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Field hospital now accepting patients
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The 30-bed field hospital in Lenoir that was designed to help local health care systems deal with the spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations received its first patient Thursday.

Health officials in other parts of the country also facing surging hospitalizations wish they could get similar help, an official with the group that built the field hospital said.

The humanitarian relief group Samaritan’s Purse built the field hospital next to Caldwell Memorial Hospital over the past week to accept overflow patients with COVID-19 from Caldwell and hospitals in Catawba, Burke and Watauga counties.

Edward Graham, assistant to the vice president of programs and government relations for Samaritan’s Purse, said that people from other states have approached him to ask for field hospitals, but Samaritan’s Purse has the capability to open only two for COVID-19. In addition to Lenoir, the group is opening one in Los Angeles.

“We’ve had requests from multiple states — South Carolina, Texas, California, … places here in North Carolina,” he said.

Graham, who spoke at an opening ceremony on behalf of his father, Franklin Graham, said that he is originally from Boone, where Samaritan’s Purse is based, so Lenoir is like home.

“To see the community affected the way it has, it breaks my heart, so for the medical staff here, the nurses, especially, who have been working so hard to save lives, we have a resource that we think could help,” he said.

Laura Easton, chief executive officer of Caldwell UNC Health Care, said that there were 104 patients in Caldwell Memorial Hospital on Thursday, and 40 of them had COVID-19. The hospital has had as many as 46 patients with COVID and has room for 57.

For the past 10 days, Easton said, the hospital has been able to keep its numbers level, but they are projected to climb again before peaking around mid-February, Easton said.

Easton said that across the five hospitals served by the field hospital, 36% of the patients have COVID-19, and in some hospitals 46% of the patients have COVID-19.

“So it’s not just Caldwell, it’s definitely the region,” she said.

Other hospitals that also are part of the UNC Health system, which is based in Chapel Hill, are in similar shape.

“In fact, I’ve had many calls from other hospitals … asking for advice on how to get support from someone like Samaritan’s Purse, because they’re in the same boat,” she said.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

Forecast prompts schools to go remote

Friday will be a remote learning day for all Caldwell County Schools due to a forecast of snow, and the school system’s before- and after-school child care program will be closed.

A winter storm warning went into effect Thursday at 7 p.m., and snow was expected to begin late, the National Weather Service said. By the time snowfall ends Friday night, accumulation could total 2-5 inches, the forecast said.

The school system announced Thursday that no in-person classes would be held Friday and students and teachers would switch to remote learning.

Earlier this year the school system began using remote learning days rather than canceling school because of bad weather in order to cut down on the need to schedule makeup days.

It also helps teachers keep consistency in their curriculum across classes that meet on different days. On the school system’s current schedule, students rotate days of in-person and remote learning, and about half of the students in grades six–13 were already scheduled to work remotely today.

The National Weather Service’s winter storm warning will last until midnight Friday. Temperatures falling into the 20s will refreeze melted snow and could cause slippery road conditions to continue into the weekend.

Report: Teen who was shot fired first
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An 18-year-old who was shot and killed outside a convenience store on Tuesday had fired at another man first and wounded him, the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office said.

Cedrick Jovon Harshaw of Mask Mobile Home Park in Sawmills initially came under investigation after a report from Bolick’s Tire on Monday that Harshaw threatened an employee there with a gun, according to a press release.

An employee told law enforcement officers that he had asked Harshaw to leave after Harshaw approached customers asking for money and transportation. Harshaw then pulled out a gun, the employee said.

Deputies who went to investigate were unable to find Harshaw, who was described as a Black man wearing a red jacket and black pants.

The sheriff’s office press release said that on Tuesday shortly before 11:30 a.m., an employee of Bolick’s Tire saw Harshaw entering the Market Basket and told a coworker.

The coworker went to the Market Basket, and two other employees followed. When they got there, Harshaw and the employee he had threatened on Monday began fighting but were separated. A Market Basket employee asked all of them to leave.

People who were not involved in the incident told investigators that when Harshaw left the Market Basket, he pulled out a handgun and fired multiple shots, the press release said. Two of the rounds struck a Bolick’s Tire employee who had not been involved in the fight, and that employee pulled out a handgun and fired back, striking Harshaw.

Another Bolick’s Tire employee also pulled out a gun and fired but missed, the press release said.

Harshaw later died.

The Bolick’s employee who was shot was treated and later released from medical care.

Nobody had been charged Thursday. The District Attorney’s Office will determine whether charges will be filed, the press release said.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

Schools keep policy on extended medical leave
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The Caldwell County Schools continue to offer extra paid leave for absences related to COVID-19 even though a federal law requiring it expired at the end of 2020.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed by Congress in March, entitled a worker to up to 80 hours of paid leave if the person became ill from COVID-19, or 12 weeks of paid leave to take care of a child whose school or day care was closed because of coronavirus precautions.

But the act expired Dec. 31, potentially leaving workers to use up their standard sick days for COVID-19-related absences.

The school system had 47 employees absent because of quarantine protocols when school resumed Monday for the second semester, according to personnel data provided by the school system. The employees are all at different stages within their required two-week quarantine period, meaning their returns will be staggered.

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Bill Griffin said that he also expects more employees to go out on leave.

But Griffin said he and his staff worked through the last months of the year combing through the system’s existing leave policies and they found a way to continue the general benefits of the FFCRA even though the act itself expired.

Extending the leave policy does not increase the financial consequences for the school system because the FFCRA did not provide any money to compensate employers for the additional leave provided to employees, he said.

“That was a misconception for people that the (school system) was getting paid” to provide the extra leave, he said. “It still came out of our budget, but it just allowed us not to charge a person any of their leave for being sick or quarantined for coronavirus.”

Reporter Garrett Stell can be reached at 828-610-8723