At the Tuesday, Feb. 16, meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, members will vote to accept an additional $1.75 million grant for the Safety and Justice Challenge from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Early data suggests monoclonal antibody therapies may reduce hospitalizations in people at high risk for severe COVID-19 complications by 70%. Limited supplies are now available in Western North Carolina.
Meditation is hot, and the connection among the mental, emotional and physical challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and a surge of interest in the practice is clear. Still, the benefits of meditation are not news to local therapists, practitioners and teachers.
Even with health insurance and ample provider availability, fat discrimination by providers can be a barrier to care for overweight people.
“Human beings just aren’t designed to be isolated in perpetuity,” says Rhonda Cox, executive vice president and chief population health officer at Vaya Health. But that’s exactly what many have had to endure over the past 10 months, and the strain is showing up in the region’s mental health system.
Research from China, Italy and the United States indicates that anywhere from 50% to 80% of those who contract COVID-19 still experience symptoms of what’s come to be called “long COVID” many months after the initial infection with the virus. Xpress talks to patients and health care providers to understand how the phenomenon is affecting lives in Western North Carolina.
New policies from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction recommend all elementary schools open for in-person learning under Plan A, which does not require 6-foot social distancing between students and teachers. Middle and high schools are encouraged to reopen in-person under Plan B, which requires 6-foot social distancing at all times.
Telehealth was already on the rise pre-pandemic, but COVID-19 has made it the new normal. Patients are ditching crowded waiting rooms en masse, opting to talk to providers from the privacy of their home.
Local comedian, radio personality and podcaster Michele Scheve, who received a kidney transplant from childhood friend Marie Smith Lacey last year, shares the tale of the unlikely donation. “There is nothing I can ever really do to repay her,” Scheve says.
“Our biggest problem right now is that millions of people want a shot, but we only have hundreds of thousands of doses,” said Gov. Roy Cooper at a Jan. 27 press conference. “There will be a time when everyone can get one, and we want to make sure everyone can access it as quickly as possible.”
As alcohol consumption and stress eating increase for many locals, so do unwanted pounds.
Market managers and vendors at the markets participating in the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Double SNAP initiative, which matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits dollar-for-dollar on edible items, saw SNAP transactions nearly triple from 2019 to 2020, and 80% of responding vendors said they’d experienced sales growth due to the program.
Retired Rear Adm. Richard Houck of Transylvania County, attorney Fred Jones of Macon County and Bishop José McLoughlin of Henderson County will join the board of Western North Carolina’s largest nonprofit as Buncombe County’s Dr. John Ball departs. The change fulfills requirements stipulated in N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein’s approval of Mission Health’s sale to HCA Healthcare.
COVID-19 vaccination initiatives announced by the county include a drive-thru site for second doses at A. C. Reynolds High School and a waitlist for first-dose vaccination appointments. The waitlist will replace a system that requires residents to schedule appointments directly as vaccines became available.
When Emma Strickland learned she was pregnant with her second child, she started looking for an alternative to a hospital birth. She found it at the WNC Birth Center. The center is open during the COVID pandemic but has had to scale back on some of its related services. Ironically, that’s led to a shortage of income at a time when women like Strickland find themselves increasingly drawn to a birth center.
“We recognize that it’s not a perfect system and the demand is quite high,” said Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County’s public health director, at a Jan. 12 special meeting called to address local vaccination efforts. “We just want to reiterate that we will not have sufficient supply of vaccine for a very long time, so it is likely that we will still hear frustration and concerns about being able to get an appointment.”
In his new book, local author Ryan Bush builds on the philosophies of Buddhism and Stoicism to describe a system for rewiring the brain’s response to external events, a method he dubs psychitecture.
Of the 1,675 doses of COVID-19 vaccine Buncombe County had been allotted by North Carolina state officials through Dec. 28, the county had given just over 1,000 doses through Jan. 4. Only health care workers, first responders and long-term care facility residents will be able to receive the shot until Monday, Jan. 11.
County health officials will move into phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccination process the week of Monday, Jan. 11. But as the vaccine rollout gets underway, residents should prepare for limited availability.
In a year marked by a constant churn of updating numbers — COVID-19 dashboards, economic forecasts, political polls — Assistant Editor Daniel Walton took comfort in stories that were able to report more deeply on some of the issues facing Western North Carolina.
Writer Molly Horak reflects on her 2020 reporting.