Local News

Preparing for Coronavirus

06 allie smith rQ5Ysu8zo5s unsplashCoronavirus is a common virus that can infect your nose, sinuses or upper throat. It spreads much like cold viruses. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous, but some are. After a December 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization identified a new type of coronavirus, which can be fatal. The outbreak of COVID-19 quickly moved from China around the world. It spreads the same way other coronaviruses do, through person-to-person contact.

The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to other upper respiratory infections, including runny nose, coughing, sore throat, and sometimes a fever. In most cases, you won’t know whether you have a coronavirus or a cold. You could get lab tests, including nose and throat cultures and blood work, to find out whether a coronavirus caused the cold, but there’s no reason to. The test results wouldn’t change how you treat your symptoms, which typically go away in a few days. If coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract, it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease or people with weakened immune systems.

The Cumberland County Department of Public Health is working closely with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as well as regional and local partners to prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 infections in the state. There are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Carolina.

“We are prepared to quickly identify, monitor and respond to cases if they arise,” said Dr. Jennifer Green, Cumberland County health director. “We are in regular communication with Fort Bragg, Fayetteville Regional Airport, local healthcare providers, local schools and institutions of higher learning to monitor COVID-19 information and briefings,” she said.

Our health department’s senior leadership and epidemiology teams take part in weekly calls with North Carolina’s Department of Health & Human Services about status updates and guidance. Cumberland County is working with other health departments in the region and Fort Bragg to conduct exercises in the event of an outbreak. Health officials recommend that everyone take precautions to protect themselves and others from the spread of respiratory illnesses. They encourage individuals, families, institutions and agencies to take routine precautions:

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Encourage employees and visitors to get annual flu shots. Use tissues when sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose and discard the tissues after one use.

Clean common surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches and keyboards.

Employees should not return to work until they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine, even if they feel better.

People experiencing symptoms such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath and have visited China or had close contact with someone who is suspected of having COVID-19 should seek immediate medical attention. Before you go to the doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and report your symptoms and recent travel history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone six or older get flu vaccines each season. The vaccine is available at the Health Department’s Immunization Clinic at 1235 Ramsey St. The North Carolina Division of Public Health has established a call line at 1-866-462-3821 to address general questions.

Primary election results

05 2020 primary resultsUpset victories are not unusual in local elections. This month’s primaries resulted in an outcome few observers anticipated. Longtime State Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland, was defeated by political newcomer Kimberly Hardy, an instructor at Fayetteville State University. Floyd has represented Cumberland County House District 43 for 12 years. Before getting involved in local politics, Floyd was director of Fayetteville’s Human Relations Department. Hardy came to Fayetteville four years ago to accept a post as an assistant professor of social work at Fayetteville State.

Hardy will face former Republican Cumberland County Commissioner Diane Wheatley in the November general election. Wheatley defeated Clarence W. Goins Jr. She has also served on the Cumberland County Board of Education. The realigned 43rd legislative district covers all of Cumberland County east of the Cape Fear River, the Linden area and precincts in eastern, central and southern Fayetteville.

In the local 44th House District race, incumbent Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, won his primary election bid, defeating Terry Johnson with 52% of the vote. Under recent redistricting, the 44th District covers much of central Fayetteville and the west side to the Hoke County line.

Francis Jackson won the Democratic nomination in the 45th District and will face incumbent John Szoka, R-Cumberland, in November. Jackson is a professor at Fayetteville Technical Community College and a 25-year resident of Hope Mills.

The only one of Cumberland County’s 10 District Court judges up for election this year, Lou Olivera, won his reelection bid with nearly 64% of the votes cast. Olivera has served on the bench since 2012 and beat local attorney Brenee Orozco. Olivera is unopposed in November. Olivera is the only combat military veteran in Cumberland County’s district court system.

Former state legislator Cal Cunningham won Cumberland County in the statewide U.S. Senate Democratic primary, beating four other candidates. He faces first-term Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC, on Nov. 3. Incumbent Cumberland County commissioners.

Michael Boose and Jimmy Keefe won the Republican primary for the three District 2 seats up for election this year. Ron Ross won the third spot. They will face County Commission Chairman Marshall Faircloth and Democrats Karla Icaza De Austin and Toni Stewart in the general election. District 2 covers the eastern and southwestern sections of Cumberland County and is the so-called majority residential district. District 1 was created as a mostly minority district with two seats. The other two positions on the county board are elected at large.

Sixty-four-and-a-half percent of North Carolina’s eligible voters went to the polls. That is 13th best of the 50 states.   The highest voter turnout was in the state of Minnesota, where 74.10% of eligible residents voted in the presidential election. The state with the next highest voter turnout was New Hampshire, where over 71% of the eligible population showed up at the polls. Maine and Colorado were also at the top of the list for highest voter turnout. When it comes to the lowest voter turnout, Hawaii ranked last with a turnout of just 42.3%.

82nd Airborne paratroopers coming home

04 01 Paratroopers passing in reviewThe U.S. has begun bringing troops home from Afghanistan. The plan is to reduce the U.S. troop presence to 8,600 within 135 days from March 1, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

The 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan last summer. We were “eager and ready to work alongside our Afghan and coalition partners toward mission success in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel,” said Col. Art Sellers, commander of the 3rd Brigade.

Esper directed Army Gen. Austin Scott Miller, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, “to get moving” on drawing down U.S. forces from about 12,000 to 8,600 under the U.S.-Taliban peace accord.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley cautioned that the U.S.-Taliban agreement does not guarantee that “there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence. To think it’s going to go to zero immediately — that is not going to be the case.” Milley added that the redeployment is an important step toward the eventual full withdrawal of U.S. forces, possibly within 14 months.

The U.S. will be watching the actions of the Taliban closely to verify their commitment to the peace deal, Esper said.

04 02 Robert Wilkie 2Fayetteville leader under investigation

The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation into allegations that Secretary Robert Wilkie tried to dig up dirt on an aide to a Congressman after she said she had been sexually assaulted at the VA’s Washington hospital. Wilkie is a Fayetteville native who grew up here.

Inspector General Michael Missal told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that he has decided to conduct a full inquiry following a preliminary review of Wilkie’s conduct last fall. “This matter is a high priority for our office,” Missal wrote in letters to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., and six senators led by Patty Murray, D-Wash., who joined the chairman in demanding an investigation.

Wilkie has denied making inquiries about the woman, Andrea Goldstein. She serves as Takano’s senior policy adviser on female veteran issues. She is also an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, as Wilkie once was.

Takano’s staff received information this month from a senior VA official that Wilkie worked to discredit Goldstein’s credibility after she reported that a man groped and propositioned her in the main lobby of the agency’s District of Columbia Medical Center. The American Legion, one of the largest veteran groups, took the unusual step of calling for an investigation into the Wilkie allegations, saying they “bring into question the ethical suitability of the leadership at VA’s highest levels.”

Rabies vaccines available

04 03 Rabies clincsFrom March 24 until April 16, rabies vaccination clinics for dogs and cats will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m. Fourteen clinics at various local sites throughout the county are scheduled. The cost is $10 per animal. North Carolina law requires that the owner of every dog and cat over four months of age shall have the animal vaccinated against rabies.

In Cumberland County, the owners of dogs and cats that have not been vaccinated are subject to a civil penalty of $100. To remain immunized, a dog or cat must receive two rabies vaccinations one year apart, then one vaccination every three years after that. “Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations will prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife and thereby prevent possible transmission to your family or other people,” said Environmental Health Director Adrian Jones.

For information on rabies site locations, call the Environmental Health Division of the Cumberland County Public Health Department at 910-433-3600 or Animal Control at 910-321-6852.

Emergency field exercise

04 04 train derailedCumberland County Emergency Services will take part in a disaster preparedness exercise with other local agencies March 11 at the Cargill plant, located at 1754 River Rd. in Eastover. The exercise will center on a staged transportation-related hazardous materials incident and involve emergency responders who will be evaluated during the exercise. The goal is to better prepare for potential incidents that could pose a threat to the community.

“It’s about getting better and being as prepared as possible for anything that can occur on a moment’s notice,” said Gene Booth, Cumberland County emergency services director. “We appreciate the opportunity to be able to offer this real-world training scenario to these responders and to evaluate what we did and make improvements where we find the opportunity to do so.”

The exercise will take place from 9 a.m. to noon and is funded by a hazardous materials emergency preparedness grant.  Cumberland County applied for the grant through its Local Emergency Planning Committee. In addition to Cumberland County Emergency Services, agencies involved include the Fayetteville Fire Department, Regional Response Team #3; Cape Fear Valley Health System; Hepaco, Eastover Fire Department; and Fort Bragg Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives team.
 
Mid-Carolina Senior Games

04 05 senior gamesTalented athletes and artists, 50 years of age and older are invited to participate in the 34th annual Mid-Carolina Senior Games for fun, fellowship and fitness. March 18 is the registration deadline. To register, call Tracy Honeycutt at 910-321-4191, extension 27, or email thoneycutt@mccog.org.

Athletic contests include basketball, softball toss, badminton, table tennis, bowling, bocce, discus, shuffleboard and many more. Nonathletic silver arts events include painting, drawing, photography, sewing, needlework, woodwork, essay writing and poetry. Volunteers also are needed to help at the games.

Walk to combat sexual assault in Cumberland County

 10 walk a while in her shoesRape Crisis of Cumberland County presents the 10th annual “Walk Awhile in Her Shoes” event Friday, March 13, at 7 p.m. at The Capitol Building on Hay Street in downtown Fayetteville.

 “This is the 10th year of our fundraising event, and the purpose is to bring awareness to sexual assault in our community,” said Deanne Gerdes, executive director of Rape Crisis of Cumberland County. 

“There will be men standing up against sexual assault, and we have lots of victims who will be out there witnessing it. That is huge for us.”

Rape Crisis of Cumberland County is an invaluable resource for victims of domestic violence. “Last year we had 672 victims of sexual assault in Cumberland County, and we provide services from a crisis hotline, responding to the emergency room, responding to law enforcement and going to court,” said Gerdes. “If the victim chooses not to report anything, we will support that decision as well.”

 Gerdes added the organization hosts support groups and provides individual counseling and lots of other resources. All of their services are free, and they are not contingent of this report. “A big reason why we are so confidential is because active duty soldiers who choose not to get services on Fort Bragg can come down here,” said Gerdes. “We don’t charge any insurance companies, to include Tricare, and we do that specifically to keep them 100% confidential so that they are comfortable and there is no paper trail.”

 Another important role that Rape Crisis of Cumberland County has is to assist with sexual assault cold cases. “We do cold cases, too, so we are part of the Fayetteville Police Department’s cold case unit,” said Gerdes. “We have an advocate that handles all of our backlog issues that we had in Cumberland County and we have an advocate that advocates for those victims as well.

 “We are part of the SAKI grant and we make the notifications to the victim about the status of their rape kit,” said Gerdes. “It could be tested, some of them were disposed of years ago, there may be a DNA match. … It just depends what that rape kit looks like.”

Walk Awhile in Her Shoes is a couple of blocks and will begin at The Capitol Building and end at Segra Stadium. Men will wear red, high-heeled shoes as they walk. It’s a light-hearted way to make a positive impact for a serious cause.

Participants can rent shoes from Rape Crisis, but they are not required to participate. “We actually do have a high heel shoe up to size 15 for men to wear, but we also have men who support the event and don’t wear the high heels, and we are fine with that,” said Gerdes. “God bless our military with their bad knees and their bad backs and someone like that who is uncomfortable. We appreciate their efforts of walking in the event,” said Gerdes.

 Gerdes recommends preregistering to make sure they have the man’s shoe size on hand. “We sure would like to see Bill Bowman in some red high heels on this 10th Anniversary fundraiser,” said Gerdes.

 Registration begins at 6 p.m. The cost is $25. For more information call 910-485-7273.

Law enforcement faces wage disparity

08 N1805P37006CThe national average wage for a police officer in the United States, according to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $29.45 per hour, or a salary of $61,270 per year. But that can fluctuate. Generally, police officers employed in northern states have a higher chance of receiving larger paychecks. Officers in the highest-paying states all received salaries well above the national average, while officers in the lowest-paying states were far behind that benchmark. Some states, including North Carolina, have salaries well below the national average.

Research indicated there is a variety of contradictory information among reliable law enforcement sources regarding wages. For purposes of this article, Up & Coming Weekly relied on the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Tar Heel state is among the 10 lowest-paying states for law enforcement wages.  The average wage is $42,980. This salary falls below the national median household income of $53,889. Police patrol officers are usually in higher demand than sheriff’s deputies or correctional officers. There were 5,738 job openings for patrol officers posted online in 2016, and the BLS reports that job opportunities are greater in areas with larger populations.

The starting pay for an inexperienced Fayetteville police officer is significantly less than the entry-level salary for a Cumberland County deputy sheriff, $34,489 versus $39,237. The starting wage for detention officers at the county jail is now $36,500, $2,000 a year more than city police officers.

“The wage disparity for the city of Fayetteville P.D. has always been a big concern for me since joining the police department,” said Police Chief Gina Hawkins. “I have been in discussions with the city manager in reviewing the salaries for sworn personnel.”

Noncompetitive wages have cost the city. Hawkins said 59 officers left the police department in 2019, significantly more than the yearly average. “On any given year, we prepare for approximately 38 officers to leave the organization,” Hawkins said. She added that retirements, leaving for other jurisdictions, federal/state opportunities, disciplinary issues, resignations, personal issues, contribute to turnover. The current city police department authorized strength of sworn officers is 434.

Candidates looking to stand out from the competition may want to consider pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Being able to speak a second language can also be a big plus for police departments that serve diverse communities. When recruiting, Hawkins said, “We look at more than just salaries and starting wages. We look at many other retention incentives such as (a) housing incentive that was approved by City Council in revitalized areas in city limits.”

Additional pay for a college education is available in the city. An officer with a Bachelor’s degree earns an additional $2,500 per year. Those with an associate’s degree receive an extra $1,250 a year.

The city of Fayetteville isn’t very competitive with other towns and cities within driving distance. Starting pay at communities with openings for police officers in Southern Pines is $37,300 a year; Raleigh $41,000; Apex $43,000; Cary $45,600; and Garner $45,000.

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