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COVID claims another life

SPINDALE — Another Rutherford County resident has perished from the coronavirus, marking the 27th local death.

Tuesday’s update from health officials show there has been another fatality due to COVID-19. Data show the latest death to be between the age of 25 and 49, which accounts for two total deaths. There have been 18 deaths of those age 65 and older. Another 7 fatalities are among those in the age group of 50-64.

There were 13 new positive cases since Monday for a total of 1,070 cases. There are 114 active cases, nine hospitalized.

There were two more COVID-related deaths over the weekend.

Free testing for the public resumes today (Wednesday) as the Rutherford County Health Department will be hosting drive-thru testing from 9 -11 a.m. Please enter on Fairground Road and Main Street and follow the signs for testing.

COVID outbreak infects Willow Ridge

RUTHERFORDTON — The Willow Ridge Rehabilitation and Living Center has experienced a coronavirus outbreak that includes 15 cases, including one death.

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Willow Ridge is among the congregate living settings that is undergoing an outbreak for COVID-19. On Friday, NCHHS reported that the nursing facility was home to eight positive cases for COVID-19 among its staff and seven cases among the residents, including the death of one resident.

Kam Badimu, facility administrator, said Tuesday the numbers remain unchanged at Willow Ridge. He said the origin of the outbreak is unknown.

As of Tuesday, there were no changes to the state’s data per its website.

On June 10, 2020 Willow Ridge updated its website with the following message: “...we are mindful of our vulnerable population and our commitment to protect the health and safety of our residents. COVID-19 continues to pose elevated risk to our nursing home residents so we will diligently follow the recommendations of our local, state, and national agencies and the CDC on how we will advance through phases of reopening our nursing home.”

Willow Ridge remains on restricted visitation, only essential personnel is allowed in the facility except for end of life circumstances.

In a congregate living setting, a COVID-19 outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases. An outbreak is considered over if there is not evidence of continued transmission within the facility. This is measured as 28 days after the latest date of onset in a symptomatic person or the first date of specimen collection from the most recent asymptomatic person, whichever is later. If another case is detected in a facility after an outbreak is declared over, the outbreak is not reopened. It is counted as a case in congregate living settings, and if a second case is detected within 28 days in the same facility, it is considered a second, new outbreak in that facility, according the NCDHHS.

Couple leads authorities on a 25-minute chase in stolen truck

HARRIS — A South Carolina couple is in jail after they led authorities on a 25-minute chase between two states.

Kristina Marcy, of Fingerville, South Carolina, and Michael Osteen, of Chesnee, South Carolina, were arrested Monday night after they fled law enforcement in a stolen pickup truck.

Around 7 p.m. the Rutherford County’s Sheriff’s Office responded to a suspicious vehicle in the area of W.V. Thompson Road. There were concerned the occupants of the vehicle were casing homes for larceny, according to Sheriff Chris Francis.

Marcy, who was driving the truck, took off when officers attempted to stop the truck. A chase ensued with Marcy driving into South Carolina and then back into North Carolina. During the chase that included multiple law enforcement agencies, Marcy was, at times, driving on the wrong side pf the road. They were also tossing items from the truck into the direction of the officers, Francis said.

At one point Marcy swerved the truck in the direction of officers.

Authorities used stop sticks to eventually get the truck stopped near Jack McKinney Road and U.S. Highway 221. Marcy and Osteen then fled on foot before officers apprehended them.

Marcy was taken to the hospital where she was treated and released, Francis said.

Officers found the pickup truck had been stolen from Duncan, South Carolina.

Marcy was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill for using the truck to swerve toward officers. She’s also charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, speeding to elude arrest and littering. She’s being held under a $150,000 secured bond.

Osteen was also charged with assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to kill, resisting arrest, littering and extradition of a fugitive for arrest warrants in South Carolina. He was also jailed under a $150,000 secured bond.

Monday night’s chase was not the first for Marcy. Francis said records show she led authorities on a similar chase following a larceny a few years ago.

The N.C. Highway Patrol and Rutherfordton police assisted the Sheriff’s Office with the chase.

RCS Education Foundation impacts student needs

FOREST CITY — An addition of more than $800,000 was injected into a variety of programs at Rutherford County Schools (RCS) in the 2019-2020 school year. The money funded the creation of STEAM labs, supported the backpack food program, and purchased emergency supplies to address the needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of this was made possible because of the RCS Education Foundation. The foundation recently released its 2019-2020 impact report, detailing how the foundation has strengthened public education in Rutherford County.

“The foundation provides a way for the school system to partner with large corporations and other foundations, for the benefit of the entire school system,” said Brad Teague, RCS chief operating officer, and foundation executive director. “For example, Facebook allocated a half-million dollars that will allow us to create STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) labs in all of the schools. We just completed Forrest Hunt Elementary School’s lab, Rutherfordton Elementary is next. We hope to have them in all our elementary schools by the end of this school year.”

The foundation is the vehicle through which most large donors prefer to give, instead of giving to an individual school.

“Corporations and other foundations prefer giving through a school foundation because they want to give for the benefit of the entire school system,” Teague said. “They give to the foundation, and we make sure the funds are used properly in a way that the donor intended.”

RHI Legacy Foundation also makes major contributions through the RCS Education Foundation. This consists of major funding for the school system’s backpack food program including funding for the program coordinator’s position.

“We are now serving 1,014 students each week,” said Lisa Bralley, backpack food program coordinator. “RHI Legacy Foundation is our biggest supporter, and they do so through the RCS Education Foundation.”

The backpack food program supplies low-income food-insecure students with a backpack full of food each Friday, that they may have food to eat over the weekend. Others support the program with donations of food and money to purchase food, including church groups, community groups and individuals.

RCS stands out in the region as one of the few schools systems with a dedicated backpack food coordinator.

“Because of the commitment of RHI Legacy Foundation and RCS Education Foundation to the backpack program, we are able to have a district-wide coordinator who can be a point of contact for the community, educate the public on our mission, facilitate fundraisers hosted by civic groups, businesses and other organizations, and oversee ordering, transport and distribution of food bags to our students each week,” Bralley said.

The total number of students in need, who receive backpack support, can fluctuate somewhat on a seasonal basis. According to Bralley, this year the need is a bit higher due to COVID-19.

“Often, going into the winter months, the need increases as family expenses may increase,” Bralley said. “But now, the need is higher. COVID-19 is impacting the students. Some families have lost jobs, or hours are shortened. Most of the families we serve have at least one parent who works full-time. But they are in low-wage jobs, and even with SNAP benefits (food stamps), it can be difficult to purchase enough food.”

Bralley says COVID-19 also caused many of the churches who support the program, to suspend their assistance.

“I can unequivocally say that there is food insecurity in Rutherford County,” she said. “There are people in need who can not adequately feed their families. Without RHI Legacy Foundation and RCS Education Foundation, we would not be able to meet these needs.”

In addition to RHI Legacy Foundation and Facebook, the Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation is also a major supporter of RCS, through the RCS Education Foundation.

Sometimes companies are looking for a way to support education, and reach out to the foundation unsolicited.

“They want to make a positive impact, and want to support the schools in an equitable manner,” Teague explained. “We make it easier for them to write one check to the foundation, instead of 18 checks to individual schools.”

The foundation directly obtained $200,000 in grants and raised funds, to use in COVID-19 relief efforts. This includes the purchase of more than 20,000 food trays for the remote food service program, more than 200 gallons of hand sanitizer, and more than 10,000 masks. The foundation also funded 20 exterior Wi-Fi units for remote Wi-Fi access.

Because of COVID-19, several annual events, like the RCS Hall of Fame Gala and the Leader of the Pack 5K race were not held last school year.

“It is doubtful that we will be able to hold these events this school year also,” Teague said. “But we certainly will restart these events as soon as we are able to do so.”

Teague says the extra money the school system is able to access because of the RCS Education Foundation and her partners, is wonderful.

“But more than that, the work of the foundation shows our students, parents, and staff that they are surrounded by a community that supports them,” Teague continued.

Teague says he is excited to see the foundation continue to grow. He describes the foundation as “up and coming.”

This is his third year as executive director.