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Hospital expands visitation policy for holiday

Nash UNC Health Care is offering some welcome holiday news to people who have friends or family members hospitalized at its facilities.

The organization is revising its visitation policy to allow hospitalized patients to have two designated visitors over the Christmas holiday and beyond. The new visitation guidelines will go into effect on Monday and will remain in place until further notice.

The new policy is similar to the one instituted at Thanksgiving. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Nash UNC revised its visitation policy to allow two visitors for inpatients at Nash General, Critical Care, Cardiac Observation Unit and the Women’s Center, according to a statement by hospital officials released Thursday.

The normal policy during the pandemic has been to have one designated visitor.

“The change in visitation policy over Thanksgiving worked well with the process we had in place — and as a result, we wish to continue this policy change through the holiday season and beyond,” said Lee Isley, president and CEO of Nash UNC Health Care. “As we continue our work to balance patient experience with safety, we will continue to monitor conditions in our community, our COVID census in the hospital and guidance from the CDC, and will alter our operations as needed.”

Under the new visitation guidelines, only one visitor will be permitted at a time to ensure social distancing is maintained in the patient’s room for both the safety of the patient and the visitor. The two designated visitors a patient selects can switch out as needed throughout their stay and will be monitored with a check-in, check-out process at the front desk.

Exceptions to this limited visitation policy will continue to be granted for extenuating circumstances such as end of life or for other special needs determined by the clinical care team.

All visitors will be required to follow all safety policies, including undergoing a touchless temperature check and health screening upon entrance, wearing a mask for the duration of the visit and following proper infection prevention practices such as frequent hand washing, the statement said.

“With COVID-19 still affecting our community heavily, we urge the community to practice safety precautions during this holiday season,” Isley said in the press release. “We would like to remind the community of the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing and following the CDC recommendations for holiday gatherings.”

This new visitation policy will extend to hospitalized patients in the Nash General Hospital units, Critical Care, Cardiac Observation Unit and Women’s Center.

The Emergency Department, Bryant T. Aldridge Rehabilitation Center, Coastal Plain Hospital and outpatient areas of the hospital will maintain their current visitation policies, which allow for only one designated, screened visitor.

Pediatric patients still will be allowed to have two designated, screened visitors.

Patients receiving treatment for COVID-19 will not be allowed any visitors for the safety of the patient, visitor and community, except in extenuating circumstances, the statement said.

City to buy downtown property for $260K

The City of Rocky Mount is going to spend slightly more than $260,000 to acquire corner property on the northeastern side of downtown because the city administration said a failing culvert in the vicinity needs replacing.

The City Council on Monday voted 6-1 for the acquisition of 211 E. Thomas St. from Herman Theoplus Jones and Nina Williams Jones at a price of $260,000 and also to spend about $5,000 on the costs of closing the transaction.

Councilman Lige Daughtridge was the dissenting voice.

The item came up near the end of Monday’s council regular meeting, with Councilman Andre Knight immediately making a motion for action and Councilman Reuben Blackwell seconding.

The property is at the southwest corner of East Thomas and Atlantic Avenue, next to The Prime Smokehouse Barbecue & Beyond and across from the grounds of the Rocky Mount Event Center.

Councilwoman Chris Miller asked for City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney to address the need for the city to acquire the property.

Small-Toney, in response to Miller’s question, stated a public purpose based on the need to replace a culvert in the vicinity.

When Mayor Sandy Roberson opened the floor to questions or comments, Daughtridge said that while maybe he is confused, this was not his total recollection based on the council having discussed the item during a closed session.

The council discussed the item out of view of the public and the news media on Sept. 14, and after returning to open session voted 5-2 to authorize the municipal staff to enter into a contract for the city to purchase the property.

Daughtridge and Miller cast the no votes.

During Monday’s council meeting, Daughtridge said, “I’m opposed to the city purchasing more property to hold onto it to take it off the tax rolls.”

Daughtridge noted the presently on-hold plans for a downtown development project adjacent to the event center and to include a parking garage.

Daughtridge said his recollection was that the 211 East Thomas location would be used for parking.

“And I just don’t think we need to spend this money when it could be spent on such things as affordable housing,” Daughtridge said.

Daughtridge referred to his opposition in March when the council majority voted in favor of going with Woda Cooper Companies as the development partner for between 50 and 60 units at the future Tarboro Street workforce housing site.

During Monday’s council meeting, Daughtridge said one of his reasons for his opposition to that project was the lack of enough parking downtown and the city having had agreements with Edgecombe Community College and the Self-Help Credit Union.

The Telegram in 2019 reported that the city and Edgecombe Community College were to share adjoining parking lots along Tarboro Street, but that plan was changed by the previous council in favor of having the same shared-use parking space become the future workforce housing site.

During Monday’s council meeting, Small-Toney sought to provide clarity and reiterated that the purpose of acquiring the property at 211 East Thomas is due to the failing culvert in the vicinity.

“And perhaps you weren’t on council when this was originally brought to the council,” Small-Toney told Daughtridge. “We are in need of repairing or replacing that culvert before we have a significant failure.”

“The by-product, once that culvert is replaced and repaired, is, ‘Well, what do we do then with the property?” Small-Toney said. “And so one of the ideas or suggestions was to use that for parking.”

Knight said maps show culverts are in a state of corrosion and are subject to failing, and that the city is being proactive so there will not be a catastrophe in an area of potential growth.

Knight said this is something Small-Toney has discussed with the council numerous times.

“But some of us have amnesia — and so I just want to say that I support this recommended action,” Knight said.

Knight also said that the city replaced a culvert near the Imperial Centre for the Arts and Sciences off North Franklin Street, took down an old body shop building and put in landscaping.

“So I stand with you and I appreciate you providing information to us to help us make sound, good decisions,” Knight told Small-Toney. “And I just want the public to know that we have been aware of this and I support this.”

“The failure to not be proactive would be greatly more costly than it would be now to be proactive,” Councilman Richard Joyner said.

Joyner also said Small-Toney and the municipal departments have explained this to the council and have gone out to get the 211 East Thomas location at a reasonable price so the council can act.

The 211 East Thomas location has appeared on real estate agency websites as being for sale with an asking price of $500,000.

A check by the Telegram of information via Edgecombe County records online about the 211 East Thomas location said that the value of the structures for taxation purposes is $38,187 and that the value of the land for taxation purposes is $16,250.

The Edgecombe County records also said that the property is listed in the name of Herman Theoplus Jones, with the deed recorded in 1988 and with the sale price being $12,500.

The location once was a Mobil service station, according to a 1957 directory of Rocky Mount businesses.

Virus cases at local prison most in state

Nash Correctional Institute has the dubious honor of having more active cases of COVID-19 than any other prison facility in the state.

The male medium-custody state prison located just outside Nashville usually houses about 620 inmates, said John Bull, communications officer for the Division of Prisons at the state Department of Public Safety.

“All of the offenders at Nash Correctional Institution have been tested at least once for COVID-19 and testing there is on-going,” Bull said Thursday in an interview.

According to state records, more than 1,600 COVID tests have been administered to inmates at Nash Correctional Institute since the pandemic began. The tests have been given to 640 inmates so far at the facility.

According to data updated Thursday afternoon, 149 of the inmates have tested positive so far. Of that number, 37 prisoners are considered recovered.

With 105 active cases of COVID-19 at the facility, Nash Correctional Institute has the greatest number of active cases of coronavirus compared to other state prisons. There are 640 active cases of COVID-19 in the entire state prison population.

Craven Correctional Institute has the next highest number of active cases with 70 inmates.

So far, one inmate at Nash Correctional Institute has died of COVID-related causes. Statewide, 29 state prison inmates have lost their lives to COVID.

But offenders are not the only ones who are affected by the outbreaks.

“Around 260 people work at Nash Correctional. Since the pandemic began, 25 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Of them, 12 have met Centers for Disease Control and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services criteria to be considered presumed recovered and have returned to work. Currently, 13 staff members at the prison are off the job after testing positive for COVID-19,” Bull said.

Some of the staff members at prisons across the state already have lost their lives to COVID-19, Bull said.

“To the best of our knowledge, six of the 14,100 dedicated men and women who work in the prison system have died after testing positive for COVID-19,” Bull said.

None of those worked at Nash Correctional, he said.

Bull said the state has been working hard to address the challenges of COVID in the state prison population, which like many congregate living facilities has faced several outbreaks and clusters since the pandemic began.

“The prison system has taken more than four dozen actions to prevent COVID-19 from getting into the prisons, to help prevent it from spreading to other prisons and to confine it within a prison if it does get in,” Bull said. “Statewide, the entire 30,000 offender population has been tested for COVID-19 at least once. Many have been tested twice or more.”

Inmates are tested on arrival to prisons from the jails, Bull said.

“All offenders were mass tested this summer. They are tested again if they have symptoms of the virus, if they may have been potentially exposed to someone who tested positive and sometimes entire cohorts of offenders are tested for the virus,” he said. “They are tested if they are transferred to other prisons, where they go directly into medical quarantine regardless of their test results. Other testing is conducted as needed.”

In addition, the prison system initiated an aggressive COVID-19 testing plan this week for all staff members who work inside prisons. They will be tested every two weeks.

The prison system also has other protocols in place to separate sick inmates from well inmates and to limit the spread of disease. Staff working inside the medical isolation areas are required to wear medical-grade PPE at all times, Bull said.

In addition, every offender has been issued six three-ply cloth masks each and are required to wear them. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray have been available throughout the facility for offenders and staff to access readily throughout the day and cleaning regimens have been expanded, Bull said.

Visitation to Nash Correctional Institute is suspended for health and safety reasons due to the outbreak.

“As you can see, we are working hard to protect the health and safety of the staff and the offenders. This remains the top priority in this first-in-a-century pandemic of highly infectious respiratory virus,” Bull said.

Council elects Joyner to be next mayor pro tem

City Councilman Richard Joyner recently was chosen to be the mayor pro tem for 2021 by a 4-3 vote of the council that ended in a friendly tone.

What is key is that not only is Joyner the City of Rocky Mount’s No. 2 elected official going into next year, but by being the mayor pro tem, he also will be chairing council work sessions.

During the work sessions, the council discusses matters City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and the council believe require a more in-depth discussion and also hears presentations by municipal department heads and outside experts and officials.

Councilman Andre Knight had been serving as the mayor pro tem for 2020.

Near the end of Monday’s council regular meeting, the item of the selection of the next mayor pro tem was brought up.

Councilwoman Chris Miller said the practice for the past number of years has been for the mayor pro tem position to be held on a rotating basis by council members from each side of the city.

“And I would ask that we continue to recognize that precedent and respect the equitability of it,” Miller said.

Miller has served on the council since 2002 and represents Ward 7, which covers much of the northwestern part of the city.

Councilman T.J. Walker nominated Joyner for mayor pro tem.

Walker was sworn into office in December 2019 and represents Ward 4, which is in the southwestern part of the city.

Joyner has been on the council since 2018 and represents Ward 3, which is in part of the southwestern side and part of the southeastern side of the city.

Miller nominated Councilman Lige Daughtridge for mayor pro tem.

Daughtridge was sworn into office in December 2019 and represents Ward 5, which is in the western and northwestern parts of the city.

When the time came to choose the mayor pro tem, Joyner voted for himself and received votes from Walker, Knight and Councilman Reuben Blackwell.

Knight has served on the council since 2003 and represents Ward 1, which is in the eastern part of the city.

Blackwell has served on the council since 2000 and represents Ward 2, which is in the central and northeastern parts of the city.

Daughtridge voted for himself for mayor pro tem but he noted “I’m happy with Joyner” and received votes from Miller and Councilman W.B. Bullock.

Bullock has served on the council since 2002 and represents Ward 6, which is in the western part of the city.

After the vote, Mayor Sandy Roberson and Miller congratulated Joyner.

Miller also said that she believes there is a need to set an example for “the federal folks” in that, “When there’s an election, we honor the results and move forward.”

That was a reference to President Trump alleging vote fraud and refusing to concede the outcome of the Nov. 3 election for president to now President-elect Joe Biden.

Biden on Monday received a 306 to 232 vote by the Electoral College, formally making him the president-elect.

During the council meeting on Monday, Joyner expressed thanks for the support of him for mayor pro tem and also to Knight “for an exceptional job well done” in carrying out the work sessions.

Joyner also said he asks for Knight’s support and leadership “as he has done an outstanding job in setting standards that all of us can strive to live by.”

Monday marked the last council meeting for 2020 because the regular meeting for Dec. 28 has been canceled.

Additionally, Joyner’s praise of Knight on Monday was quite an interesting example of how sides can change in local politics over time.

Knight in 2018 was vocal in his opposition to Joyner being tapped for what became an open Ward 3 council position.

The Telegram reported that Knight begged Ward 3 residents to rise up and reject the vote and that Knight said he believed white people were trying to place an “Uncle Tom” on the council.

Generally, an Uncle Tom is a reference to a Black man considered to be excessively obedient to or excessively willing to serve or please white people.

Joyner was appointed to the Ward 3 position by a 4-2 vote by the then-council.

The Telegram reported that the main complaints about Joyner at the time centered on his not moving into Ward 3 until a few weeks earlier.

The Telegram, citing an unnamed source at City Hall, also said the consternation about the appointment for the Ward 3 position really was about a shift of power on the council away from Knight and Blackwell.

Knight and Blackwell also are key supporters of Small-Toney in what is a council-manager form of government.

Joyner was elected to the council in his own right in October 2019.

During council meetings, Joyner by and large agrees with or votes with Knight and Blackwell, as does Walker.

The Ward 3 position on the council had come open in 2018 because Lamont Wiggins, who had been serving on the council since 1997, was tapped by Gov. Roy Cooper to fill a vacant Superior Court judgeship.

The vacancy on the bench in 2018 had resulted from the retirement of Milton F. “Toby” Fitch Jr., who went on to win election to the state Senate the same year and to win re-election on Nov. 3.