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Residents breathe easier after mask mandate lifted

Local reaction to Gov. Roy Cooper’s most recent executive order removing the mask mandate for North Carolinians in most situations was mostly favorable Friday, though not everyone plans to take full advantage of their newfound freedom.

Cooper announced the new order Friday afternoon at a news conference, making it effective immediately. The executive order will remain in place until June 11 when its provisions will be revisited.

Local resident Norma Jordan was shopping without a mask Friday afternoon at Smith’s Red and White Grocery in Dortches. She said she had already learned of Cooper’s decision to lift the mask mandate in most situations.

“I am tickled to death. I think it was not soon enough, if you have been vaccinated against COVID like I have,” she said. “They drug this out far too long.”

Quincy Hunter also was shopping Friday at Smith’s Grocery, but she was wearing her mask. Hunter said she was not aware that the mask mandate had changed but said she planned to continue on as she had been doing.

“I will plan to wear my mask a little while longer. I have been vaccinated with both shots, but it is better to be safe than sorry,” she said.

Her take on the situation echoed the advice that Nash County Health Director Bill Hill offered.

“I still think that wearing masks is a good idea,” Hill said Thursday after the CDC issued its recommendation concerning loosening mask guidelines for vaccinated individuals. “Masks still offer an extra level of protection. Since I am fully vaccinated, I would probably feel comfortable in a room with other vaccinated people. But personally, if I am indoors around other people whose vaccination status I don’t know, I will plan to wear a mask.”

Some local business owners and managers welcomed the news of the ease in restrictions. Cooper not only eased the mask mandate, but he also removed the capacity restrictions for all settings. Social distancing restrictions are lifted as well, meaning that restaurants, for example, will no longer have to space tables widely apart.

Cooper issued his new executive order at 1:30 p.m. Friday, with immediate effect. By 2 p.m. Friday, Westridge Grill on Sunset Avenue already had moved its tables closer together and had removed its sign requesting that customers wear masks, said Gordon Reason, the manager on duty Friday afternoon at the restaurant.

“We are very excited to get back to somewhat of a normal situation and take a step forward. Obviously, we know that COVID is still there, but to be able to be back to full capacity and put our tables back in and not have to have the masks is a sigh of relief for everybody,” Reason said.

Cooper and state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen both spoke at Friday’s news conference outlining the reasons behind the new orders. Previously, Cooper and Cohen had indicated that the mask mandate would not be lifted until two-thirds of adults in the state had been vaccinated with at least one dose of COVID vaccine. As of Friday, that metric had only reached 51.2 percent.

However, Cooper said the CDC’s recommendations on Thursday had affected his decision.

“Throughout the pandemic, state officials have taken a data-driven approach and have been guided by the science in making decisions. Following (Thursday’s) guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated individuals can safely do most activities without wearing a mask or the need to social distance from others, the state will remove its indoor mask mandate for most settings. Additionally, the state will lift all mass gathering limits and social distancing requirements,” Cooper said.

The state still is requiring that masks be worn in certain situations.

“Masks will still be required in child care, schools and camps as most children are either not yet vaccinated or are not yet eligible to be vaccinated,” Cooper said. “Everyone, including people who are fully vaccinated, will still be required to wear a mask in certain settings such as public transportation, health care settings like hospitals, doctors’ offices and long-term care settings like nursing homes and certain congregate settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters.”

Individual businesses, workplaces and local governments may still choose to keep mask mandates in place, Cooper said. Since many businesses are likely to retain these regulations for a while longer, local residents should not toss out their masks just yet.

Vidant Health, for instance, already issued a statement saying mask regulations will remain in place for now at its facilities.

“Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidance, Vidant will continue to operate under the existing COVID-19 guidelines, including mandatory masking for team members and visitors, regardless of vaccination status,” the statement said.

Cooper stressed the need to increase the number of vaccinated people in the state.

“We can take this step today because the science shows our focus on getting people vaccinated is working,” Cooper said. “But to keep moving forward — and to make sure that we keep saving lives — more people need to get vaccinated.”

Cohen also stressed the need for vaccinations to keep COVID metrics down.

“I am so proud of the incredible progress we have made in beating back this pandemic,” Cohen said. “Vaccines continue to be incredibly effective at protecting individuals from this terrible virus. And as more and more people get vaccinated, the results show in our stable metrics with lower cases, lower hospitalizations and lower deaths.”

Cohen said the state Department of Health and Human Services strongly recommends that unvaccinated people take steps to protect themselves and others.

“People who are not vaccinated should wear a mask and maintain distance in all indoor public settings and in outdoor settings when they can’t maintain six feet of distance,” Cohen said.

Even through masks are no longer required, they still are strongly recommended for everyone at large crowded indoor events like sporting events and live performances, state officials said.

Longtime kennel to reopen under new owners

For pet owners, being able to leave their four-legged babies with someone they trust is a priority.

That is why one local small business has been so successful. Opened a few years ago as a brand new boarding facility for dogs, Red Oak Country Kennels is trusted by pet owners in Nash County and beyond.

When life events changed the course of owner Greta Small’s goals, she decided to sell the business in hopes that it would continue to operate under new ownership.

Local residents Brian Lamberson and Cindy Stancavish stepped up to the challenge.

“I was a client of Red Oak Country Kennels,” Stancavish said. “When I heard they closed, I was so upset. Greta was phenomenal at taking care of all the pets she kept. Like other pet owners, I was left wondering where I would be able to take my dog where he would be happy, have plenty of space and I would feel comfortable and confident knowing he was getting the love, care and attention he deserves. After finding out that Greta was selling, it just made sense.”

At Red Oak Country Kennels, pets have been spoiled in a comfortable, climate-controlled facility with individual indoor and outdoor runs, spacious outdoor play areas, no limits on the amount of outside time and an indoor exercise area during bad weather.

Lamberson and Stancavish will officially re-open the kennel for business on May 26, just in time for the Memorial Day holiday.

Small is committed to helping the new owners through the re-opening and will remain active in the business during the transition. Stancavish says the business will pick up right where it left off.

“We have a love for animals and for helping people and we are ready to put our entrepreneurial experience to work,” Stancavish said. “It takes a lot of trust for someone to leave their pet, a member of their family, in the care of someone else. It honors and humbles me that someone will have that trust in us. I have no doubt that pets will be happy with us. The love and personal attention are what will make the difference.”

Taking care of pets is something the new owners have been doing for many years.

“I have always loved animals and volunteering in pet adoption and rescue has always been my way of helping animals,” Stancavish said.

She is actively involved with Nash County Animal Friends, Promoting Animal Welfare and photographing homeless pets at the Nash County Animal Shelter for adoption and rescue.

“It will be business as usual at the kennels,” she said. “We want people to receive the same great service and care that they have come to love and expect.”

All breeds are welcome and each dog run has its own isolated outdoor space accessible through a dog door. The facility also has a dedicated space for boarding smaller dogs.

In addition to the overnight boarding the kennel is known for, the new owners will be adding day boarding for dogs.

“This is different from doggie day care,” Stancavish said. “With our day boarding, dogs will not participate in group play, but they will have their own space where they can enjoy being indoors and outdoors with lots of attention.

“We really look forward to continuing the business that Greta built where dogs enjoy a safe, fun environment while away from home,” she said. “We want to continue to provide pet families peace of mind while they are away from one another.”

For more information or to make reservations, call or text 252-373-1104, email redoakcountrykennels@gmail.com or find Red Oak Country Kennels on Facebook.

New top cop learning about department, community

Online viewers of the May 10 City Council work session got to see and hear from new Police Chief Robert Hassell.

The council every month views a presentation about crime data from Rocky Mount’s top cop and May 10 was no different in terms of such standard procedure.

However, Hassell also fielded questions from Councilman Reuben Blackwell about what is going to change, in terms of policing, with him as the leader of the police department.

Hassell said that in his first 30-90 days he wants to take the opportunity to get to know the people serving in sworn and non-sworn roles at the police department.

Hassell said that over the next 60 days, maybe a bit more, he will be meeting with the key organizations, community groups and residents throughout the city. Hassell noted he was going to be meeting the next day with representatives of the faith-based community.

“So through those meetings with staff, through the meetings with these different organizations and citizens of our great city, I’ll be listening,” Hassell said. “I’ll be making notes of things that they feel are needs of our community that relates to crime and other concerns that not necessarily may be crime.”

He said he is going to speak with the police department’s staff and develop some strategies and maybe some initiatives.

He emphasized that those talks will occur after a review of the things the police department has been doing over the years.

He made clear that review is going to include finding out what has worked and perhaps needs to be enhanced, as well as what has not worked and needs to be tweaked or replaced with a new strategy or program.

“So in the very near future, I’m hoping that my staff and I will be able to present some new ideas and initiatives to help, working with our citizens, to reduce crime and improve everyone’s quality of life,” he said.

Blackwell referred to a heat map in the April crime report showing areas of the city where criminal activity has been occurring or where calls about crimes are coming from.

The map for April showed most of the hotspots to be west of downtown and in the southern, southeastern and eastern parts of the city.

Blackwell asked about whether there could be a connection of the names of the neighborhoods with where the hotspots appear on the map.

Blackwell said he would be interested in the Happy Hill and Holly Street areas and across town in looking at, over the past 10-12 years, what are the persisting issues being dealt with in those communities.

Blackwell said he wants to know what kind of strategy could be recommended based on what the data shows.

Hassell said he is going to be working with the support services commander and the crime analysis experts in looking at some historical data related to different neighborhoods throughout the city and what trends the police department may have seen through the past several years.

Councilwoman Chris Miller said that while she knows serious crimes tend to get the attention of the police more than minor crimes, issues of speeding and littering have seemed to her to have really increased in the city. Miller also said there seems to be a growing disregard for the law and civility.

“It’s almost like a deterioration of civilization — and I don’t mean to be melodramatic,” Miller said.

Miller wanted to know from Hassell whether the police are looking at any of those small issues when they drive through neighborhoods or throughout the city.

Miller also wanted to know from Hassell whether he is alarmed when he hears noise coming from loud mufflers of vehicles whose drivers are roaring on a main drag.

She also noted the presence of litter all around both sides of the intersection of Grace Street and Falls Road.

“If people cared about the community, we would not see that,” she said.

Hassell said whether it is illegal drugs, property crime, violent crime, littering or complaints about loud music, all of that plays into what kind of quality of life residents have in the city.

Hassell said that he and his team will look at any concerns brought to his attention.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, via a news release on March 30, announced the hiring of Hassell.

Hassell, who began as the new chief on May 3, is being paid $145,000 a year.

Prior to reporting for work in Rocky Mount, Hassell had been the police chief in Reidsville in the Triad region since 2014.

Data shows most crime down in city, gunfire reports persist

The police department has continued to be busy responding to aggravated assaults and reports of shots fired, but the good news is there has been an overall decrease in crime.

Police Chief Robert Hassell on May 10 provided the City Council with the most recent monthly report of crime data, which is for April.

The data showed there were 101 calls about shots fired or heard fired, with 30 calls resulting in shell casings being found with a total of 149 shell casings found.

Of those 101 calls, police responded because people phoned authorities to report shots being fired or because of ShotSpotter activations. ShotSpotter is a system of sensors designed to detect, locate and alert police of gunfire in real time.

The data also showed 25 firearms were seized in April, bringing the total to 156 for the year to date ending at the end of April.

The data also showed there were six arrests for weapons-related violations.

Additionally, the data showed there were 21 aggravated assault cases with 33 victims — 20 of whom suffered injuries — and with six of those 21 cases involving multiple victims.

Of those 21 aggravated assault cases, five of them were cleared by arrests, 13 of them are continuing to be investigated, one is inactive and two are gang-related.

As for crimes against property, the data showed there were 10 cases cleared by arrest.

The data showed five arrests were for breaking and entering of businesses, two were for shoplifting and one each was for breaking and entering a residence, larceny from a building and robbing a person.

The rest of the data in the crime report showed that:

  • In April, there were 136 instances of crimes compared to 151 in April 2020, a more than 9.9 percent decrease.
  • There were 555 instances of crimes for the year to date ending in April compared to 609 for 2020 to the point ending in April 2020, a nearly 8.9 percent decrease.
  • In April, there 35 instances of violent crimes compared to 41 in April 2020, a more than 14.6 percent decrease.
  • There were 146 instances of violent crimes for the year to date ending in April compared to 124 for 2020 to the point ending in April 2020, a more than 17.7 percent increase.
  • In April, there were 101 instances of crimes against property compared to 110 in April 2020, a nearly 8.2 percent decrease.
  • There were 409 instances of crimes against property for the year to date ending in April compared to 485 for 2020 to the point ending in April 2020, a nearly 15.7 percent decrease.

The data clearly showed the main reason for the overall decrease in crime can be traced to a decrease in the instances of larcenies.

Specifically, in April, there were 61 instances of larcenies compared to 72 in April 2020, a nearly 15.3 percent decrease.

More specifically, there were 267 instances of larcenies for the year to date ending in April compared to 352 for 2020 to the point ending in April 2020, a more than 24.1 percent decrease.

A copy of the April report of crime data is attached to the online version of this story.

The Telegram also has attached online the arrest and incident logs for April as posted on the local Police to Citizen online link, as well as the arrest log from the start of this month to Wednesday afternoon and the incident log from the start of this month to early Friday morning as posted on P2C.

Edgecombe board to work on budget

The Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners will hold a budget work session at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Carmon Auditorium of the County Administration Building at 201 St. Andrew St. in Tarboro.

The county is working from a $78,784,048 current budget approved in June 2020.

Commissioners are faced with funding additional expenses, including the operations of the former Edgecombe County Rescue Service, the addition of several positions — including that of deputy county manager — and the replacement of the former assistant county manager with a longer-tenured department head.

Commissioners also are faced with coming up with a mechanism to increase pay for county employees, with the most public pressure coming to increase the pay for employees of the sheriff’s office and detention center. There also is increasing public pressure for commissioners to address conditions at the animal shelter.

One thing working in the county’s favor is a $9.98 million windfall to be received as part of the federal government’s relief plan. While some restrictions are expected on the way the money can be spent, it should offer some one-time relief.

The fiscal year 2020-21 budget included an additional $350,000 for pay increases at the sheriff’s office, which was considerably less than what Sheriff Clee Atkinson had sought.

Atkinson was given the explanation that his agency was not the only office commissioners had to fund, to which he replied that his was the only county agency open 24/7/365 and that when others were home because of weather or holiday, many of his employees were on the job and all were on-call.

At the board’s March 15 retreat, concern was expressed over the fact Triangle Tire had yet to move forward with its announced plans to build at the Kingsboro Industrial Park and the problems the county might face financially if the project does not come to fruition.

Triangle had five years from the time it accepted conveyance of the 400-acre tract from the county — which was April 23, 2018 — to complete construction of the project and invest at least $174,149,200.

At least one commissioner expressed concern that taxes would need to be raised in the not-too-distant future. Edgecombe has the second-highest tax rate among North Carolina’s 100 counties at 95 cents per $100 valuation.

A public hearing on the fiscal year 2021-22 budget is expected to be called for the June 7 board meeting.

Attendance at Wednesday’s budget session is limited to no more than 20 people, not including staff and scheduled guests. Face masks are required.

The public also is encouraged to listen to the meeting by calling 1-929-205-6099 and then entering 837-1004-8886 as the meeting ID and 656582 as the passcode.