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Cooper moves to end North Carolina's statewide mask mandate (copy)

RALEIGH — North Carolina health officials and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced that they will eliminate the statewide mask mandate and ease masking requirements in schools.

The new recommendations urge K-8 schools to require masks for students and staff while they are indoors but allows fully vaccinated high school students and staff to be unmasked.

The mask mandate expires at 5 p.m. on July 30, which is the same time the updated school reopening guidance takes effect.

Cooper and the state’s top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, repeatedly declined to offer specifics on how they’d enforce the recommendations and crack down on districts that move to let all students return to the classroom without a face covering.

“We know masks work,” Cooper said in a news conference. “The health and safety and ability of our students to learn in person depends on school leaders following this guidance.”

The North Carolina Association of Educators, the state’s largest lobbying group representing teachers, called the governor’s decision to eliminate the statewide mask mandate “very poorly timed.” It added that the decision “flies in the face of recommendations” from federal health officials.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in North Carolina amid the spread of the more lethal delta variant. Cohen said 94% of new cases and hospitalizations in the state were among unvaccinated individuals.

Making matters worse is the fact that fewer and fewer North Carolinians are coming in for a COVID-19 vaccine. Cohen said just 24% of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated. Of the North Carolina residents 12 or older who are eligible for a shot, 54% are fully vaccinated, according to state data.

)Even so, a group of researchers released a report last month showing minimal transmission within North Carolina schools.

Throughout Wednesday’s news conference, Cooper and Cohen found themselves trying to strike a balance between communicating the seriousness of the new variant and the need to entities to implement their own masking policies.

“We are entering a new phase of this pandemic,” Cooper said. “We’ve gotten a lot of people vaccinated.”

Cooper defended his decision to end the statewide mask mandate and said he’s spoken with several governors who have already done so. He said North Carolina is working to “turn the final corner of this disease” by boosting vaccinations.

In the last two weeks, cases have more than tripled and hospitalizations have gone up over 69%. Asked what inning of the ballgame North Carolina is in at this stage of the pandemic, Cooper replied, “We’d have to sit down and study that issue.”

Fixing Fowler Alley: ECDI gets $65K Lowe's grant for project

Thanks to a $65,000 grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement, a downtown alley project lodged on the back burner because of a lack of funding has been moved to the front burner.

Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. has long wanted to create a third alley space downtown behind the former Fowler Building to connect with Pailin’s Alley and Ives Alley. But having the money to complete project has been a major stumbling block.

The stumbling block just got removed.

ECDI Executive Director Deborah Malenfant announced Tuesday that the organization has been awarded a $65,000 Lowe’s 100 Hometowns Grant that will be used to turn the blighted alley between the former Fowler Building on Water Street and Big Boss Burrito’s on North Poindexter Street into Fowler Alley.

Work on the Fowler Alley project is expected to begin by the end of next week and be completed by Halloween.

“We do have a tight time frame,” Malenfant said. “(Lowe’s) is asking projects be completed by Oct. 31.”

Elizabeth City was one of 100 communities across the country selected from over 2,200 applications to receive a Lowe’s 100 Hometowns Grant. The grant program is part of Lowe’s Centennial celebration.

“It’s a significant project and this is an alley way that we have talked with this board numerous times about,” Malenfant said, referring to the ECDI Board of Directors. “We were not sure where we would get the money or the in-kind donations to make that happen.”

Malenfant said the project will be another step in making downtown an entertainment and economic hub for the area.

“The space for this project is blighted, ugly, and does not represent the surrounding restored properties at all,” Malenfant said. “As we come out of the pandemic and begin spending time in our businesses again, outdoor spaces where people can socially distance will become more and more important.”

The project will include excavation and site work, the installation of brick pavers and concrete, new paint, seating and artificial turf. The alley will have Edison overhead lighting and multiple public art pieces and safety features are planned.

The local Lowe’s Home Improvement store will provide as many of the needed products as possible as well as some other services such as construction assistance to turn the alley into a community space.

Malenfant said there are also plans to hold a “Red-Vest Day” to attract community volunteers to help with the project. Lowe’s employees wear red vests.

“We will have some people out there to do some of the work that is volunteer-oriented,” Malenfant said.

Officials expect the $65,000 to cover the costs of the project but Malenfant is confident that property owners who stand to benefit from the alley’s upgrade to assist if more resources are needed. Part of the alley is also owned by the city.

“We will be asking for buy-in from them,” Malenfant said. “It could be monetary or in-kind. Things like painting or power washing their building to help with the elements of the project.”

ECDI Board of Directors Chairman Spiros Giannakopoulos said the grant gives the city national exposure.

“This grant allows us to complete yet another very worthwhile community space project for downtown and it recognizes that Elizabeth City is competitive on a national scale,” Giannakopoulos said.

Jackson challenges Brothers' residency in Hertford

HERTFORD — The Perquimans County Board of Elections will hold a hearing Thursday on a town councilor’s challenge of a candidate’s qualification to run for a town council seat this fall.

Hertford Town Councilman Quentin Jackson filed the challenge against the candidacy of Connie Brothers, claiming Brothers does not meet the residency requirement to run for a council seat in the town’s November election.

“She doesn’t live at the residence she stated,” Jackson claimed in the election challenge paperwork he filed July 16 with the Perquimans elections board.

The board is slated to hear Jackson’s challenge Thursday at 1 p.m.

Brothers declined to comment Wednesday, saying she would make the statements she needs to make at the official hearing.

“I will say what I need to say at the hearing tomorrow,” Brothers said Wednesday.

The Perquimans County Board of Elections, will conduct the hearing at 1 p.m. in the auditorium of the Perquimans Extension Office, which is attached to the Board of Elections Office at 601 South Edenton Road Street in Hertford.

Elections Director Kathy Treiber said everyone required to be notified of the hearing — the challenger, the candidate challenged, other candidates on the November ballot and the party chairs for the county’s two main political parties — were notified of Thursday’s hearing. A notice of the hearing was also posted on the Perquimans Board of Elections website.

Jackson and fellow incumbent Frank Norman III are seeking re-election to the Hertford Town Council in the town election in November. Four others are also seeking the two seats that will be on the ballot: Brothers, a minister and community activist; Gracie Felton, a former member of the town council; Sandra Anderson, a retired U.S. Senate staffer, and Borders, a retired businesswoman.

Edenton man gets 10 years in fed prison for ammo charge

WILMINGTON — An Edenton man was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on Wednesday following his guilty plea to having ammunition while a convicted felon.

Daniel Lee Herrar, 38, was sentenced to 120 months by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II in federal court in Wilmington, according to G. Norman Acker, III, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Herrar had pleaded guilty to possession of ammunition while a felon in April, Acker said.

According to a press release, the Edenton Police Department responded to a shots fired report at the ABC Store on North Broad Street. Acker’s press release doesn’t state when.

Surveillance video from the store showed Herrar and another man in a truck engaging in a verbal altercation, Acker said. Herrar is then shown pulling a handgun and firing at the man in the truck before he drove away.

Herrar was located at a residence a short distance from the ABC store and arrested.

Herrar was charged with possession of ammunition while a convicted felon because he has prior felony convictions for possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine and assault inflicting serious injury. He also has at least 35 misdemeanor convictions, Acker said.

The Elizabeth City and Edenton police departments investigated the shooting incident.

Man sentenced to 60 months probation after pleading guilty to sex offense involving child


A Pasquotank County man must serve five years of supervised probation after pleading guilty to a sex offense involving a child.

Michael Thomas Gilmartin, 41, was sentenced to 60 months supervised probation after pleading guilty to a count of indecent liberties with a child, during an appearance in Pasquotank County Superior Court on Monday, according to court documents.

At the time of his arrest on Dec. 14, 2018, Gilmartin was listed as living in the 200 block of Betty Drive, Elizabeth City. He was arrested following his indictment by a grand jury and released from custody after posting a $35,000 secured bond.

According to a copy of the grand jury indictment, Gilmartin’s victim was under the age of 16 at the time of the offense.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett sentenced Gilmartin to a minimum of 16 months and a maximum of 29 months in prison, but suspended the sentence, ordering Gilmartin instead to serve 60 months of supervised probation.

In addition to probation, Gilmartin must also register as a sex offender, and according to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation he did so on Wednesday. The judgment forbids Gilmartin from sharing the same residence with minor children, and from any communication with or being in the presence of or on the same premises as the victim.

He also must provide a DNA sample and submit to random warrantless searches of his person, vehicle and residence “for the detection of controlled substances or contraband and materials prohibited by his judgment.”

Additionally, he must pay $713 in fees to the Pasquotank Clerk of Superior Court, plus a probation supervision fee as determined by his assigned probation officer.

According to the court’s findings, Gilmartin has not been classified as a “sexually violent predator” and is not a repeat offender.

Search continues for two missing in downed helicopter

The U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies continued their search on Wednesday for two persons who went missing after the private helicopter they were aboard went down in the Albemarle Sound on Monday.

Petty Officer Steve Lehmann of the U.S. Coast Guard said there were no new details or developments about the missing persons or the helicopter.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the crash, appeared to suggest Wednesday that a body had been found in the wreckage. But Lehmann said no bodies have been recovered and the search for the two missing persons continues.

Coast Guard boats and aircraft, along with vessels from N.C. Marine Patrol, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the Tyrrell County Sheriff’s Office, continue to comb areas of the Albemarle Sound where authorities believe the helicopter went down. Divers are also assisting in the search, but Lehmann didn’t know which agency they work for.

The Coast Guard reported Tuesday that someone who identified themselves as a “concerned friend” said they had lost all communication with two people aboard a Robinson R44 helicopter Monday at 6:40 p.m. At the time, the helicopter was en route to the Dare County Regional Airport from the Mecklenburg Brunswick Regional Airport in Broadnax, Virginia.

The Coast Guard launched boats and aircraft to search where the helicopter was last observed but it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that debris from helicopter was discovered. Lehmann said the debris, discovered in water near the Alligator Bridge that crosses the sound, “was enough to identify it as the missing helicopter.”

Lehmann said where the searchers are looking depends on a number of environmental factors, including wind direction, drift patterns and which way the water is flowing.

How long the search will go on will depend on factors like water temperature, the safety equipment the helicopter had onboard, and the time someone can rationally spend in the water and survive, he said.

“The thing we always have to consider is the human will to survive,” Lehmann said. “We’ve found people floating on Yeti coolers in the Gulf of Mexico.”

While other agencies were scheduled to stop their search around sunset, Lehmann said the Coast Guard would continue to have a search presence in the sound overnight.

Asked if the Coast Guard could release the names of the two people aboard the helicopter, Lehmann said he did not have their names. He referred a reporter to the Tyrrell Sheriff’s Office. Tyrrell sheriff’s officials could not be reached Tuesday or Wednesday.