that week’s concert. “The concept is people would go buy food from the restaurant or bar that we are sponsoring and then take it home and watch the show from their living room while they’re enjoying the food,” said Greene. Local musician David Brewer played one of these virtual concerts and he thinks more and more musicians will consider the concept. “Ultimately I do think you are starting to see a lot more bands doing things like this,” Brewer said. Early April “I think the streaming phenomenon is proof positive that musicians want to play, even if it’s not an ideal situation, it’s not going to stop them.” Brewer thinks that even when things reopen, people will be a little cautious about jumping right into events with big crowds. Since MerleFest 2020 was canceled this spring, MerleFest organizers put together a stream of the 2012 MerleFest performances. This was the final year that Doc Watson played at the event.
Gas Prices Continued to Tumble Across North Carolina and the Rest of the Country With the Pandemic
raveling was barely an afterthought for most people as the coronavirus started spreading across borders. In the United States, gas prices plummeted to well below a dollar per gallon in some parts of the Midwest. In the High Country, gas first dropped below $2 a gallon on March 18 when the price for a gallon of regular was $1.96 at Gastown on Hardin Street. In early April, gas prices in Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties were all under $2 per gallon. Memorial Day showed us all how the demand of gasoline still remained low despite it being a holiday weekend. AAA reported that
this was the cheapest that gas prices had been on Memorial Day in 16 years. On Early March average, gas prices dropped 66 cents per gallon from February to the end of May in North Carolina. On Memorial Day weekend, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $1.82 in North Carolina. Gas prices are still about $1.89 per gallon around Boone in mid-June. With states gradually reopening, gas demands have risen some, but still nowhere near the averages of $2.50 a gallon around this time in 2019.
High Country Magazine
Businesses Get A Helping Hand
Boone Chamber of Commerce Helping Local Businesses Navigate the COVID-19 Economy
ways to continue to reach out to local busioone Chamber of Commerce PresiBy Nathan Ham nesses and help other organizations in the dent and CEO David Jackson rearea to get their message out to the public. members exactly when concerns surtaurants. After that, all of the data was put The chamber of commerce reached out to rounding the COVID-19 coronavirus really into a database and displayed on a grid on Lane Moody with the Town of Boone as hit home for people in the High Country. the website. Once restaurant info was on well as Jennifer Greene at AppHealthCare “The intensity really ratcheted up for the chamber website and media outlets and Dr. Scott Elliott, superintendent of us when the state of North Carolina anbegan to share the info, the number of Watauga County Schools, to nounced that restaurants were let them know they were there closing,” Jackson said. “We got to help get the word out for wind that it might happen earanything they needed to say to lier that afternoon. When the the public. press conference occurred and “Everything was so bleak, the plan was announced, our but through the bleakness, phones absolutely blew up.” here is our community showThat day was March 18, ing itself. This is who we are, when suddenly nobody was we support one another dursure what was about to haping this time of great chaos,” pen to the local economy. Jackson said explaining the Jackson says his first chamber’s impact on comthought was how to begin municating to the community. reaching out to restaurants to “We thought that was a big find out how to help them get The Boone Chamber of Commerce staff has been working tirelessly throughout part of what we wanted to do, the word out on the ways they the COVID-19 crisis to assist David Jackson (top row, center) to point that out to as many were going to be impacted. to get messaging out to businesses and the public. people as possible.” “We needed to figure out Wysteria White (middle row, left) is the coordinator of all volunteer and community outreach This was one just one of the a way to get our restaurants requests and has taken on the role of virtual event planner and researcher. many things the Boone Champrominently placed on our Katie Greene (middle row, center) compiled, edited and distributed the nightly Chamber ber of Commerce has unveiled website so we can be able to Report emails and has been the lead designer on all COVID-19 web pages, social media lately that were new tasks that communicate who is open for campaigns and special programs with AppHealthCare. the chamber had taken upon takeout and who’s not, and Jeannine Collins (top row, left) and Susan Norris (top row, right) spent time talking themselves to help out with. who is going to be forced to to hundreds of businesses, both members and non-members, and provided the chamber This is also around the time close completely,” said Jackstaff detailed assessments about what questions were most pertinent, what the that the #KeepBooneHealthy son. “We wanted to come up pressure points were and who was in the position to help others. This outreach helped podcast came to life and the with a way to get ahold of resdrive a lot of what the chamber has been doing during this time. virtual forum videos began aptaurants to let us know how they were going to operate so Natalie Harkey (bottom row, center) ran the business operation to make sure that the Boone pearing on the chamber webChamber stayed functional in a period of deep dues and event revenue decline. site. Jackson said that they had then we could communicate She also contacted members to talk about payment deferrals and options to make sure started out doing two forums that to the public.” all who needed the benefits of the chamber membership could keep it. a week but have since scaled The staff at the Boone David Still (middle row, right) is the Chairman of the Boone Chamber Board of Directors back to once a week. ViewerChamber of Commerce, with and he has helped provide exceptional support and leadership from his role. ship for the forums has been three full-time workers and His support and the support of the board members has been the “sugar rush” that steady since the videos began four part-time workers, began the chamber has needed to carry out the tasks of the last few months. airing online. Chamber emmaking phone calls and sendployees were making phone ing emails, even putting out a people visiting the site skyrocketed. call trees reaching out to as many local survey for restaurants to fill out as a way “Typically our website gets between businesses as possible. to let the chamber know how they will 300 and 500 unique visitors. That day, “Whether you are a chamber member be dealing with the governor’s announceMarch 18, we had 5,100 unique visitors or not, whether you called us or we called ment that all indoor dining would come to on our site,” Jackson said. you, you had our full weight of support bea temporary end in North Carolina. The chamber decided that the biggest hind you to get your questions answered,” Within a few hours of sending out way they could help out the community Jackson said. emails, the chamber had over 50 replies to during this time of uncertainly was to find the survey that was sent out to area res64
High Country Magazine
Being a Connector With so many businesses being affected one way or another through this COVID19 pandemic, the Boone Chamber of Commerce has had to wrestle with the idea of how to meet the many different needs that businesses may have. The chamber has focused a lot of their time here lately providing as many links to government agencies as possible, particularly for small businesses trying to get Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and communicating new information from state and local government meetings. â€œPeople are looking to us now to be that connector. One of the silver linings for us that came out of this is that people that didnâ€™t know what a chamber of commerce does in a community, I think now they know â€“ and itâ€™s not just us, our colleagues in Blowing Rock, Ashe County, Alleghany County, and Avery County had similar conversations with their business community as well saying that this is what weâ€™re here for and here to help you with,â€? Jackson said. â€œIn some ways, we were able to go out there and prove in a drastic way what we can provide you from a community standpoint and what our mission is.â€? During this pandemic, the chamber organized its first virtual business after-hours event and got to take part in a crash course on how to use Zoom, like so many other people and businesses have done. Jackson says that Zoom meetings have gotten to the point of almost being routine these days when talking to business, government, and health leaders. â€œWe were okay to be vulnerable in what we didnâ€™t know from a technology standpoint,â€? he added. Dealing with health and local government messaging has been one of the most challenging aspects of staying connected to the community. Decisions by county commissioners and town councils can have major impacts on the business industry. That is where the chamber has played a role to explain and clarify what all it means and also provides a voice for businesses that government bodies need to hear. â€œWe feel really good about how we have arrived at some of the things that we have needed to stand up and fight for and get behind and advocate for. Iâ€™ve been doing the spokesperson thing for a little while, itâ€™s just something that feels natural to me, but itâ€™s an important time for people to listen to what is being said and be able to react off of the factual information and not what gets posted seven comments down on
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High Country Magazine
an article or on Facebook,” said Jackson. “We try to maintain all the message points as best we can, communicate with the government bodies when we need to, and let them know that the business community isn’t out there just to make money. It’s not about greed. It’s about survival.” Health messaging has become extremely important lately with recent decisions by the Boone Town Council, starting with the 14-day quarantine for out-of-town visitors before they could enter any indoor establishment in Boone (something the chamber strongly disagreed with and was eventually voted down by town council members) and the most recent decision to require masks or face coverings to be worn inside all business establishments in Boone (some exceptions are included). The chamber is asking that everyone follow all social distancing and face-covering regulations as best as they can to try and get COVID-19
out of the High Country. “We have to be vigilant in the public health aspect of this. There is still a pandemic going on, we have heard experts talk about a potential second wave. We are seeing evidence of us not paying attention during the first wave right now and we have to be better than that. We need to make sure that we are doing what we are being asked to do,” Jackson said.
Cautious Optimism for the Future David Jackson has been the Boone Chamber of Commerce President/CEO for nearly four years now. With this COVID19 pandemic being one of the toughest things anyone in this generation has ever had to deal with, it is still a very much unknown future ahead. “We were fortunate that we went into this in a position of strength. Ski season
was good enough, last fall was very good for us economically speaking and people were doing okay, some people were doing great,” said Jackson. “When you watch Mast General Store close or see Tweetsie Railroad not open, you realize that nobody is immune from this. The strongest businesses are laying off people, family businesses are laying off family members. It’s going to be a long-term fight to get back.” Even with some of the dire forecasts for the economic future, Jackson felt that there are at least some reasons to have some cautious optimism. “The silver linings became so important for us because everybody was just getting beaten down. We’ve got to figure out a way to let people know that the human spirit is still alive. Boone, North Carolina is still alive out there somewhere. We’re all in this together and we’re all going to get out of this together,” he said. t
David Jackson’s Transition from App State Sports to Chamber CEO For many years, David Jackson was known as the Voice of the Mountaineers, dedicating 16 years of his life as the playby-play voice for Appalachian State football, men’s basketball, and baseball. While working in the Appalachian state Athletic Department, Jackson also spent 10 years as Associate Athletic Director. Jackson graduated from Appalachian State in 2000, so staying at his home away from home and being the radio voice for Mountaineer Athletics was a perfect fit for the Greensboro native. Jackson was named the North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year in 2007 and again in 2012 by the National Sports Media Association. He has also been a member of the NSMA’s National Board of Directors since 2010. “I served 15 years in the athletic department and enjoyed the opportunities that came with it,” said Jackson. David still plays a role at his alma mater, serving as an adjunct professor in Appalachian’s Department of Communication, teaching Broadcast Performance Techniques. While his full-time duties are dedicated to the Boone Chamber of Commerce where he was named President and CEO in August of 2016, you can still catch him on the airwaves occasionally as he does some freelance announcing for the Carolina Panthers and East Tennessee State University’s athletic programs. “Calling games is something I still have a passion for and something I have figured 66
High Country Magazine
David Jackson President & CEO of the Boone Chamber of Commerce out a way to do without that being a fulltime lifestyle,” says Jackson. “I just reached a point where, as much as I enjoyed aspects of the position, I had to walk away because it just wasn’t giving me the family life that I wanted. It was a tough decision but one that certainly I would do again.” Jackson said that when he heard the Boone Chamber of Commerce position was going to be available, he immediately felt like it would be a great fit. One of his responsibilities working at App State was serving as the chamber liaison for the Mountaineer athletic department. “One of the things that I wanted to do
in some way when I left athletics was to focus on something where the communication skills that I could bring to a position could really make a difference to the community,” Jackson said. Something everyone seems to ask David these days is where did the big red beard come from. During his time behind the microphone at App State, he always kept a clean-shaven look. Now, the beard is living on stronger than ever. “The red beard was grown at the end of my Appalachian career. I took about a four-month hiatus and really just wanted to depressurize completely and not focus on anything but myself and my family. My kids always liked it when I grew out my beard so I let it grow,” he said. Even with all his work with Appalachian State and the chamber of commerce over the years, Jackson has found plenty of time to be highly active in the local community. He is a member of the Watauga County Economic Development Commission, the Appalcart regional transportation board, the Town of Boone Cultural Resources Advisory Board, the Board of Directors for Watauga Opportunities, Inc., and the chairman of the Watauga County Rural Transportation Planning Organization. Jackson is a graduate of the NC Rural Center Homegrown Leaders (2019) and the Watauga Leadership Challenge (2017). David and his wife, Leila, married in 2002 and have two children, Maren and Louisa. t
Small Business Uncertainty Still Faced with Challenges Even While Opening Back Up
Jessica & Ken Wehrmann, owners of Monkees?
Uijin Park, owner of Espresso News
Owning your own business can already be a challenge, but trying to figure out how to operate with a global pandemic going on is an unprecedented challenge for this generation of business owners. As the hits started to come for small businesses across the state, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper was proactive in getting a disaster declaration for small businesses from the U.S. Small Business Association. “Many small businesses are desperate right now and this SBA approval will help,” said Governor Cooper. “Even more is needed and we will continue to push for additional assistance while we work to protect the health of North Carolinians.” At the Governor’s request, the SBA granted a disaster declaration to small businesses across the state, allowing affected businesses to apply for low interest SBA disaster loans. The National Federation of Independent Businesses conducted a survey that found 92 percent of small employers have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The impact has been felt locally by several businesses. Foggy Pine Books, owned by Mary Ruthless, has been in business since 2016, and had to close down her storefront and continue with online and phone orders only. “The impact has been overwhelmingly negative,” Ruthless said. “The local foot traffic and support of students and tourists was an essential part of our business model and we are genuinely struggling to figure out how to make it work without that support.” Uijin Park, owner of Espresso News, was able to remain open during the stay-at-home order, but sales fell off dramatically putting a strain on the business. “Devastatingly would be the best word,” Park said. “I’ll sit here for an hour or two with nobody. “It’s largely due to what’s happening, but our major customer base was the students, since we’re right on campus pretty much. Thankfully there’s no students in the sense of what needs to be done, but as far as
Josh Pepper & Claude Lowder at Peppers
economically it’s hurting pretty much all small businesses in downtown Boone.” Doe Ridge Pottery has been located on King Street for over 30 years. Owner Bob Meier said that he had to close his storefront because orders just simply were not there. “I’ve experienced downturns in my business before but this has gotta be by far the worst,” Meier said. “The only consolation is that I know everyone else is in the same boat.” As Gov. Cooper’s phased reopening plan started, businesses had to figure out how to meet all of the new cleaning and social distancing regulations. “We have precautions that we are putting in place. All employees will be wearing masks and gloves while inside the premises. We will also have sanitation stations set up at all entrances, outside the bathrooms, and at center court by the mall directory,” Boone Mall General Manager C.K. Golden-Fields said when the mall first reopened in May. “We also have extended our cleaning procedures to disinfecting the handles multiple times a day and putting up posters highly encouraging customers to wear facemasks, gloves, and practice social distancing.” In Blowing Rock, Mayor Charlie Sellers was happy to see some life coming back into the town, but also understands the importance of doing everything safely and by the recommendations of health experts. “I think that we have to move forward, I feel like we need to get our businesses reopened and we need to get our hotels reopened. We are going to have to rely on our citizens, our visitors, and our business owners to observe social distancing, observe the capacities allowed in their businesses,” said Sellers. “This virus is going to be here for a while and there is going to be a new norm, and that new norm is something we are going to adjust to.” Blowing Rock business owners Kenneth and Jess Wehrmann, who own Monkee’s of Blowing Rock, were thrilled to be back open. “Kenneth and I are excited to welcome our clients and friends back into Monkee’s of
Bob Meier & Nate Fields at Doe Ridge Pottery
Blowing Rock. We are doing all we can to ensure a safe and healthy shopping environment for our clients and employees. As a small business, know we appreciate our community’s loyalty and support,” said Jess. Mast General Store waited a little longer than some area stores to reopen as they planned a phased reopening for their numerous locations, according to Lisa Cooper, the President of Mast General Store. “The safety and well-being of both our customers and our employees are at the foundation of our plans,” said Cooper. “We are re-opening in a slow, thoughtful, and measured way to create an atmosphere that is welcoming and safe. It will likely require a little more grace and understanding on both sides of the counter, but we hope to maintain the same caring, informed, and welcoming atmosphere that people love and expect when they visit Mast Store.” Businesses that focus on outdoor activities also opened recently, including Beech Mountain Resort, Sugar Mountain Resort and High Mountain Expeditions. “We have gone through our whole operation from start to finish and come up with what we feel are realistic guidelines,” says High Mountain Expeditions owner Bill Leonard. “Staff members will be wearing facemasks and gloves, we have hand sanitizer in every bus and facemasks will be provided at no cost to all customers. We are going to be taking care of all these precautions and the customers don’t have to worry about it. We feel encouraged that we are going to have a good and busy summer.” Restaurants are facing a challenge unlike ever before, at least in this generation. Pepper’s Restaurant just recently reopened its dining room after doing only carryout to stay afloat. “When you run a restaurant the same way for 45 years and then totally have to change everything you are doing, it can be hard,” said manager Josh Pepper. “We’ll probably have between 30 and 35 employees going when we get going. Hopefully business is good enough and we can get people working.” t July 2020
High Country Magazine
Rock United Relief Fund S
A Story of Neighbors Helping Businesses in Blowing Rock
pring in Blowing Rock normally means the start of a new business year, with parking spaces full as visitors and residents stop by local restaurants and retail stores. However, by late winter of 2020, the general public was introduced to COVID-19. New notions like social distancing came about, which led to shuttered shops and takeout-only restaurants, while face masks and gloves became the new norm. The economic impact of the pandemic came fast and hard as many small businesses were blindsided by the order to shutter their businesses. “98% of the businesses in Blowing Rock are small businesses,” Steve Frank of SocialWorks.Media said. “They’re mom and pops, and they exist year to year hoping that it won’t snow or remnants of a hurricane move through. They have so many things that really, seriously impact their year-toyear business. And here, they had been through two or three really good years in a row and were looking for another one, when all of a sudden, everything gets closed up. They were ordered to not open for business, and it was quite a blow.” To help businesses in Blowing Rock survive the implications of COVID-19, the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce created the Rock United Relief Fund. “What it’s designed to do is to fill the gap because a lot of these businesses were applying for bigger federal money, but in the interim, they still got rent, utilities and expenses. What we wanted to do was freeze them basically in place until things could reopen, and they could get big money from the feds,” Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers said. The Rock United Relief Fund is established as a restricted account at First Citizens Bank by The Village Founda68
High Country Magazine
By Harley Nefe tion of Blowing Rock, which was formed about three years ago and is a North Carolina nonprofit corporation dedicated to economic development and business education projects in the town of Blowing Rock, as it is a 501(c)(3) organization,
and all contributions are tax deductible to the extent provided by law. The idea of a relief fund to help businesses was brought to the The Village Foundation by Tim Hilton, a resident of Blowing Rock. “He called us right after COVID-19 started and said, ‘you know guys, if we don’t do something for these businesses downtown, we’re going to see a whole lot of plywooded up windows, people going out of business. It’s going to be dark down there. A lot of these people are going to lose their business,’” Sellers said. “So, he said, ‘I want to set up something where we can have a grant that the businesses could apply for grant funding that would tie them over between where they are and keeping them alive during the time they are shut down.’”
Sellers wrote in a Letter to the Editor on April 3 for High Country Press announcing the creation of the Rock United Relief Fund. “As difficult and frightening as the COVID-19 virus is to all of us as individuals, it is even more so to the restaurants, hotels, retailers and other small businesses at the heart and core of Blowing Rock. The future and vibrancy of our wonderful village is dependent upon the continued success and ongoing operation of these small businesses,” Sellers wrote. “Hopefully we as individuals will survive this crisis, but the survival of our small businesses is increasingly at risk as the COVID-19 economic shutdown continues. As a community, there is a growing realization that we must do something to help our small businesses through this unprecedented and difficult time.” In his letter, Sellers asked Blowing Rock residents and organizations to support and promote the Rock United Relief Fund by making monetary donations and spreading awareness. Contributions could be made by community members via online donations on GoFundMe and mailed-in checks. “I realize that this is a difficult time for all of us — financially and otherwise — but we must each do what we can to help our small businesses,” Sellers wrote. “This is a time for us to pull together in order to ensure that our local economy survives today — and thrives tomorrow.” By April 16, the Rock United Relief Fund raised $63,925, which was just under two weeks from the time the fund was established. And then a few weeks later, by May 14, The Village Foundation of Blowing Rock announced the Rock United Relief Fund exceeded $107,094 in donations from more than 150 donors. “The Village Foundation was able to
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raise an excess of $100,000, and that’s “That was really nice after they realized. tain Thread Company in Blowing Rock coming from a GoFundMe page where Yeah, it was free money, but do I really was another recipient of a grant. “I debated a little bit about if (the we are getting $50 to $100 all the way need this or does my neighbor need it?” Once the Rock United Relief Fund Rock United Relief Fund) was someto people who are giving a few thousand dollars,” said Hilton, chair of the was put into action and the fundraising thing that I needed to apply for, and I Grants Review Committee of the Village efforts yielded quickly, the Village Foun- looked at the application, and I spoke Foundation of Blowing Rock. “There dation of Blowing Rock realized they with a couple of folks and realized this is was a very nice broad mix of contribu- had something newsworthy. In order to something that could really help. Then, I tions throughout the community, and it tell the story, Frank was hired to talk to saw the fundraising efforts and realized woah, folks are being so generous,” Lile really represented a ground roots effort the organizers and the recipients. “To me, it was a very compelling said. “People who have no idea who I am that really made a big difference because we have committed to distribute all the story that was being told, and the inter- or they don’t know my name; they don’t money raised, 100% of it. We are go- views with the recipients were just ter- know my family; they don’t know my ing to continue to make grants, provide rific because they were really blindsided history or why I started this, but they’re grants and review the needs of those that by the goodness,” Frank said. The main believing in me, and they’re excited for what downtown Blowing Rock have come to us, and we will is. They believe in what downdistribute all of that.” town Blowing Rock has to offer, Small businesses within the and as a small business owner, Blowing Rock postal code of that was just a boost to know 28605 were entitled to apply that there are people out there for grants, with a limit of a rewho haven’t met me who believe quest of $5,000, by completing in what I’m doing and want to and submitting Business Relief support me and want to see me Grant Requests on the form on the other side.” found on the Blowing Rock Hilton, speaking for the Chamber of Commerce website Tim Hilton, chair of the Grants Review Charles Hardin, president and CEO Grants Review Committee, at www.LoveBlowingRock.com Committee of the Village Foundation of of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Blowing Rock Commerce. said that “this process has been or on The Village Foundation both a humbling experience and website at www.VillageFoundaa true joy to be able to help so tionofBR.org. many local businesses.” The Board of Directors of “We got letters back, almost The Village Foundation deltearful letters back saying, ‘I egated the authority to receive, cannot tell you how much this review and act upon grant remeant to me and my business and quests from small businesses how heartwarming it is to know to a special, community-based we have local citizens here in Grants Review Committee the community that care about composed of five members of Dianne Radford, who works at Main Katherine Lile who works at Mountain the town of Blowing Rock. The Thread Company in Blowing Rock was Street Gallery in Blowing Rock and was my business and want us to suranother recipient of a grant. a recipient of the grant. vive and gave money to help me members of the Grants Review survive,’” Sellers said. (CommuCommittee are Hilton, J B Lawnity members) want to see (small rence, Charles Hardin, Tim takeaway I had from all of them was that businesses) survive. While most of what Gupton and Sellers. “The committee members have been they were really blown away that some- we have over here is geared toward visicarefully chosen based on their business body cared that much to recognize the tors, residents do eat over here, and they expertise and leadership positions in the circumstance they were in, and that they really love their restaurants. They don’t could do something about it. And in- stay in hotels, but they want them to stay community,” Sellers wrote. here because they’re part of the fabric of The Rock United Relief Fund received deed, they did.” The grants were well spread out the community.” a total of 44 applications from small busiSellers said they have put the Rock Renesses in Blowing Rock. By May 14, the among different types of businesses, as specially formed Grants Review Com- restaurants, hotels and retail stores all lief Fund on hold for right now because the small businesses are back open and mittee approved grant requests totaling benefited, Sellers said. “And we were so very appreciative for are still in business, and they are hoping $97,250. The Grants Review Committee was able to provide 32 grants. Some ap- people we didn’t even know to come up that they stay in business. There is a little plicants didn’t qualify and others with- and say, ‘we’re gonna help you guys out.’ money remaining, which they are going I mean, you just don’t get that very often, to keep in the Rock United Relief Fund drew for various reasons. “They looked at it and said, ‘you and you can’t imagine how grateful we for the future. “From one day to the next, when you know, there are a lot of people who need are,” said Dianne Radford, who works at wake up, you do not know what’s going this a whole lot worse than I do and so, Main Street Gallery in Blowing Rock. Katherine Lile who works at Moun- to happen,” Sellers said. t I’m going to withdraw,” Sellers said. 70
High Country Magazine
Watauga High School Senior Athletes Featured on Banners in Downtown Boone
hen it started to become pretty clear that students would not be able to return to classrooms this spring, the Town of Boone and Watauga County High School were still able to find a way to honor spring sport athletes. Thanks to efforts from the Watauga Pioneer Booster Club and town officials, banners with the names and photos of each senior athlete were put April 30 up on posts throughout downtown Boone as a way to honor them. The banners are usually put up around campus, but since schools were closed, hardly anybody would be able to see them. “We were very pleased to see our senior athletes honored
on the banners in downtown Boone. They and their classmates have been hugely impacted by the extended school closure and will have to miss out on so many of the rituals and traditions that we expect at the culmination of our high school careers,” said Garrett Price, director of communications for Watauga County Schools. “We are immensely grateful to the Watauga Pioneer Booster Club and the Town of Boone for honoring and recognizing these athletes who will be sidelined for their final season because of COVID-19.” Lane Moody, the downtown development coordinator for the Town of Boone, said that booster club member Emily Rothrock reached out to the town to see if they would be willing to help out. “Public works made it happen and it looks fantastic,” Moody said.
Online Workouts are Keeping People in the High Country Active During the COVID-19 Pandemic
inding a way to stay active in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was one way that many individuals tried to continue a healthy lifestyle and also take their minds off of the bad news that kept piling up about the virus.
Staying active inside one’s own home became a popular trend during the last three months. Dance routines, workouts, and yoga were three of the many online classes that people could take for free needing only a smartphone, tablet, or laptop to follow along. Gwen Dhing, owner of Makoto’s Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar began teaching Zumba classes through Facebook Live streams at the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center.
“We got approval from the hospital to let us come in. We set up our phones and we’re out there on the floor pretending like people Early April are there with us,” said Dhing. “My class is geared toward not having any equipment at all. It’s just you and your body and you’re dancing.” Other online “races” took place where people would run, jog or ride a bike on their own throughout the High Country and post the distances they covered and the time it took to finish their “races.”
High Country Magazine
Churches Deal With Closings
hen the doors of local churches and offerings via alternate opportunities, By Sherrie Norris closed following Sunday serincluding mail or online gifts. And, in most vices on March 8, 2020, no turn in the midst of increased confusion, cases, budgets have been met and even at one could’ve imagined that it would be at hostility, violence and desperation. times, surpassed. least another three months before most of In the midst of it all, many of us began Hearing From The Churches those doors were opened again for corpo- to adjust to a different way of spending We reached out to several churches at rate worship. our Sunday mornings. Or that, even then, church services Just as school leaders and others were the onset, as well as during the pandemic, would require an almost complete trans- forced to do, local pastors and advisors in and more recently, as restrictions began to formation for the protection of their con- the faith communities rallied quickly to for- lift, asking how they have been affected, gregations — and one with government mulate ways to keep their groups connected, and what their plans are for the future. mandates practically dictating when and in some cases implementing “new” styles of We appreciate those who responded; we how churches could return to any sem- worship for their members and visitors. understand for most, that it’s still a time of blance of “normal.” uncertainty and transition for The High Country learned many as church doors are beof its first case of the coronaginning to reopen on a limited virus on Sunday morning, basis with many restrictions. March 15. As that news hit Hopefully, the following fast and hard, another case responses represent the “big was soon diagnosed, and then picture” of challenges and another one — and so it conblessings that local churches tinued for several days, but have and continue to expethankfully, at a slower pace rience during this historythan other locations were exmaking era. periencing. The virus, which “The coronavirus has had became known as Covid-19, a major impact on our faith just as quickly forced life — communities and our counas we all had known it up to ty,” said Pastor Kathy Campthat point — to practically bell at Crossnore Presbyterian come to a standstill; more Church. “Like everyone else, cases were eventually diagwe struggled to find healthy Poplar Grove Baptist Church during the lock down that had area churches close their buildings. nosed locally, but still nothing and safe ways to care for our to compare to those elsewhere. Despite the lack of personal and social loved ones, our members and our commuChurch pastors, leaders and members, interaction, notably missed by many, most nity. We stopped holding worship and all and the community at large, were in a rela- were fortunate to still feel connected to other meetings in our church building as tive state of shock and disbelief as church their church families, receiving frequent soon as the wisdom of social distancing was services were forced to cancel and alter- calls and updates on church business via made clear, but we continued our ministry nate forms of worship were quickly put the Internet; perhaps for the first time, and outreach in many other ways.” into place. Pastor Campbell sent out a worship sermany were able to see and/or hear their At first, we were told not to congregate pastors, along with praise and worship vice every Sunday with Bible readings, litin groups of 100, then 50 — and then 10. teams, through live-stream and/or record- urgy, a sermon and links to uplifting music Not all chose to abide by the “rules,” but ed sermons and music. on YouTube. In addition, Campbell and the most people took the warning seriously. It was refreshing, and comforting for members of the church sessions have made Churches, as well as schools, businesses some to begin “meeting” a couple times a phone calls to every member of their church and other organizations, were forced to ba- week from the comfort of home, thanks community at least every two weeks. sically cease operations due to the rapidly to modern technology/ video conferenc“These calls have been a wonderful spreading pandemic. Individuals and fami- ing and communication opportunities, like way for us to stay in touch, and it has lies were ordered to “stay at home” and to Zoom. A concept, quite foreign to some a meant a great deal to those who are living implement “social distancing” if and when short time earlier, quickly became a much- alone and not able to visit their extended they had to leave the safety of their homes. anticipated relief, of sorts, as it allowed family and friends,” she said. “We have “Essential” workers were thrust into face-to-face opportunities, sharing con- asked how they were coping, what fun the spotlight as our heroes, some for the cerns, prayer requests, praises, and to hear things were keeping them busy, and how first time ever: medical staff, first respond- teachers share weekly lessons. are they were reaching out to help others ers/law enforcement officers, truck drivChurch pastors and staff members con- in safe and healthy ways. We also asked ers, postal workers, and yes, grocery store tinued to work, either in their offices on- them who/what they would like us to pray employees — all on the “front lines” of site, or safely in their homes, and always for. Some calls have lasted for five minutes providing basic human necessities. That available to their members. while others maybe an hour. It is always perspective stayed strong, initially, but on It was also important that church mem- good fellowship, except we have missed some levels eventually took a downward bers were able to continue giving tithes hugging one another.” 72
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The folks at Crossnore also learned to quickly caught on to the new style of “park- night, so for our first Sunday, and the next use technology (like Zoom) to have virtual ing lot worship service” — and according few to follow, I put together a shortened verweekly Bible study together and various to longtime member, Lottie Warren Oliver, sion of our normal liturgical worship with other small group gatherings. “This has it was different, but has worked well. prayers, scripture readings, songs, videos been a learning curve for all of us, but “Fortunately, our parking lot allows for the kids, and an audio recording of my whoever said that you can’t teach old dogs easy access for parking lot worship,” she sermon,” she described. “I called it ‘Wornew tricks didn’t know how resourceful said, “and no one has to get out of their ship at Home,’ and asked everyone who church people can be!” cars. We followed the state mandates of so- could, to participate in their own homes on The Crossnore Presbyterian Church cial distancing. We have been very thank- Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. I emailed out family reached out to serve its local com- ful to be able to at least attend and hear the information, and made print versions to munity and provided funds to help the Av- God’s message through our Pastor Vernon mail to our folks without Internet.” ery food pantries buy groceries; it has also Eller, who has delivered the message from The response was incredible, Weant helped other agencies respond to emergency the front porch. The church already had described. “Pretty much as many people reneeds for assistance with rent, electricity and speakers and microphones for outside and sponded that they participated in ‘Worship medicine. we purchased a transmitter for attendees to at Home’ as typically come to worship in One couple in the church took in a listen on their radios. Tithes and offerings the building — and we’ve had a few extras, homeless family for a month, and several were placed in envelopes and deposited too, as our church folks have shared with of the members have volothers.” unteered on Fridays with Bethany’s church Feeding Avery Families, family also started doing where the number of food some live video worship boxes going to those in on the Zoom platform, need increased during the in addition to a Fellowpandemic. Other church ship and Prayer Meeting members were checkon Zoom. “It was great ing on elderly neighbors to see faces and check and picking up groceries up on everyone. This and medicine for those in congregation really is need of a little help. like family, and we’re all “God is active and missing each other right present in our communinow.” ty and in our world and In addition to woris the powerful force in ship, the church has parall of our lives,” Campticipated in coordinating bell shared. “We just and distributing food need to open our eyes boxes to families in need First Independent Baptist Church in Blowing Rock was holding drive-in church services. and look around. We in the community, in know God is there on the partnership with all the front lines with the heroes who are risking Green Valley area churches, and the teachtheir lives to care for others—the medical ers and staff at Green Valley School. and emergency professionals caring for the “This has been a collaborative effort, sick, the government officials who are tryand we’re all pleased with how we’ve been ing to provide needed resources, the sciable to execute these food box deliverentists who are racing to create medicines ies during this time of social distancing,” and a vaccine, the grocery and pharmacy Weant said. “ I also asked congregation staff who are providing daily essentials, members to check in on each other. I’m and many others who serve at risk. But we calling it a ‘3-a-Week’ ministry. I’m asking also know that God is here with all of us anyone who wants to participate to open as we maintain our social distance, shelter into large tubs at the end of the service. up the church directory to any page and in place, homeschool our children, try to pick three different people each week to Keeping the Community Spirit At work from home, fight our anxieties and call — just to catch up and check in, and Bethany Lutheran loneliness, recover from COVID-19, and also to see if they have any needs.” According to Laura Weant, Pastor at grieve for the loss of our loved ones and all Some of Bethany’s members have also Bethany Lutheran Church in Boone, March made face masks and headbands for emthose who have died from this virus.” It is Campbell’s belief that good will 8 was the last time services were held in ployees of hospitals, nursing home and come out of this time of pandemic, she the building. “Later that week, the church others in the community. said. “As we once again remember that we council made the difficult decision to follow On May 31, the church hosted a unique are all God’s children and we are all here the advice of our local, regional and nation- outdoor blessing and drive-by celebration on this earth to love God and love our al experts, as well as the recommendations for four of its young members who had from our bishop, and suspend all in-person graduated from Watauga High the day neighbor as ourselves.” gatherings in the church building,” prior. It was a great success with social disOutdoor Worship Maintains At first, Weant said, it was just for two tancing at its best in the yard and parking “Unity” at Union Baptist weeks, but quickly extended. area for the graduates and their families, as Union Baptist Church in Zionville “That first decision came on a Friday well-wishers drove by, waved and honked 74
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their horns. “We have been doing our best to stay engaged with our prayer life, with each other, and with the world God calls us to serve during this time that can feel very isolating,” Weant surmised. “I have never been more thankful for modern technology! The really beautiful thing about this time is how we — not only as a community, but as a nation, and even all across the world — are pulling together to put others first. We are inconveniencing ourselves for the sake of the most vulnerable, those deemed essential employees, and our healthcare workers. It is doing what St. Paul called thinking of others more highly than yourself, having the same mind as Christ (Philippians 2). It actually gives me a lot of hope.”
Online With Boone United Methodist Church
For Boone United Methodist Church, online worship services continued to grow in popularity as social distancing protocols limited large group gatherings. BUMC worked diligently for well over a month to refine its streaming platforms to be able to reach out to everyone in the community, with its first online service on March 15. Ben Fitzgerald, the Crossroads Worship Coordinator at BUMC, shared, “The first Sunday we had three cell phones pointing at us while we were sitting on the stage. Two of them were for our Facebook page and the other one went to our Instagram page,” he said. The streaming quality improved, he noted, thanks to the hard work of the many volunteers involved with the church. “A while back we had a company come in and set up the sound system we have now and the technology to live stream, if we wanted to. We had a camera and a computer that was ready to live stream, what we were missing was a studio that allowed us to do it and a program to allow us to stream across multiple platforms,” said Fitzgerald. BUMC uses Restream which takes the video feed and distributes it across multiple channels. The feed can be seen on the church’s website, phone app, YouTube Live, Facebook Live and Instagram Live. Senior Pastor Lory Beth Huffman has expressed her pride in everybody’s hard work to make the live streaming possible, which has received amazing feedback. Providing the live streams has helped the church feel connected even from home and not in the church sanctuary, she said. “We have more than one face on a camera at a time. I think that has been important, because it creates a sense of connection and community. Folks have really tuned in and
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shared with their friends. We have people watching and worshipping with us that have never been part of our community before. BUMC has even been able to offer communion services over the stream, an idea which was once “deemed not appropriate.” But, times have certainly changed, Huffman added, and the bishop has given permission for same. “Where church has had to compete with so many other choices that families make, a lot of those other choices aren’t available right now,” Huffman said. “We have figured out how to continue to consistently be an option and a presence in their lives, so a lot of folks have turned to use that might have had other choices before,” she said. “I have been thankful that we have been able to be present for folks, and I hope that will continue when life picks back up.”
And, asked about the most important lessons his church family has learned from all of this, he said, “The biggest lesson most churches need to learn: Foolishness in ignoring the health concerns for vulnerable folks in this pandemic is not a sign of spiritual maturity!”
pandemic, she said, include adapting to increase use of technology. “And we plan to continue using what we have implemented. However, probably the most important thing we’ve learned is that the church doesn’t have to meet in the building to be “the church.”
Zooming Through Zionville
Online Worship Continues for Foreseeable Future at First Presbyterian of Boone
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Zionville, and its pastor, the Rev. Allan Perry, usually see an average weekly attendance of 65. Last meeting together on March 8, the church’s first immediate action was to cancel all group gatherings. Church spokesperson, Jackie Lawrence, shared that Pleasant Grove also transitioned to a different mode of worship by recording and posting Pastor Allan’s message on YouTube and Facebook. “We used Zoom for some Sunday School classes and youth. Also, for Sunday School, a recorded lesson by the teacher was posted to Facebook.” The majority of the church members have maintained involvement, and the church family, as a whole, has stayed “connected,” in general, and especially with the
In a letter on the church website to his church family, posted May 29, 2020, Pastor Jeff Smith at First Presbyterian Church of Boone shared the following: “We have been physically apart for over two months, which breaks my heart, but not my spirit. While I miss each and every one of you, I’m also grateful that we have been able to faithfully navigate these uncharted waters together. We’ve never Opening the Doors With done online worship before, but we found Caution At Middle Fork Baptist a way to make it happen in a relatively Dr. Earl Davis, pastor at Middle Fork short amount of time.” Baptist Church, Blowing Rock, indicated Smith expressed his gratitude to the that his church immediately stopped havworship committee, staff members and varing worship services in the church building ious individuals for their successful efforts. in mid-March and began “During this time, streaming services live on we have learned how to Facebook. Not only did it ‘zoom’ together so that appear that the majority we can have our Sunday of church members parschool classes, our committicipated and maintained tee meetings, small group involvement, the viewers gatherings, youth group, on Facebook have been knitting ministry, and even 10 times or more than the our diaconate and session membership, he noted. meetings. The church conMiddle Fork maintinues to be the church; tained contact during the although we’re not in our week with its members by building.” email, church newsletters In response to the ever and phone calls. changing landscape of reAnd, as to be expected, strictions in our state and he said, financial offerings the most recent ruling alwere low at the start of lowing for churches to reUnited Methodist Church in Boone during one of their first virtual church services. isolation, but now they are convene, Smith shared, the “about normal.” church session had met the The church began reopening the elderly, through phone calls previous Sunday and had a long conversaKnown as a community-minded church, tion regarding where they would go from church for services again in early June; seating was marked for social distancing Pleasant Grove Baptist has continued to there. and attendees were asked to wear masks, participate in outreach efforts by deliver“I assure you that each elder has prayering food to various families, and keeping a fully thought through what’s best for the but not all chose to do same. By mid- June, Davis said he was not stocked (outside) food blessing box. church, given what we know thus far,” Tithes and Offerings have continued to he said. “ Given the contagious nature of encouraging folks to return to worship at church, yet.” And we continue to stream be received, and the overall operations of COVID-19, especially in confined spaces our service. Since no activities take place the church have not been heavily affected, – like our sanctuary, and the many theoat church during the week, only scheduled “other than not meeting in person,” Law- logical, pastoral, and logistical concerns of rence said. cleaning takes place.” trying to reopen — the session has decided “As our church has begun meeting in per- to continue our online worship for the When asked what he perceives as the biggest challenges for the faith community, son again, we have masks and sanitizer read- foreseeable future” as a whole, moving forward, he shared, ily available. Also everything, (pews, etc.), is Smith continued, “Jesus calls us to ‘love “Clearly, the biggest problem is to get sanitized immediately following services.” our neighbors as ourselves,’ and our collecSome of the important lessons that tive concern is for the safety of everyone. people to take seriously the precautions of Pleasant Grove has learned during the We recognize that other churches and commasks, distancing, etc.” 76
High Country Magazine
munities of faith have already reopened their doors, while others, like us, remain cautious. Our decision mimics Salem Presbytery’s special task force’s recommendation on this issue., a portion of which follows: “The consensus of Salem Presbytery’s task force is that churches in our presbytery ought to continue to abide by guidelines offered by the governor, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control. According to those guidelines, gatherings of more than 10 persons indoors are prohibited, and gatherings of more than 25 outdoors are prohibited. In addition those who are in at-risk categories because of their state of health or age continue to be encouraged to stay at home as much as possible except for absolutely necessary ventures outside to obtain food or health care or to take exercise. Many members of our congregations, including some who are most faithful in worship attendance, are in these at-risk categories. The decision for each congregation belongs to its leaders, but we encourage you to continue to refrain from in person worship until further notice.” Smith added the following: “Until we can meet safely in the sanctuary, we will continue to broadcast our services online. In addition, the session approved exploring the option of ‘drive –in church,’ which could provide a safe alternative gathering in our parking lot. We are assembling a task force to explore the logistics of this option. They will present their findings to session at the June stated meeting. Should the session approve this measure, we will communicate more about when and how it will be done at a later date.” He continued, “Friends, I long for the day we can gather safely together, singing without worry and greeting one another without fear of unintentionally causing harm. We are called to be in community with one another, but for now we must use the technology we have at our disposal to foster our community together. Praise God that we have such things that allow for this! As we continue to work through this challenging time, please know that your elders are committed to making the wisest decisions they can to provide for our continued worship, care, fellowship, study, and mission together. I want to thank all of you for your continued support, encouragement, and commitment to be the church of Jesus Christ – the people; not the steeple! In addition, the following Sunday, a YouTube worship service began at 8:45 a.m., for those who prefer the “earlier” worship time. It will remain available at 11 a.m. for those who choose to worship at that time, as well. t
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Watauga Farmers Market Gets Off to a Slow Start As The Venue Adjusts to New Restrictions and Policies
he winter farmers’ market organized by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture had a shorter season than anticipated this year due to COVID-19, however they did get to open outdoors at the Horn in the West in Boone where the market was able to successfully transition to the normal summer market. The winter market was closed for the month of March since it is typically held indoors. “We worked with the Town of Boone and the health department to develop a list of rules and Opened May 2 strategies based on our partners around the state and around the nation who are running farmers’ markets outside,” said Kelsey Crawford, who is the programs coordinator for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. Instead of battling crowds and being in a closed environment at grocery stores, folks were happy to be able to shop for what they need and get some fresh air. “It’s a great opportunity to get nutrient-packed, fresh, local food and support our farmers in a safer environment than the grocery stores are right now,” said Julia McIntyre with Trebuchet Hill farm.
Due to COVID-19 social distancing and essential business regulations, the number of vendors for both of the markets were smaller than usual because of how far they have to space out. “We are committed to providing what has always been done – providing a place for people to have access to healthy, fresh produce and provide a place for our local farmers to sell. Keeping that going is vital,” said market manager Mary Goodnight.
Avery County Road Sign Reminds Residents to Follow Coronavirus Safety Protocols
fficials in Avery County got creative early on as COVID-19 fears swirled around the High Country. Travelers coming into the county on Highway 105 saw this sign reminding them to follow the most important safety guidelines during this pandemic. “We put our emergency management road sign up on 105 just to help with some information in that high traffic area. We only have one sign so we may take it around and park it different places,” said Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier on April 6. “We want to practice social distancing because that’s the only thing April 3 we have right now that is proven that we can do. It’s another opportunity to get the word out on that and we are recommending that if you stay the night anywhere in the United States and you come back here, you should self-quarantine for 14 days.” Avery County was the last county in the state to report a positive COVID-19 test. Early own, the county government took proactive steps by suspending all short-term rentals on March 25 and implementing a 14-day self-quarantine on April 1. With the numerous second-home owners and gated 78
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communities around Avery County, residents appear to be taking the self-quarantine and stay-at-home orders seriously. “I have had very positive feedback from the majority of our gated communities that they are taking extra preventative steps on top of what the county is doing so that is great. It is definitely a community and county effort,” said Barrier.
Virtual Races Became a Hip Way for Folks to Get Some Exercise and Raise Funds for Important Causes Too
he #KeepBooneHealthy virtual race presented by We Can So You Can Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit created by Appalachian Mountain Brewery raised money for nine different organizations in Watauga County to help benefit those in need. “This is one of a couple of different initiatives that we’re trying to do with the We Can So You Can Foundation – whatever we can do to keep Started April spirits high moving forward,” said Danny Wilcox, the Director of We Can So You Can Foundation. Brandon McKeever is the bar manager at Appalachian Mountain Brewery and he played a key role organizing the event. “We started a local community fund back in March when Governor Roy Cooper made the call to close down restaurants and bars. Two or three weeks after starting that, I had a friend reach out to me and ask if I would be interested in doing a virtual walk/run/bike event to help raise more funds for the community fund,” said McKeever. 348 community members participated and helped raise $7,498.50 Avery County had its own virtual racing event on May 16. Avery Moves! was a virtual walk/run/bike/move that took place
to help raise money for Avery County Schools, Feeding Avery Families, Cannon Memorial Hospital, Avery County Senior Center and Williams YMCA of Avery County. The virtual race was presented by Beech Mountain Resort, the Town of Banner Elk and the Williams YMCA of Avery County.
Grocery Stores Taking Extra Precautions to Deal with the COVID-19 Coronavirus Spread
he way people shop at grocery stores and convenience stores would change during this COVID-19 pandemic. Stores quickly began to adapt the way it protected both customers and employees, starting with putting up Plexiglas or plastic shields in between the cashiers and the customers. In Watauga County, Food Lion and Harris Teeter were the first major chain stores to put the Plexiglas shields in place. Both stores, which have their corporate headquarters based in North Carolina, moved quickly to install these shields in all of their stores. Grocery store managers said that putting up the shields in the checkout March 26 lines was a way to block potential viruscontaining water droplets from someone’s nose or mouth from coming in contact with the other person. In addition to these new shields, stores also began offering early-morning shopping hours for senior citizens to be able to shop and return home before the majority of the stores began to get crowded. Senior citizens are in the high-risk category for
those that could be exposed to COVID-19, particularly those that may have other underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart and lung problems and kidney disease.
High Country Magazine
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THE BEST CELLAR BLOWING ROCK. The Best Cellar restaurant has been a favorite among locals for decades. Located in The Inn at Ragged Gardens in downtown Blowing Rock, The Best Cellar offers eleven elegant rooms, seasonal gardens and serves dinner daily. All dishes, including bread and desserts, are prepared each day on site. Reservations are suggested. n 828-295-3466. www.ragged-gardens.com. See ad on page 82
BOONE BAGELRY BOONE. Boone’s oldest bagel restaurant locally owned and operated since 1988, serves 14 types of freshly baked bagels and a wide variety of menu items including vegetarian and gluten free. Boone Bagelry is a full-service restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch all day. We are conveniently located on King Street in downtown Boone with patio dining available. Delivery
service available. Support local. Taste local. Enjoy local. n 828.262-5585. www. boonebagelry.com. See ad on page 82
CHESTNUT GRILLE AT GREEN PARK INN
CASA RUSTICA BOONE. Conveniently located right off of Highway 105, Casa Rustica offers some of the finest Northern Italian-American cuisine in the High Country accentuated by a cozy, fireside atmosphere. Dishes FAIRWAY on the menu from the crisp salads CAFE to & the scrumptious pastas are adapted from VENUE old family recipes that have been handed down for generations. The chefs and owners at Casa Rustica are also committed to offering local beef in their cuisine and proudly offer homestyle meals made with love and meticulous care. Casa Rustica’s extensive wine list is updated every 30 days to include interesting vintages and new organics for guests to try. Enjoy live jazz every Thursday night and classical guitar every Sunday. The restaurant also features a full bar and fantastic drink selections to delight even the pickiest patron. n 828-262-5128. www.casarustica1981.com. See ad on page 87
BLOWING ROCK. Taking local and sustainable to new heights, the Chestnut Grille restaurant maintains its own 1/3 acre garden on site, which supplies the kitchen with a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs throughout the summer and fall seasons. We offer contemporary American fare that’s unique, yet familiar, in a warm, and casual setting. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free guests will find the menu, and our chef very accommodating. We offer an extensive and thoughtful wine list along with a selection of seasonal and local craft beers. Located just inside the Green Park Inn. Listed on the National Historic Register. Patio dining is offered seasonally. Live piano music in our lobby Friday and Saturday nights, year round, and live music on the Veranda, seasonally. n 828-414-9230. www.greenparkinn.com. See ad on page 83
The Banner Elk Cafe &
The Lodge Espresso Bar & Eatery Fresh Coffees, Salads, Pastas, Pizza, Burgers & Steaks, and Seafood Serving Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner | open 7am daily, 7 days a week
828-898-3444 or 898-4040 We are currently having live entertainment every weekend on Friday and Saturday nights from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. on our patio. In case of inclement weather, we move the stage to our Tavern Bar. We hope to expand our entertainment options in the coming weeks as regulations allow. Please check our website for the latest updates – or visit our Facebook page. 82
High Country Magazine
DIVIDE TAVERN & RESTAURANT BLOWING ROCK. Located in the lobby of the Historic Green Park Inn, the Divide Tavern sits directly astride the Eastern Continental Divide. Long a gathering place for Captains of Industry, Heads of State, and celebrities from authors to actors, the Tavern offers unique pub fare, as well as chef designed pub classics. Experience a less formal dining alternative while still enjoying delicious fare, all set in the ambiance of a bygone era. Local, craft and draft beers, seasonal and specialty cocktails offer guests a tempting twist alongside classic cocktails. We also offer an impressive selection of wine by the glass, or the bottle. Enjoy live Sunday music on the veranda (seasonally) and live piano in the lobby Friday and Saturday nights, year round. n 825-414.9230. www.greenparkinn.com. See ad on page 83
EAT CROW BANNER ELK. Eat Crow is a wonderful little cafe specializing in fresh, delicious goods including a large variety of pies and cakes. These delectables are offered by the slice, or you have the option to order a whole one to take home and enjoy. We also offer fresh made sandwiches at lunch time that can not be compared to any other “sandwich shop” in the area. Since we know life can be very hectic, for your convenience we prepare whole meals and fresh soups daily that are ready for you to take home and heat up for your family. These entrees vary daily. We are always creating something delicious! All sandwiches are served on farmhouse or whole wheat bread. Choices of sides include fresh fruit, firecracker coleslaw or chips. We are open Tuesday - Saturday: 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. and are located near Foscoe on Hwy. 105 between Boone and Banner Elk. n 828-963-8228. See ad on page 86
High Country Magazine
The Eseeola Lodge linville. The Eseeola Lodge invites High Country residents and guests to join them for breakfast, dinner, or both! Breakfast offerings range from Lemon Ricotta Pancakes to Pan-Seared North Carolina Trout. At dinner, select from an ever-changing array of appetizers, entrees, and desserts crafted from the freshest ingredients by Chef Patrick Maisonhaute and his staff. Thursday nights signal Seafood Buffet—a Linville tradition for over 30 years. All meals are served in the dining room of The Eseeola Lodge. Reservations required for all evening meals, and gentlemen are required to wear a coat for dinner. For more information, visit Eseeola.com or call 828-733-4311. See ad on page 86
fairway cafe & venue FAIRWAY CAFE & VENUE
boone. Not just for golfers! The Fairway café is located at the Boone Golf Course with a beautiful view
of the course with an inside dining room or outdoor patio seating. The public is welcome to come enjoy the local fare. The menu is extensive with an array of salad selections, a half of dozen sandwich choices, hot dogs anyway you like them and hamburgers from the classic to the fancy. The spacious indoor area features a beautiful 32 foot handcrafted maple bar. Our venue is also perfect for any of life’s memorable moments. Ideal for cocktail parties, fundraisers, wedding events and anniversary parties. The Fairway Venue features clean minimal lines, stunning floor-to-ceiling windows, and views of the beautiful North Carolina Mountains. We have full ABC permits and can seat about 100 inside and roughly 40 on the outside patio. Looking to accommodate even more? A tent can be set up if needed. Come check us out! n 828-264-0233. www.CRCateringCo.com. See ad on page 87
Pedalin’ pig banner elk & BOONE. Two locations - same great menus! Utilizing local produce, meats smoked nightly, homemade desserts and made-from-
elevate your dining experience We begin with the freshest ingredients and ÃÕ«ÌÕÕÃy>ÛÀÃvÕÃi`Ì}iÌ iÀÌVÀi>Ìi ÕvÀ}iÌÌ>LiVÕÃi°Ƃ}ÜÌ >iÝÌiÃÛi ÜiÃiiVÌ>`«iVV>LiÃiÀÛVi]Ì i i`ÀiÃÕÌÃiiÀ>LiiÛi}°
scratch sauces, the Pedalin’ Pig is a unique place to grab a non-traditional meal. Offering three different sauces to go on a variety of meats, the Pedalin’ Pig is open seven days a week with locally crafted beers, local wines and a full bar. Try out old favorites like pulled pork, ribs and pork rinds or go for something a bit more unconventional, like barbeque tacos and bacon corn muffins! n Banner Elk: 828-898-7500 & Boone: 828355-9559. www.thepedalinpig.com. See ad on page 87
Red Onion Café
BooNe. Established in 1985 as one of the classic restaurants in Boone NC, the Red Onion Café opens daily at 11am and serves continuously to hungry guests well into the evening. The Red Onion Café has created its niche in the High Country for more than 30 years by offering customers a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere and an extensive menu at
EAT CROW EAT PIE
EAT CAKE EAT PIE EAT CAKE
(Served on our homemade bread)
1JFTt$BLFT Dinner Entrees & Soups To Go British Specialties Upon Request
Social Distancing Policies In Place
4FSWJOH%JOOFS5XJDF.POUIMZ Call or Check our Website for Dates & Menu
Dominic& Meryle Geraghty
Call for Reservations 800.742.6717 • Eseeola.com 84
High Country Magazine
Open Tuesday - Saturday 10 am-4 pm Lunch Served 11am - 3pm 9872 Hwy. 105 S. in Foscoe
affordable prices. The café has something for every member of the family, including burgers, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, pasta, fish, steak and delicious homemade desserts. Look for weekly dinner specials and the kid’s menu items as well. The Red Onion Café also offers several of the region’s top beer and wines to compliment any meal as well as friendly staff on hand to assist with your choices from the extensive menu. The outside patio is perfect for a comfortable outdoor lunch or for a cozy dinner on warm evenings. n 828-264-5470. www.theredonioncafe.com. See ad on page 82
STONEWALLS BANNER ELK. The High Country’s premier steak and seafood house since 1985. Enjoy your favorite steaks, prime rib, chicken or baby back rib entrée or choose from the extensive seafood selection or daily specials. Serving daily from 5:00 p.m. in a casual, family-friendly dining atmosphere. All ABC permits. n 828-898-5550. www.stonewallsresturant.com. See ad on page 87
Banner Elk Location:
4235 Hwy 105 South Banner Elk, NC 28604 ..................
2968-A Hwy 105 Boone, NC 28607 ..................
ThePedalinPig.com July 2020
High Country Magazine
ADV E R T I S E R S I N D E X Please patronize the advertisers in High Country Magazine, and when you purchase from them, please be sure to mention that you saw their ad in our pages. Thank them for their support of this publication by giving them yours! Without their support, this magazine would not be possible. To all of our advertisers, a most sincere thank you.
All Area Codes are 828 unless noted.
Alta Vista Gallery.............................................. 963-5247........................... 19
Appalachian Blind & Closet Co........................ 264-1395........................... 53
Grandfather Mountain...................................grandfather.com....................... 73
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System......... 262-4100........................... 40
Grandfather Vineyard........................................ 963-2400........................... 10
Art Cellar......................................................... 898-5175���������������������������� 7
raystone Eye.................................................... 306-6656........................... 41
Banner Elk Café................................................ 898-4040........................... 82
Jeff’s Plumbing................................................ 264-5406........................... 75
Banner Elk Realty............................................. 260-1550........................... 30
Linville Ridge................................................... 898-5151............................. 5
Bayou Smokehouse & Grill............................... 898-8952........................... 83
Mast General Store .....................................866-FOR-MAST������������������������ 9
Bee & The Boxwood......................................... 386-6212.... Inside Back Cover
McCoy Minerals, Inc........................................ 414-9889........................... 25
Best Cellar....................................................... 295-3466........................... 80
Mike Smith Builders, LLC................................. 297-7528........................... 29
Blowing Rock, The........................................... 295-7111........................... 21
mhs Technologies............................................ 733-0141........................... 35
Blowing Rock Estate Jewelry............................ 295-4500........................... 75
Monkees of Blowing Rock................................ 295-0708............................. 4
Blowing Rock Frameworks & Gallery................ 295-0041........................... 50
Mountain Land............................................. 800-849-9225����������������������� 77
Boone Bagelry......................................262-5585 and 262-1600................ 80
Mountain Tile................................................... 265-0472�������������������������� 45
Carlton Gallery................................................. 963-4288�������������������������� 65
New River Building Supply............................... 264-5650........................... 39
Carolina West Wireless................................. 800-235-5007 . ..................... 65
Pedalin’ Pig BBQ.................................... 898-7500 & 355-8952................. 83
Casa Rustica.................................................... 262-5128�������������������������� 85
Piedmont Federal Bank..................................... 264-5244............................. 1
Chestnut Grille at Green Park Inn...................... 414-9230........................... 81
Premier Sotheby’s International Realty.......... 877-539-9865....................2 & 3
Consignment Cottage Warehouse..................... 733-8148........................... 31
Red Onion Café................................................ 264-5470........................... 80
Crossnore School & Children’s Home.............. 733-4305........................... 59
Serves You Right!............................................. 295-4438........................... 69
Dacchile Construction...................................... 964-5150........................... 20
Serves You Right’s! Cute-tique........... 800-825-1828 & 295-4438.............. 69
Dande Lion...................................................... 898-3566........................... 25
Shoppes at Farmers Hardware.......................... 264-8801........................... 77
DeWoolfson Down ...................................... 800-833-3696 . ..................... 27
Stone Cavern................................................... 963-8453�������������������������� 16
Dianne Davant & Associates . .......................... 898-9887 ��Inside Front Cover
Stonewall's Restaurant...................................... 898-5550........................... 85
Divide Tavern & Restaurant............................... 414-9230........................... 81
Sugar Mountain Resort................................ 800-SUGAR-MT....................... 17
Doe Ridge Pottery............................................ 264-1127........................... 30
Tatum Galleries & Interiors............................... 963-6466�������������������������� 11
Eat Crow.......................................................... 963-8228........................... 84
Todd Bush Photography................................... 898-8088........................... 26
Echota......................................................... 800-333-7601 ��������� Back Cover
Village Jewelers............................................... 264-6559........................... 37
Engle & Vokers Real Estate............................... 898-3808........................... 23
Watsonatta Western World................................ 264-4540........................... 33
Eseeola Lodge.................................................. 733-4311........................... 84
High Country Magazine
Many Thanks To Our HCP Donors Back on May 5th, our 15th Anniversary, we put out a call for help to our readers with a letter on our website. We too had been dead in the water with the ongoing shutdowns. We had to cancel our Spring publications and funds were drying up. A number of our readers came to the rescue. Their donations allowed us to hang on until we were back in the saddle with this magazine. We dedicate this July 2020 issue to them.
This Issue Is Dedicated
Thank you for coming to our rescue. You helped bridge the gap to this issue. We are extremely grateful for your support. This issue is here because of you!
High Country Press Publications July 2020
High Country Magazine
Photo by Ken Ketchie
Raheim Andrews addresses the crowd in front of the Watauga County Courthouse on June 7th.
Student Organizes Black Lives Matter Justice Walk in Boone
aheim Andrews, who was born and raised in North Carolina and lived in Boone, contacted High Country Press on June 4 to inform the community about a peaceful protest walk that he organized for downtown Boone. “Boone is a place where black people are extremely under represented and under valued,” Andrews wrote in an email. Andrews planned for the protest to take place on June 7 at 5 p.m., and nearly 1,000 individuals showed up to the event in support. “I am overwhelmed with the amount of support that was there,” Andrews said. “I’m still absolutely shocked at Boone.” This Boone event is one of the many protests that have occurred across the United States against injustice and inequality. Attendants participating in the justice walk met at College Street on the Appalachian State University campus at the library circle and proceeded along King Street to the Watauga County Courthouse. Almost everyone at the event was wearing a mask as a precaution against COVID-19. “Safety is the number one concern here for me,” Andrews said. “I just want to make sure everyone’s safe.” 88
High Country Magazine
Many people raised signs and shouted “Black Lives Matter,” among other chants during the walk to the courthouse. “This event, I can’t even lie to you all, it’s beautiful how safe and peaceful everything is,” Andrews said to the crowd in front of the courthouse before handing over the megaphone to Andy Le Beau, interim police chief of Boone Police Department. Members from Appalachian State University and Boone police departments also walked with protestors to the courthouse. “It’s quite an honor to be asked to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally,” Le Beau said.“It’s not only our duty, but our honor to facilitate all of you being able to express your First Amendment rights. I really appreciate you doing it in Boone style, in a way that this community can hear it, and in a way that these police officers including myself can hear it. Thank you.” “I didn’t want our participation to overshadow what (Andrews) is doing because this is an important message, and we stand with you in this,” Le Beau said. Andrews also talked about being a minority and the racism that he experienced in Boone, including how he had been called the N-word during his time playing soccer in high school.
“Pandemics are real whether or not you know someone who is sick,” Andrews said. “Racism is real even if you aren’t racist. White privilege is real even if you don’t feel it. Police brutality is real even if the cop you know is fair and just. Your world isn’t the world. Everything is not about you.” Two weeks following the event, Andrews said, “I’m still actually extremely overwhelmed with how much support and how many people came out to actually participate in the march. That’s still crazy to even think about a little town like (Boone) coming out and really supporting something and really just standing with us and hearing us and listening to us. I still can’t believe it really actually happened.” However, Andrews said the march was just the beginning of change for Boone. He is currently working on planning an event series in July with the proceeds to be donated to help support minority children and a local Black Lives Matter club. “After everything was done peacefully, I felt a breath of fresh air, and I’m getting back into work because this is only the beginning,” Andrews said. “The march is only the beginning for what needed to happen in Boone. Harley Nefe
Southern Charm in the High Country
215 Boone Heights Dr., Boone
Proof 4 for full-page ad to run in CML’s Summer 2020 issue July 2020
High Country Magazine
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High Country Magazine
High Country Magazine - July 2020 Issue - COVID-19 Edition