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NCDOT to offer training for skilled transportation workers

The NCDOT is looking to train more highway construction workers to maintain the state bridges and roads, such as Route 264 above on the way to Swan Quarter, Hyde County. Photo: C. Leinbach

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From our news services

Raleigh – The N.C. Department of Transportation is looking for more skilled highway construction workers and has begun new Highway Construction Trade Academies around the state.
The academies aim to address the growing need for skilled labor to help safely build and maintain our state’s roads and bridges. 
“Our goal is to target women, minorities and other disadvantaged populations, including veterans, the disabled, and residents of our poorer Tier 1 counties where there’s a need for such training and jobs,” said Vanessa Powell, who administers the program for NCDOT’s Office of Civil Rights. “The course combines a mixture of safe classroom, virtual, hands-on and work-based learning formats.”
The HCTA program is a minimum four-week, full-time training course that initially will be hosted by community-based organizations statewide. Participants will be provided training on specific jobs as well as how to conduct job searches. They will also receive supportive services such as needed emergency short-term housing, day care and transportation assistance. 
The first two programs are being hosted at Passage Home in Southeast Raleigh and the Opportunities Industrialization Center in Rocky Mount. Three additional academies will come online shortly in James City, Fayetteville, Charlotte and Greenville. The class includes basic construction math, written and interpersonal skills, the OSHA-10 certification, and other more advanced skills such as flagger certification.
Plans call for five more HCTAs in Wilmington, Robeson County, the Triad, Asheville and Morganton. Each will be longer eight-week programs. As with all such HCTAs, the two Western North Carolina sites will be located in a major highway construction project area, namely I-26 in that instance.
It is projected that a workforce shortage of 60 %, or 500,000 skilled highway construction workers, will exist over the next decade across the United States. The trend for North Carolina is similar, partly due to retirements of an aging industry labor force. A non-traditional labor supply is part of the answer for this essential sector.

Applications for the program will be available at each site as they continue to open around the state. The program is being funded by the Federal Highway Administration.

Cooper loosens unemployment restrictions

Gov. Roy Cooper at a COVID-19 briefing.

From our news services

Raleigh—Gov. Roy Cooper today issued an executive order that will establish flexible work search requirements to help bridge the employment gap during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive Order 200 establishes a flexible work search requirement for all new claimants who apply for unemployment benefits on or after March 14.

With the recent end of the Extended Benefits program for state unemployment under federal law, this step will ensure that out-of-work North Carolinians can access job seeking assistance available through NCWorks and other state-sponsored job search programs.

The order directs the Department of Commerce to interpret work search laws flexibly to account for burdens posed by COVID-19 that could affect a job seeker’s ability to satisfy search requirements. The department is also directed to establish a broad set of reemployment activities that qualify for a claimant’s job search.

“More jobs are being created as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, and people who are out of work need help getting them,” Cooper said.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, more than $10 billion in unemployment benefits has been disbursed to North Carolinians through multiple state and federal benefit programs, despite the state providing among the fewest weeks of state benefits in the country.

In his COVID-19 relief budget announced in February, Cooper proposed expanding state unemployment benefits, which are still among the lowest in the country. Since the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund balance is high and the ongoing need of North Carolinians out of work due to the pandemic is so great, he proposed that the maximum duration of benefits be increased to 26 weeks and the maximum benefit be increased from $350 to $500 per week.

For assistance searching for work in North Carolina, job seekers can contact NCWorks for remote services at NCWorks.gov or call 1-855-NCWORKS.

N.C. to get one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine


From our news services

North Carolina expects to receive 80,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s (Janssen) vaccine beginning on Wednesday, the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services announced today.

Photo by Shutterstock.

The federal government on Saturday authorized the one-shot vaccine.

“A third COVID-19 vaccine means North Carolina can get more people vaccinated sooner, which will save lives and slow the spread,” said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen. 

Like the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines currently in use, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine protects against virus-related hospitalization and death, according to a press release issued today.

There are possible temporary reactions, such as a sore arm, fever, headache or feeling tired and achy for a day or two. All of the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized were built upon decades of previous work on similar vaccines.

This increased supply will help to ensure the equitable distribution and access to COVID-19 vaccines in every community in the state, the release said.

This vaccine does not require extreme cold storage. As a result, it can be more easily shipped, stored and administered, factors that will help to increase the number of vaccination sites and make them more accessible. 

Hyde County commissioners to meet tonight

The Hyde County Board of Commissioners.

The Hyde County Board of Commissioners will hold their monthly meeting tonight (March 1) in the government services center in Swan Quarter and online for the public starting at 6 p.m.

Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, public attendance at Hyde County Board of Commissioners Meetings will be provided electronically. The meeting will be available to watch via Facebook Live or listen to via a phone dial-in for those without reliable internet access. Video of the meeting will also be posted to its website, http://www.hydecountync.gov as soon as possible following the meeting.

The commissioners are accepting public comments for all meetings and hearings via a web submission at https://forms.gle/qWzxU8EXfaQDahWp6 or by leaving a voicemail at 252-926-5288. Submissions must be received at least one hour prior to the start of the meeting for the first public comment period. Submissions submitted after that and prior to the second public comment period will be read or played during the second public comment period. Comments on Facebook are not considered public comments for the meeting as they are not always monitored.

The live stream will begin when the meeting is called to order. You do not need to be a Facebook member to view the live stream. Viewers can access the county’s Facebook page by going to the following website https://www.facebook.com/HydeCountyNC.

To use the dial-in option, call 605-562-0400 or 717-275-8940, enter the following access code 882 1001, and press #. These are not toll-free numbers but you are typically not charged for long-distance when using a cellular phone.

The agenda is below and background information is available on the Hyde County website here.

Ocracoke Observer wins best website in NCPA online division


After going to press Friday night (Feb. 27), the Ocracoke Observer learned that it won first place for General Excellence for Website in its division by the North Carolina Press Association.

These Special Awards were announced at the N.C. Press Association’s virtual convention Friday evening and posted later on the NCPA’s website.

In the 2020 competition, the Observer placed first ahead of the Carolina Public Press, second-place, and the Coastal Review Online, third.  In addition, the Observer won four awards for writing and photography.

Last summer, the Observer co-owners/publishers Connie Leinbach, also the editor, and Peter Vankevich, engaged Cheryl Wilder of Atlas Endeavors LLC to redesign its website.

Although the Observer prints a monthly issue 10 times a year, it competes in the online division, consisting of 14 online newspapers, in the annual contest.

The Ocracoke Observer joined the N.C. Press Association in 2015 and has won more than 40 awards in various categories, including several in first place.

SBA offers small businesses exclusive two-week access to Paycheck Protection Program


From our news sources

The Paycheck Protection Program is open for two weeks exclusively for mom-and-pop businesses and nonprofits to apply for loans. Photo: C. Leinbach

WASHINGTON – The Biden-Harris Administration and the U.S. Small Business Administration are opening up the Paycheck Protection Program for two weeks exclusively for small businesses–women-owned, minority-owned, low- and moderate-income, rural, and other underserved communities.

New policy changes hope to further ensure inclusivity and integrity by increasing access and much-needed aid to Main Street businesses, said SBA Senior Advisor Michael Roth.

To further demonstrate the commitment to racial and gender equity, reaching low and moderate-income, rural, urban, and other underserved areas, the SBA will:

  • Establish a 14-day, exclusive PPP loan application period for businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees.
  • Allow sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals to receive more financial support by revising the PPP’s funding formula for these categories of applicants.
  • Eliminate an exclusionary restriction on PPP access for small business owners with prior non-fraud felony convictions, consistent with a bipartisan congressional proposal.
  • Eliminate PPP access restrictions on small business owners who have struggled to make federal student loan payments by eliminating federal student loan debt delinquency and default as disqualifiers to participating in the PPP; and
  • Ensure access for non-citizen small business owners who are lawful U.S. residents by clarifying that they may use Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to apply for the PPP.

The 14-day exclusivity period began Wednesday (Feb. 24), and the other four changes will be implemented by the first week of March. The SBA is working on the program changes and will communicate details throughout the week.

Borrowers can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program by downloading the First Draw PPP loan application or Second Draw PPP loan application and working with a participating PPP lender through the SBA Lender Match tool.

Through SBA’s nationwide district offices, the agency will work in close partnership with the Biden Administration to further leverage its resource partner network and expand on multilingual access and outreach about the PPP.

Updated PPP information, including forms, guidance, and resources is available at http://www.sba.gov/ppp and www.treasury.gov/cares.

The following information is from the U.S. Small Business Administration in Charlotte:

  1. Shuttered Venue Operator Grants:    https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/shuttered-venue-operators-grant    This is the only one of our COVID-related programs for which SBA cannot and must not provide direct responses (even if only to verify the completeness of an application) as we are the grantor.  Please also continue to refer to our web site Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (sba.gov) and the associated FAQs Shuttered Venue Operators Grants – FAQ (sba.gov) for information which is regularly updated.    
  2. Targeted EIDL Advance Low Income Community Mapping Tool:  For those who received a partial EIDL grant the SBA is emailing the business owners that qualify for additional grant funds.     A low-income community mapping tool is now available to help Targeted EIDL Advance applicants determine if their business is in one. The map is on the COVID-19 EIDL web page under Targeted EIDL Advance. The business address must be in a low-income community to qualify so this is a great tool for potential applicants to check to see if they meet that eligibility requirement before applying.    https://www.sba.gov/document/support-targeted-eidl-frequently-asked-questions

How to use the Mapping Tool

• The low-income community mapping tool is simple and easy to use.

• Go to https://sbaeidl.policymap.com/app  and enter an address into the Location search bar above the map. For best results, enter a complete address (street address, city, state, ZIP code).

• When an address is found, a pin will be placed showing that location on the map.

• If you are unable to locate an address (e.g., rural routes or P.O. boxes instead of a full street address), you can enter a ZIP code into the location search bar and then zoom to an area.

Alternatively, you can also enter latitude, longitude coordinates into the location search bar if available.

• Census tracts that are identified as “low-income communities” are shaded dark purple on the map.

• When hovering over a location on the map, an info bubble will display a “Yes” or “No” based on whether the underlying census tract is identified as a “low-income community”.

• To see more information for a particular census tract, click on the map. A detailed info bubble will show the underlying indicators used to determine eligibility (e.g., poverty rate, census tract median family income (MFI) as a percent of metro area or statewide MFI, etc.)

Routine inspection of Marc Basnight Bridge to begin Monday

The Marc Basnight Bridge is the gateway to Pea, Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Photo: C. Leinbach

To catch up on Ocracoke news and much more, click here

NAGS HEAD – Contractors for the N.C. Department of Transportation are planning to conduct a routine condition inspection of the Marc Basnight Bridge from March 1 to 18.

During the process, one lane of the bridge will be closed during daylight hours Monday through Friday in order to position crews and equipment.

The closures will be no longer than 1.5 miles long, and flaggers will alternate traffic direction during the closure. One lane of the bridge will remain open at all times.

The condition inspection is routine and federally mandated every two years. It is the first such inspection since the bridge opened to traffic in February 2019.
For real-time travel information, visit DriveNC.gov or follow NCDOT on social media.

Observer captures news coverage awards

Springer’s Point just before sunset is among the photos in the second-place photo essay award in the Online Division of the N.C. Press Association. Photo: P. Vankevich

The Ocracoke Observer received four awards today at this year’s North Carolina Press Association annual conference.

In lieu of taking place in Raleigh, due to COVID-19 government mandates on public gatherings, the conference, hosted by Shannon Vickery of PBS North Carolina, was online and the honors were presented at a virtual awards ceremony held today (Feb. 26).

A member of the Online Division, which has 14 members, the Observer has won more than 40 awards, including many in first place, since joining the N.C. Press Association (NCPA) in 2015 and entering the contest starting in 2016.

The Observer was among 14 recipients to win a Pelican Award in August from the North Carolina Coastal Federation for its “Dedicated Service to Coastal Community Journalism.” The award was for the Observer’s coverage of Hurricane Dorian.

Ocracoke Observer 2020 NCPA awards are as follows:

Second place in feature writing: Connie Leinbach for her story about Gary Davis, “Islander sends his nightly taps into the world.”

Second place in photo page or essay: Peter Vankevich, “The many atmospheric moods of Springer’s Point.”

Third place for photo page or essay: Leinbach and Vankevich, “2019 was a year to remember on Ocracoke.”

Second place in sports coverage: Richard Taylor for “Ocracoke basketball season underway.”

The winning stories were published on ocracokeobserver.com between October 2019 and September 2020. 

Last year, the Observer took first place in breaking news coverage for its Hurricane Dorian reporting and second place in editorials.

Founded in 1873, the North Carolina Press Association is one of the oldest and largest journalism trade organizations in the nation. It is a member-owned and operated non-profit association established to protect First Amendment freedoms, promote the business interests of North Carolina newspapers and maintain high standards in the industry.

Virus numbers decreasing; governor eases some restrictions


From our news sources

With COVID-19 numbers decreasing in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday eased some restrictions.

Cooper lifted the Modified Stay at Home Order, the nighttime curfew, requiring people to stay at home and businesses to close to the public between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The new order is effective Friday at 5 p.m. and will expire at 5 p.m. March 26.

The number of people who may gather indoors will increase from 10 to 25, while 50 remains the limit for outdoors.

The curfew on the sale of alcohol for onsite consumption will be moved from a 9 p.m. stop to 11 p.m. Some businesses, including bars and amusement parks, will now be open for patrons indoors as they adhere to new occupancy restrictions.

The mandatory face mask order is still in effect and Cooper and Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen stressed that social distancing and hand washing is still in effect.

Cohen said the key metrics show the COVID-19 virus decreasing in the number of new cases, positive cases and hospitalizations.

The number of North Carolina counties coded as “Red” (“critical community spread” of the virus) has been more than halved and now stands at 27, down from 67 “Red” counties on Feb. 4. There are now 40 “Orange” counties (“substantial community spread”) compared to 33 on Feb. 4. Another big change is that the number of “Yellow” counties (significant community spread, though the lowest) is now up to 33 from only 6 counties on Feb. 4.

Hyde County dropped down on the new County Alert map, moving from Red to Yellow. The percentage of positive test results for Hyde County is given as 7% in the past two weeks.

As of Feb. 19, Hyde County Health reported the following case numbers for Hyde: 633 total cases, nine active cases, 616 recoveries and eight deaths.

However, the new variants, which are more contagious, are a wild card, Cohen said.

“If we see more viral spread (in the next few weeks), we’ll assess as we go along,” she said.

Thursday was the first day teachers and other education personnel are eligible for the vaccine.

“But our supply is still limited,” she said.

She said North Carolina has been getting 3% of the total amount of vaccines available, or 35,000 to 65,000 doses.

The state has administered more than 2 million vaccines which means that 1 million North Carolinians have received two doses.

Dr. Cohen also provided an update on North Carolina’s data and trends.

Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is decreasing.

Trajectory of Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory of cases is decreasing.

Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive is decreasing.

Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days

  • North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is decreasing.

To read Executive Order No. 195.

To read Frequently Asked Questions.

To view the slides from Wednesday’s briefing.

Movie producers looking for local actors, extras, musicians


Reprinted courtesy of the Outer Banks Voice

The producers of a new feature-length film that makes the Outer Banks a central character are looking for local talent. According Rayolight Productions — the filmmakers behind Lost In Buffalo City and Night of the Fluffet — the new effort is a high school sports film titled Call Sign Romeo.

In a press release issued Feb. 22, director Raymond Wallace describes the film as, “Creed meets Top Gun, set amidst an authentic Outer Banks story.  It’s a great homegrown story that will feature numerous area landmarks that Outer Bankers in particular are bound to recognize and appreciate.”

The film’s website explains that the story is about “high school wrestler Chris Miller (as he) pursues his dream to fly jets at the U.S. Naval Academy. He’ll need to win a state championship, while navigating the challenges of his senior year, including his girlfriend going to West Point, a nemesis they call Kid Hulk, and Navy SEAL trainers that stand in his way.”

Not only are the filmmakers looking for Outer Banks actors and extras to be in the movie, they want to create a soundtrack from local bands to “set the mood of the film’s action-packed wrestling scenes.” Production is expected to begin in March with filming anticipated to last through May.

Interested actors and musicians are encouraged to visit www.CallSignRomeo.com for more information about the project, character descriptions, and instructions for auditions and music submissions.  The casting call will remain open until the roles are filled, and interested talent are encouraged to submit their headshots, resumes, reels, and contact information by March 12.  The producers will contact those selected from submissions.

For more information on how you can be a part of the project, visit the website or follow Rayolight Productions on social media for the latest news and behind the scenes updates.