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Students again face wearing masks at school
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RALEIGH — Students returning to school should expect to wear a face covering while indoors.

Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. shared updated public health guidance for K-12 schools to follow in the upcoming school year.

“The most important work our state will do next month is getting all our school children back into the classrooms safely for in-person learning,” Cooper said. “That’s the best way for them to learn, and we want their school days to be as close to normal as possible, especially after a year of disruption.”

The updated StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit is aligned with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance, which urges that everything possible be done to keep students in schools and emphasizes continued masking. The Toolkit says schools with students in kindergarten through eighth grade should require all children and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Schools with students in 9th through 12th grades should ensure that anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated, including students, wear a mask indoors.

This guidance is effective July 30th and local school leaders are responsible for requiring and implementing protocols in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit in consultation with their local health departments.

The Toolkit also updates additional measures for schools related to quarantining after COVID exposure, physical distancing, testing, transportation, cleaning and other considerations.

State health officials continue to urge unvaccinated people to follow CDC and NCDHHS guidance and wear a mask indoors. When Executive Order 220 expires at the end of July, North Carolina businesses and other entities where masks are required will make their own decisions about requiring masks, with strong guidance provided by NCDHHS. Everyone, regardless of vaccine status, should still wear a mask in certain places such as public transportation and healthcare facilities.

“Get vaccinated right now if you haven’t. We are seeing the impact of the very contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 and it’s hitting those who are unvaccinated hard,” Dr. Cohen said. “Schools need to use the additional safety protocols outlined in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit to continue to protect students and staff as we enter the new school year.”

To date, North Carolina has administered more than 9.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 56% of the adult population fully vaccinated. 60% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 86% of people 65 and over.

In Rutherford County, 32% of the population has gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. Meanwhile, the county is experiencing a new spike in COVID-19 cases with a 14-day positivity rate at 9.9%. Anything over 5% is deemed worrisome by health officials.

Learn more about the state’s vaccine distribution at myspot.nc.gov (English) or Vacunate.nc.gov (Spanish). Details on the Your Shot at $1 Million Summer Cash Drawing can be found at covid19.ncdhhs.gov/summer vaxcash. Use NCDHHS’ online tool Find a Vaccine Location to find a nearby vaccine site. Call the state’s COVID-19 vaccine hotline at 888-675-4567.

Youthworks makes a difference serving local nonprofits
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FOREST CITY — A desire to live out their faith through service to others has brought dozens of youth to Rutherford County, from across North Carolina, and other states as well.

They are in Rutherford County through “Youthworks,” a nonprofit Christian-based group that organizes mission trip experiences in the United States and internationally. Youthworks was created in 1994, and is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Participants spend time working in a variety of settings including food pantries, work sites of housing nonprofits, and even the Ruff’ton Roots Community Garden in Rutherfordton.

Wednesday morning, youths and adults from High Point were busy throughout the morning at Chase Corner Ministries. Some were packing food into grocery carts, some were transferring the food from the carts to the vehicles, others were prepared to load walkers, portable toilets and other medical devices that were also being given away.

Throughout the summer, groups have come to Rutherford County from Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota, New Jersey, and other states. This is the first week that saw a group from North Carolina.

According to Chase Corner Ministries Executive Director Cynthia Cooper, the Youthworks teams have been a godsend.

“They have been absolutely fantastic,” Cooper said Wednesday. “They are all wonderful, sweet kids with great attitudes and servant hearts.”

Cooper said the Youthworks kids, who are primarily high school and middle school students, have been especially helpful because they give the regular volunteers a break.

“Our regular volunteers are mostly retired people. And they have worked so hard over the past year, especially during COVID. We are very glad to have Youthworks here,” Cooper continued. “These students have also been able to do things that we haven’t had time to do, like clean out and organize our basement area, which we plan to open up later this fall. Our work will be easier and more efficient this fall, because of the work that is being done now.”

Matt Price is youth minister at Hayworth Wesleyan Church in High Point. He was leader of the Youthworks team this week.

Asked about his impressions of Rutherford County, he said it is similar to other places where he has worked, like rural Alabama.

“There are places like this everywhere. Rural places where there are people in need,” he said.

The Youthworks teams spend their evenings housed at Spindale United Methodist Church. Each group of youths stay in Rutherford County for a week.

“The Spindale church has been great,” he said.

Working at various organizations that focus on people in need has shown the Youthworks participants a side of life that many don’t ordinarily see.

“This experience has been eye-opening for them,” he said. “They have interacted with people at the food pantries, and on the housing worksites. They see that there are real people, real families who are in need of help. You can’t always tell by someone’s appearance what their needs may be.”

Price says this has been a learning experience for his youth.

“I want them to see that everyone can, at one point, be that person in need,” Price continued. “And there is no shame in seeking help if you need help.”

Eli Kingdon is among the youth from High Point.

“This is very different from what I would normally be doing in the summer,” he said. “But, I thought that perhaps God was leading me to do this.”

Emma Strickland was also among the group.

“People need help, and I want to help,” Strickland said. “We need to show love to everyone.”

Strickland said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she learned her youth group would be coming to Rutherford County.

“But, it has been amazing, and really fun,” she said. “I’ve definitely grown closer to the people in my group.”

Callee Mitchell is also a part of the High Point Youthworks team, along with her younger brother Levi. Their mother is one of the adult chaperones.

“This is our first real mission trip,” she said. “We thought it would be good to start out somewhere that is not too far from home.”

Daisy Fesperman said, “I have loved every second of it. This is a great opportunity to serve others. I’ve learned a lot about ministry.”

The Youthworks teams are making an impression on the staff and regular volunteers.

“My heart breaks when they leave. They are such hard workers,” said Crystal Tate, thrift store manager at Chase Corner Ministries.

Cooper says nonprofits should embrace the opportunity to host Youthworks when given the chance.

“For it to work out well, we have to be flexible, patient, welcoming, and have specific plans in place...things for them to do,” Cooper said. “Planning is essential.”

“I am grateful that we have had them here this summer,” Cooper added. “Youthworks has been a blessing to us.”

Woman, 30, dies in head-on crash
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FOREST CITY — A woman was killed and another critically injured in a head-on crash.

Chasity Michele Putnam, 30, of Cliffside, was killed shortly before noon Monday when the 1995 Honda she was driving veered into the path of an oncoming 2000 Toyota pickup truck traveling southbound on Hudlow Road, according to Forest City police reports.

Putnam was pronounced dead at the scene. Her passenger, Morgan Nicole Keeter, 28, of Forest City, was airlifted to Spartanburg Medical Center, reports show.

Tommy Taylor, Putnam’s stepfather, said Putnam had earlier left her job as a convenience store clerk when she picked up Keeter and turned onto Hudlow Road near Old Wagy Road. Shortly afterward, she crossed the centerline.

Ricky Lancaster, 66, of Forest City, struck Putnam’s Honda, with the brunt of the impact crushing the driver’s front.

“The driver (Putnam) was pinned in the vehicle under the steering wheel and the dash of the vehicle,” the report stated. “The vehicle’s left front corner was pushed all the way into the driver’s side, resting on the driver’s body.”

The police officer’s report said it was obvious Putnam was dead as a result of her injuries.

Meanwhile, Keeter was pinned underneath the dash and airbag of the car. She was conscious, but had no recollection of how the crash happened, the report stated.

Taylor said a neighbor, Judy Martin, was among the first on the scene of the crash. He said she stated Keeter could be heard screaming from the wreckage. When she checked on Putnam, Martin said she was struggling to breath before succumbing to her injuries seconds later, Taylor added.

“She (Martin) said Chasity was trying to talk. She told her help was on the way and that the Lord is with her,” Taylor said. “She (Putnam) didn’t die by herself. The family thanks her (Martin) a lot for being there.”

Reports show Lancaster told police that he unsuccessfully attempted to swerve away from impact.

Taylor described his stepdaughter, who attended CHASE High School, as a lover of children.

“If she had a hobby, it was taking care of children,” he said. “And children loved her. She was a child magnet.”

Taylor called Putnam a caring person that began within her family.

“She was a real caring person, helping take care of her siblings while growing up,” Taylor said.

Federal grant funds new computers for libraries
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SPINDALE — The Rutherford County Library System has been awarded a $23,193 grant to purchase new public computer workstations to address the digital needs of all Rutherford County residents.

Funding for the new equipment was supported by grant proceeds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the federal Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

These federal funds are investments that help libraries deliver relevant and up-to-date services for their communities. At Rutherford County Library System, the LSTA grant will allow the library to purchase 18 desktops and nine laptop computers to be spread among the county, Haynes and Mountains libraries.

“We are thrilled to receive these funds as they will allow us to provide brand new computer workstations in all three of our locations, which is something we haven’t been able to do in close to 10 years,” said April Young, library director.

In discussing the need for new computers, Library IT Specialist Kenneth Odom said, “The most significant problem with our current public workstations is that they are all running the unsupported Windows 7 operating system, and are therefore vulnerable to security and privacy concerns. Providing our community with equipment running Windows 10 will provide better protection from such exploits and allow the library to provide training on how to use Windows 10, as well as other modern software that builds on the Windows 10 platform.”

Rutherford County Library System received one of the 47 competitive grants for fiscal year 2021-2022 awarded to North Carolina libraries from this year’s federal allotment of slightly more than $4.8 million. The LSTA grant program administered by the State Library of North Carolina funds library projects across the state that advance excellence and promote equity by strengthening capacity, expanding access, and community engagement among the state’s libraries.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. Through the LSTA Grants to States program IMLS provides funds to State Library agencies using a population-based formula. State libraries may use the appropriation to support statewide initiatives and services; they may also distribute the funds through competitive subgrants to public and academic libraries. To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.imls.gov.

For more information about North Carolina’s LSTA program visit the State Library of North Carolina’s LSTA web page at https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/services-libraries/grants-libraries/lsta-grant-information or contact the State Library’s Federal Programs Consultant at 919-814-6796.