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Rural North Carolina has some of the most beautiful scenery in America, as documented by the growing numbers of tourists. Almost 40 percent of our 10.5 million residents live in the 80 counties considered rural, defined as having a population density of 250 people or fewer per square mile. Demographers tell us rural citizens are older, poorer, more obese, have higher blood pressures, greater instances of diabetes, and a lower life expectancy than state averages. Read moreTom Campbell: Rural healthcare in critical condition

State AP Stories

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The car owned by a missing 74-year-old Florida Lyft driver has been found in North Carolina and the man who was driving it is wanted in connection with a homicide last week in southwest Florida. Authorities said Friday that Gary Levin has been missing since Monday, when his family believes he picked up a customer in Palm Beach County, Florida. His red 2022 Kia Stinger was spotted in Miami that day and later in north Florida. The vehicle was then seen Thursday evening in North Carolina and driver Matthew Flores was arrested following a police chase. Flores is a suspect in a slaying that occurred nearly a week before Levin went missing.

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North Carolina’s newly seated Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether people convicted of felonies should be permitted to vote if they aren’t in prison but still are serving probation or parole or have yet to pay fines. The justices listened Thursday to their first high-profile case since the court flipped to Republican control in January. They didn’t immediately rule. The case stems from 2019 litigation that challenged a 1973 state law automatically restoring voting rights only after the “unconditional discharge of an inmate, of a probationer, or of a parolee.” Roughly 56,000 people could be affected by the outcome.

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Critics of a North Carolina bill that advanced in the state Senate say it could jeopardize the mental health and physical safety of LGBTQ students who could be outed to their parents without consent. The bill would require schools to alert parents prior to a change in the name or pronouns used for their child. Several mental and behavioral health experts, parents and teachers told the Senate health care committee on Thursday that the bill would force teachers to violate the trust of their students and could create life-threatening situations for students without affirming home environments. The proposal now heads to the Senate rules committee.

National & World AP Stories

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Pope Francis says South Sudan's future depends on how it treats its women. On his second and penultimate day in Africa on Saturday, Francis called for women and girls to be respected, protected and honored. He was meeting with some of the 2 million people who have been forced by fighting and flooding to flee their homes. In South Sudan, sexual violence against women is rampant, child brides are common and the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world. The encounter was one of the highlights of Francis’ three-day visit to the world’s youngest country and one of its poorest.

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Arctic air descended into the Northeast on Saturday morning bringing dangerously cold sub-zero temperatures and wind chills that dropped to minus 45 to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit in many areas. Atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the overnight wind chill was measured at minus 108 degrees F, according to the weather observatory at the peak of the Northeast’s highest mountain, famous for its extreme weather conditions. The good news is that the cold air is expected to move out of much of the region by Sunday, when temperatures could rise to the 40s.

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China has played down the cancellation of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on U.S. military sites roiled diplomatic relations, saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning that the U.S. and China have never announced any visit. Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing U.S.-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries’ leaders met last November in Indonesia. But the U.S. abruptly canceled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China’s claim that it was merely a weather research “airship” that had blown off course.

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A growing online conspiracy theory is using the tagline “died suddenly” to baselessly claim that COVID-19 vaccines are killing people. The filmmakers and anti-vaccine activists behind the misinformation campaign have flooded social media with news reports, obituaries and GoFundMe pages about sudden deaths or injuries alongside the term “died suddenly” and syringe emojis. The media intelligence firm Zignal Labs found that the use of “died suddenly” or a misspelled version of it in tweets about vaccines have surged more than 740% in the past two months compared with the two previous months. Rigorous study and real-world evidence from hundreds of millions of administered shots prove that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.