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FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during a news conference at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Something is finally clear in the uncertain NBA. Players believe they’re going to play games again this season. The obvious questions like how, where and when remain unanswered. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Council questions $730K cost to televise meetings

A City Council budget work session earlier this week included much back-and-forth about having the municipality broadcast council meetings live in the future, given the cost as now shown by an engineering study by a Research Triangle Region-based expert.

Steven Thorburn, of the Thorburn Associates acoustical consulting firm in Morrisville, and Dorothy Brown Smith, communications, marketing and public relations consultant for the City of Rocky Mount, on Monday fielded questions about a proposal that would cost $730,000 over two years.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell wanted to know if a complete redoing of the municipality’s present system is the only path to broadcasting the council meetings live or if a new system could be phased in.

Thorburn said, “We’re at a little bit of a loss here. We were under contract to develop this study just as COVID-19 hit. We’ve put together the best representation of what we’ve done for other cities, based on conversations with staff.

“Yes, there are ways to prioritize things, to look at them,” Thorburn said. “I haven’t been back in this room in three months. So we’re really trying to get our feet underneath us to give you a plan to go forward.”

At the same time, Thorburn said, “There are things we can go back and look at.”

The proposal calls for spending $430,000 in fiscal year 2021, this to set up a system to broadcast meetings from the council chamber, with a significant amount of the cost being for production equipment.

The proposal calls for spending $300,000 in fiscal year 2022, with the focus being on having audio and video equipment installed in the nearby conference room.

The council had been conducting work sessions in that conference room prior to the spread of the coronavirus and the resulting social distancing requirements.

During the work session Monday, Councilman Lige Daughtridge pointed out that he and fellow new Councilman T.J. Walker looked at the upgraded broadcasting system in the Nash County Board of Commissioners room.

The Telegram has reported that the work there cost about $98,000.

During the work session on Monday, Daughtridge repeated his support for broadcasting City Council meetings live, but he said the proposed figure “just seems pricey to me.”

Thorburn, in response, said to do live broadcasts with multiple cameras and switching equipment involves lots of parts that add up in terms of price.

Thorburn also said Greenville’s government and Wake Forest’s government spent roughly $450,000 each at their locations, with the work in Greenville being a remodeling and the work in Wake Forest being the installation of new equipment.

Thorburn said the roughly $450,000 amount would translate to a roughly $600,000 system today.

“Yes, it’s an investment,” he said, “but it’s an investment that’s going to last 15-20 years.”

Smith emphasized the City of Rocky Mount would be starting from scratch due to the lack of infrastructure to do the quality broadcasting of council meetings the municipality is seeking to do.

“Right now, what we’re doing is trying to ensure that our citizens get the information that they need, but we’re really piece-mealing things,” Smith said.

During the Jan. 13 council meeting, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney announced she had assembled a committee, to be led by Smith, to study and recommend to her the staffing and capital costs needs associated with broadcasting the council meetings live.

Rocky Mount has remained a rarity for a city of such size in North Carolina in which one cannot view City Council meetings live on television.

After the spread of the coronavirus prohibited spectators from gathering in the chamber to watch the council conduct business, the municipality began providing live streaming video of council meetings via Facebook.

However, the audio at times has not been of good quality and there have been instances in which council members did not activate their microphones when speaking.

During the work session Monday, Blackwell said that while he agrees with the need to have upgraded systems and the need to do better, having the council meetings broadcast with such nice equipment is not his highest priority.

“We’ve been calling for years about newsletters related to what’s taking place in our wards, about communication vehicles for individual council members and the mayor as well,” Blackwell said. “This chamber is very important, but the work of City Hall occurs every single day — and it occurs in the street and it occurs in many different places.”

Blackwell also said that the number of phone calls he receives from people asking about what is going on in the community are much greater than the calls he receives about what will be discussed at an upcoming council meeting.

Smith, in response, made clear that she and top-level officials know there is more than one way to reach all of the constituents.

“And if you might recall, we had done a study and had a full report on public relations and how we propose to reach out,” Smith said.

Smith said the plan had been to present that information at the council’s annual retreat, which was to be in Durham, but the retreat had to be canceled due to the pandemic.

Smith said that one of the items being looked at was exploring the possibility of developing an electronic newsletter system for each council member and Mayor Sandy Roberson.

Smith also said one item being worked on is having individual web pages for each council member and Roberson.

During the work session Monday, Blackwell also spoke of there having been previous talks about having some corridor studies conducted.

Blackwell questioned City Budget and Evaluation Manager Kenneth Hunter about whether a corridor study of Grand Avenue is in the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget documents and Hunter said no.

“It ties into our downtown and it ties together three, four wards,” Blackwell said of Grand Avenue. “And that’s important — and we’ve discussed it and I don’t see it in the priority of the budget.”

A corridor study specifies the relationships between a roadway and the adjacent land.

Small-Toney put on the to-do list the following items in working with the council: Getting the full scope of what Smith had just explained; studying the Grand Avenue corridor, as well as the Fairview Road corridor; and having a presentation about the downtown area to help prioritize what to fund there.

The to-do list also includes studying a possible purchase of Northgreen Country Club on the northwest side of Rocky Mount.

Councilwoman Chris Miller at a work session on May 28 said she would like the municipality to consider looking into possibly acquiring Northgreen Country Club, citing a concern about a decline in the values of adjacent properties and in future property tax revenues.

YMCA reopens with limited services

The Harrison Family YMCA reopened this week with limited services.

After Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order on May 20, the YMCA was able to open its doors Monday to members for swimming and outdoor exercise.

“Although our Y is not able to fully open our doors at this time, we are thrilled to be able to reopen in some capacity,” Harrison Family YMCA Marketing and Development Director Alyssa Matthews said in a press release. “Our top priority is to put the health and safety of our members and staff at the forefront. Our Y must open slowly and in stages to adhere to all guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the (state) Department of Health and Human Services and the local health department.”

The Monday opening is considered stage 1 of the YMCA’s re-opening, Matthews said. During stage 1, the YMCA will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for customer service-related questions.

All outdoor group exercise and lap and open swim times will be by reservation only. The pool will be open for reservations in 40-minute increments from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Various group exercise classes are available for reservations at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. for 45 minutes. An outdoor walking club also is available at 9:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The YMCA will be closed on Saturdays and Sundays during stage 1 of the re-opening process for cleaning.

“During this time, we are abiding by all safety guidelines and cleaning procedures,” Matthews said. “All participating in activities must sign a waiver and abide by all guidelines while at the Y facility. There are signs around the building showing members what to do.”

The YMCA also transitioned from emergency child care services for essential workers to all-day camp after the governor opened child care services and now is offering Summer Day Camp.

“Our program has pivoted to serve children and families in the most meaningful ways this summer,” Matthews said. “Safety procedures have been updated to follow all guidelines and keep these kids protected in our care. … Kids will be developing character, learning new things, making new friends, playing in the sunshine, but playing it safe.”

The Summer Day Camp curriculum will include two hours per day of enrichment time that has been shown through research to help close the learning gap, she said. Camp is available from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 21. There is a weekly fee option and a three-day fee option, as well as financial assistance.

For more information about the reopening or to make a reservation as an active Y member, visit harrisonfamilyY.org. To activate a Y membership, e-mail customerservice@rmymca.org.

For more information or to register online for Summer Day Camp, visit harrisonfamilyy.org/our-programs/summer-camp.

Hospital offers new treatment for COVID-19

Even as the number of COVID-19 cases identified in the Twin Counties continues to grow, Nash UNC Health Care is participating in a program that allows the institution to use cutting-edge convalescent plasma therapy to treat qualified patients who are hospitalized.

As of Wednesday morning, the Edgecombe County Health Department reported 211 cumulative cases of COVID-19 among Edgecombe County residents. Of that number, 176 people are considered recovered and nine have died.

Nash County Health Director Bill Hill reported 216 cumulative cases of COVID-19 among Nash County residents as of Wednesday morning. Four new cases were reported Tuesday night, he said.

Hill said he was pleased to note that the number of hospitalizations of Nash County residents had decreased slightly by Wednesday. Eight people were reported as being hospitalized Wednesday morning compared to a high of 10 hospitalizations on Monday.

Qualifying critically ill patients who are hospitalized at Nash UNC Health Care have the opportunity to use a relatively new treatment for COVID-19. The new treatment, which recently was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is called convalescent plasma therapy.

Nash UNC Health Care is able to treat patients using convalescent plasma through the hospital’s participation in the national Expanded Access Program in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, according to a press release from the hospital.

“Convalescent plasma therapy is made possible by first removing plasma — the liquid portion of the blood — from the donated blood of a person who has recovered from a disease, in this case, COVID-19,” Dr. Michael Roth, incoming medical director of the laboratory at Nash UNC, said in the press release. “When your body is exposed to a foreign bacteria or virus, your immune system produces proteins called antibodies, which can eliminate the virus from the body.”

Roth said the process is like taking vitamins to supplement a person’s diet.

“Plasma therapy is used to supplement the patient’s immune system by providing additional antibodies to fight the virus while the patient’s body naturally builds its own army of antibodies,” he said.

Dr. Priyank Desai, the intensivist responsible for the Critical Care Unit at Nash UNC, said in the press release that while the use of convalescent plasma to treat patients against viruses is not new, it had not been commonly utilized in hospitals prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This type of therapy has been used in the past as an investigational treatment with past outbreaks like SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and others and is currently growing in practice as a treatment to try for COVID-19 patients who are not responding to other treatments or who have a higher risk of serious illness,” Desai said.

Desai said that plasma therapy is not a cure-all for COVID-19.

“In past studies, the use of convalescent plasma has been noted to help some, but not all, patients in their recovery. While it is not known for certain that this will or will not help COVID-19 patients, we do believe this plasma therapy can make an impact and lessen the severity of the illness for patients who are hospitalized,” Desai said.

Nash UNC Health Care began using convalescent plasma therapy on patients who met the criteria for this type of treatment in late April.

“It’s exciting that Nash UNC is participating in the use of this treatment,” said Lee Isley, president and CEO of Nash UNC Health Care. “We are providing our community with access to the latest innovations in COVID treatment and providing helpful data to this national study, which could lead to new treatments and practices in medicine.”

The treatment also allows people who have recovered from COVID-19 to help other COVID patients as they donate their plasma though an organization called The Blood Connection.

The process of plasma donation largely is similar to donating blood, the press release said. To be eligible to donate, a person must be fully recovered from the virus and asymptomatic for at least 28 days. Up to four people can benefit from one plasma donation.

Anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 and is interested in donating convalescent plasma should contact The Blood Connection by calling 864-751-1168.

For more information on the COVID-19 Expanded Access Program, go to https://www.uscovidplasma.org/.

Pinetops police arrest four home invasion suspects

Four suspects have been arrested and jailed in the Edgecombe County Detention Center in connection with an April 25 home invasion in Pinetops.

Pinetops Police Chief Stacy Harrell said the investigation was in-depth and lengthy and resulted in the arrest of the suspects.

Harrell said Pinetops police received a call about 12:30 a.m. on April 25 relating to a possible robbery on West Burnette Street.

Upon arrival, officers were told two male suspects forced their way into the house, robbed the occupants at gunpoint and then fled on foot.

Harrell said police utilized street cameras located throughout the community along with other resources to begin the process of identifying the suspects.

Based on the results of the investigation, Harrell said arrests were made of four suspects:

  • Darrell Lamont Porter, 33, no address, was jailed under a $375,000 secured bond in the Edgecombe County Detention Center.
  • Christopher Lamont Davis, 29, no address, was jailed under a $100,000 secured bond in the Edgecombe County Detention Center. Davis also was wanted for a violation of the terms of his probation and is being held without bond on that charge.
  • Shyheim K’Shon Ashford, 21, no address, was jailed under a $50,000 secured bond in the Edgecombe County Detention Center.
  • Brittany Shant’e Braswell, 21, no address, was jailed under a $10,000 unsecured bond in the Edgecombe County Detention Center.

All four suspects were charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, breaking and entering, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and three counts of attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Three of the suspects confessed to their involvement in the crime, Harrell said.

Harrell said Pinetops has maintained a low crime rate for more than a decade, including the lowest crime rate per capita in North Carolina in 2017.

“We focus on taking any violent crime of this nature to the fullest prosecutorial outcome on state and federal levels,” Harrell said.