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32 new COVID-19 cases in Forsyth. But state says we've flattened the curve overall and could begin reopening next week.

The Forsyth County Department of Public Health announced 32 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the majority of which are tied to an ongoing coronavirus outbreak at the Tyson Foods meat-processing and packing plant in Wilkesboro.

Since Monday, there have been 89 new cases of COVID-19 in Forsyth County, and more than 50 of them are either Tyson employees or close contacts of the employees, according to Forsyth Public Health Director Joshua Swift.

The new patients bring the number of coronavirus cases in Forsyth to 242. All of the positive cases counted in Forsyth County’s total are residents of the county, according to the health department.

Of the 242 positive cases, 114 are considered active. Five people have died from the virus here and 123 have recovered.

“A majority of the cases reported this week continue to be connected to the outbreak at the Tyson plant in Wilkesboro and are either employees or close contacts to the employees,” Swift said in a statement.

The ages, gender and ethnicities of the Tyson employees who have tested positive have not been released.

In a Thursday afternoon teleconference, Swift said the health department could not say whether any of the Tyson employees or their close contacts had been hospitalized.

The outbreak at the Tyson plant is felt across the region, with Wilkes County’s health department reporting 56 cases of the virus there.

Before Monday, the county had fewer than 30 known cases.

Across North Carolina, 10,509 people — out of more than 128,000 tested — have tested positive for the virus, and 378 people have died, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

More than 61,000 people have died nationwide from the virus.

The number of new cases and the number of people seeking medical treatment with COVID-19 symptoms have increased over the past 14 days, N.C. DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Thursday.

Thursday’s new case count represents the largest single-day increase in North Carolina cases to date, Cohen said.

Nevertheless, Gov. Roy Cooper and Cohen say they are optimistic the state can begin the first phase of reopening the economy next week when the current statewide stay-at-home order expires.

The number of hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests have either flattened or decreased over the past 14 days, Cohen said. Those are two of the four key indicators that the fight against the virus is progressing.

“We have flattened the curve,” Cohen said.

Dr. Christopher Ohl, and infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said Thursday he thinks the amount of COVID-19 testing is adequate for reopening to begin.

He said the new cases are to be considered clusters, which are easier to contain and trace than if they were the result of widespread community transmission.

“There’s not a lot of COVID out here in the background of our communities,” Ohl said.

“It’s kind of trapped in those clusters.”

Ohl said that, because of the clustered outbreaks, such as at the Tyson plant or in group living centers, the sheer number of cases likely won’t go down until those outbreaks can be controlled.

Swift said he would still like to see more testing — the county reported only 171 completed tests last week — but agreed with Cooper that the state is on pace to begin a gradual reopening.

“There’s not an on-off switch where you get things back to normal all at once,” Swift said.

Much has been made of a potential second wave of coronavirus in the fall or early winter, but Ohl said communities will be better prepared to deal with future outbreaks and he expects COVID-19 to eventually be treated like other seasonal illnesses.

“It’s not keeping me up at night,” Ohl said.

Steve Forbes brings passion, energy, humor and some grounding to Wake Forest

Steve Forbes yells instructions to his East Tennessee State players during a game at Kansas on Nov. 19.

Steve Forbes once gave a rival coach a bobblehead before a game.

He’s loyal, he cries easily, and he enjoys learning something new, whether it be about basketball or not.

More than anything, he brings a vigor that has helped him find success at every level of college basketball.

“I think it’s being myself,” Forbes said Thursday, “putting my best foot forward and letting people feel my passion and my energy for being here.”

With the selection of Forbes as the next head coach for the Wake Forest men’s basketball program, the Deacons hope they’ve found the ember to reignite both the program and the interest of its fan base. Former co-workers and competitors alike believe he’s the person to do so.

“They’ve got a guy who’s worked his way back to being a major success story, and I think his attitude and his passion will permeate this program quickly,” said Houston Fancher, who worked with Forbes at Tennessee. “And I think Winston-Salem is going to know they hit one out of the park before too long.”

Added Mike Young, current Virginia Tech coach and former Southern Conference foe: “We had absolute bloodbaths when we were together in the Southern. And in some strange way, I look forward to those games again because you know what you’re going to get.”

A detour on the way up

Forbes’ resume shows a steady climb through the levels of college basketball, a brief downfall and a triumphant uprising. He started as a junior college coach in Iowa, his first job coming as an assistant at Southwestern Community College in 1989. He became the head coach two years later, then moving to Barton County Community College in Kansas as an assistant in 1993. He eventually became the head coach there, too, in 1995, staying three more years until he started his ascent.

Forbes went to Idaho (1998 to 2000), Louisiana Tech (2000 to 2003), Illinois State (2003 to 2004) and Texas A&M (2004 to 2006) as an assistant before earning a job with Bruce Pearl at Tennessee in 2006.

The Volunteers went to the NCAA Tournament in all of Forbes’ five seasons with Pearl, featuring two Sweet Sixteen appearances and one trip to the Elite Eight. In those final two seasons, Forbes and Fancher coached together. Fancher, hired as the coordinator of video scouting, said Forbes helped him get the job.

But Forbes’ rise in the profession came to a halt in March 2011, when Pearl and the staff were fired after an NCAA investigation into a recruiting violation. A high school junior recruit on an unofficial visit attended a cookout at Pearl’s home in 2008; the recruit and Pearl weren’t allowed to be together off campus.

The recruit, future Ohio State star Aaron Craft, was photographed during the cookout. Pearl originally disputed the situation, and admitted to lying to the NCAA in 2010.

Forbes, who wasn’t at the cookout, was swept up in the mix. Forbes was hit with a one-year show cause penalty involvement, essentially a short banishment from the NCAA that forced him to find a new job.

It’s a situation about which Forbes has been outspoken regarding the way it shaped his journey.

“It really kind of changed my life, to be honest,” Forbes told journalist Jeff Goodman on the Good N’ Plenty podcast. “I just went back to being a basketball coach. ... I thought it really grounded me, and it really helped me, and I think it taught a great lesson to my children that when you get knocked down, you get back up.”

He landed back in the JUCO ranks again as the head coach at Northwest Florida State, leading the team to the junior college finals in 2012 and 2013.

Fancher, a former head coach at App State and currently the director of operations and player development for the N.C. State women’s basketball program, was named Tennessee’s interim head coach and was retained by the next staff.

“You never heard him complain,” Fancher said of Forbes’ detour back to the JUCO level. “The guy just put his head down, got a junior college job and went to the national championship in junior college.

“Didn’t necessarily reinvent himself, but he went back to work to erase any questions anybody might have about him.”

Winning his way back

After that, Forbes worked under Greg Marshall at Wichita State from 2013 to 2015 before earning his first head Division I head coaching job at East Tennessee State. Forbes turned the middling Bucs program into a perennial contender in the Southern Conference, winning at least 24 games during all five seasons with the program. That includes a 30-4 mark last season, which should have ended with ETSU playing in the NCAA Tournament as conference champions.

That winning clip re-energized Freedom Hall, ETSU’s homecourt. The program led the Southern Conference in attendance the last four seasons, averaging more than 4,000 fans per game in three of them. It created some raucous battles between Forbes and Young, who coached at Wofford for 17 seasons before making the Southern-to-ACC jump last year.

Young recalled a funny moment between the two during Forbes’ second season at ETSU.

“We’re pretty good, he’s pretty good, it’s a pivotal Southern Conference game in late February, the place is sold out, crowd’s going crazy, and here comes the Bucs onto the floor,” Young said. “It just so happens to be Steve Forbes’ bobblehead night in Johnson City.

“So I’m sitting over there sweating like a gorilla, and here comes my buddy Steve Forbes, and he presents me with a Steve Forbes bobblehead. And I promptly place that on the end of the scorers table along with my towel, my glasses and my water bottle. And the Forbes bobblehead was right there on the end of the scorer’s table throughout the course of the game. I scooped it up at the end, we shook hands, and I forget who won or lost. Just typical.”

Young called Forbes one of his favorite people in the business. Part of that is due to personality, and part is the style of play. He called Forbes’ teams hard-nosed and said they “would guard the fire out of you.”

ETSU last season alone was inside the top 50 of KenPom.com turnover percentage, forcing turnovers on 22.3 percent of possessions, and steal percentage, forcing steals on 11 percent of possessions.

He also built strong relationships with his players in part with his sense of humor, which he displays often on his Twitter page. Daivien Williamson, a sophomore guard at ETSU and a Winston-Salem native, had a favorite Forbes quip.

““He called us Burger King All-Americas all the time, especially when we went up against the teams that had McDonald’s All-Americans,” Williamson said. “He really had a lot of great sayings that kept us loose, and I think that helped us go 30-4 this past season.”

On top of it all, though, Forbes brings hope. Hope that he can help return the Deacons to the nation’s top 25, contending for talented recruits and closing the gap with the other members of North Carolina’s Big Four.

Fancher pointed out the similar personality traits Forbes shares with one of his predecessors.

“He’s got a lot of interests, sort of like Skip Prosser,” said Fancher, who had a long relationship with the former Wake Forest head coach who died in 2007. “Skip was not just a basketball coach. Skip had a lot of things going on mentally as far as interests and could talk to you about a wide variety of subjects, and Steve’s the same way. ...

“People will get to him quickly and adapt to him quickly. Just a down-to-earth, very approachable type guy.”

That’s a quality comparison to earn on the first day of job. Now, it’s time to see just how bright the spark of Forbes’ hiring can be.

N.C. House OKs bill to give drivers extra time for vehicle inspection, registration renewal

The N.C. House passed a COVID-19 relief package Thursday that includes millions for small-business loans and temporary reprieves from motor-vehicle renewals and income-tax filings.

The bill, which allocates about $1.71 billion in federal money, also allows for temporary and limited state Medicaid expansion.

Several other bills were combined into House Bill 1043, which the House approved 117-1.

The next step is negotiation between chairs of the House and N.C. Senate appropriations committees over prominent differences between HB1043 and Senate Bill 704, which cleared the Senate 48-0 Wednesday night.

A compromise could be reached as early as today.

Most elements of both bills would become effective when signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper.

“The Senate was deliberative and tried to make certain that we do all we can to make certain that we can meet the budget obligations of our state,’ said state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth.

“Fiscal analysts have warned that we will have huge budget holes to fill. I believe this bill meets the immediate needs of our citizens without jeopardizing needs that will be needed in the future,” Krawiec said.

Limited Medicaid expansion

The House and Senate bills allow the state Medicaid program to cover uninsured North Carolinians for COVID-19 testing during the novel coronavirus pandemic, though the bills differ on what whey would cover afterward.

The House bill would be provide prevention, testing and treatment of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

That means a COVID-19 patient covered by the temporary Medicaid would be covered only for treatment of coronavirus-related illnesses. Democratic efforts to remove that stipulation have failed in committee.

The Senate bill would cover only testing, not treatment of COVID-19.

Motor-vehicle renewal relief

In both bills, North Carolina drivers would gain up to six extra months to renew their driver’s licenses, vehicle inspections and registrations, and other credentialed permits.

The only major difference in the House and Senate language is that the Senate would make the six-month reprieve retroactive to March 1, while the House would make it retroactive to March 10.

In both bills, renewal extensions would go to anyone whose license, registration or other credential expires before Aug. 1.

Both bills “shall waive any fines, fees or penalties associated with failing to review a credential during the period of time the credential is valid.”

There has been public concern about getting those credentials renewed while respecting social-distancing guidelines. People typically encounter long lines when trying to renew a driver’s license at a N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles office or pay for registration renewal and vehicle property taxes.

The DMV, in response to COVID-19 social-guidelines, has temporarily closed 61 smaller offices. The remaining 57 offices are assisting customers by appointment only. All driver road tests, except for commercial driver’s licenses, have been suspended. Drivers and vehicle owners can continue to pay for those credentials as they come due.

The House and Senate bills also both deal with the payment of annual motor-vehicle taxes attached to annual vehicle registrations.

The House bill includes language that the reprieve “does not waive a vehicle owner’s duty to maintain continuous financial responsibility.”

Tax-filing reprieve

Both bills allow the N.C. Revenue Department to adopt the same federal tax-filing deadline extension.

On March 21, the U.S. Treasury Department and IRS announced that the federal individual and corporate income-tax filing due date for 2019 was being extended from April 15 to July 15.

The two bills permit the N.C. Department of Revenue to adopt the same three-month extension for state individual, corporate and franchise tax filings. The bill also would waive the accrual of interest from April 15 through July 15.

Schorr Johnson, the revenue department’s director of public affairs, said it “will not charge penalties for those filing and paying their taxes after April 15, as long as they file and pay their tax before the updated July 15 deadline.”

Public-health funding

The House bill appropriates $480 million in federal funding toward state health-care initiatives.

In most instances, the funding would become available when the bill is signed into law. There is a separate $208 million in federal Medicaid funding in the mix.

The biggest of 15 funding streams provides $100 million toward a COVID-19 Response Research Fund, to be divvied up evenly between the state’s four medical schools — Wake Forest, Duke, East Carolina and UNC Chapel Hill.

The funding would be geared toward rapid development of a COVID-19 treatment involving antibodies; bringing a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to the public as soon as possible; community-testing plans; and other research related to COVID-19.

The second largest grant amount is $75 million to the N.C. Healthcare Foundation, which would provide grants to eligible rural hospitals providing care to COVID-19 patients.

Another $50 million would be directed to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and N.C. Department of Public Safety. It would be used to buy personal protective equipment, to be dispersed to public- and private-sector health-care providers “deemed essential to the COVID-19 response.”

The Senate bill provides $61 million to the DHHS “for rural and underserved communities especially hit hard by the pandemic,” as well as $22 million to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction toward “continuity of critical school nutrition programs across the state.”

Small-business loans

The House bill triples the amount — from $25 million to $75 million — the state would give to a program offering low-interest loans to small businesses in North Carolina.

The Senate bill puts up to $125 million into the small-business loan fund with the requirement that the Golden Leaf Foundation provide $15 in matching funds for every $125 the state contributes.

The House bill uses a $15 match from funds that Golden Leaf sources for every $75 in state money. Golden Leaf already has been the conduit for $15 million in small-business loans for a total fund of $90 million in the House bill.

Golden Leaf said that, as of Tuesday, the program has received 4,146 applications requesting a combined $170.78 million.

Workplace mask training; aim is to teach smaller businesses how to reopen safely

Workplace Restart, a program to provide free masks and COVID-19 health training to business owners and their employees, was launched Thursday, with small- and midsized businesses in Forsyth County invited to register for the program.

The program will provide up to two face masks to each employee, along with training on social distancing and other health and safety measures in the workplace.

Organized by the Piedmont Triad Regional Workforce Development Board, the pilot program is intended to help businesses reopen and get people back to work, while at the same time ensuring health and safety.

Employers can access a link to the program registration form by visiting www.maskthecity.com.

Topics covered by the training will include how coronavirus spreads and how to maintain social distancing in communal work areas. The interactive course will teach employers how to protect their staffs from workplace outbreaks. Safety procedures covered by the course will include instructions for the proper use of the masks.

The Renfro Corp., based in Mount Airy, is manufacturing the masks under the brand name Nightingale Face Masks. The company reserved the first 300,000 masks for the Winston-Salem area.

“We must educate our communities on the proper ways to protect our workplaces and ourselves to reduce the risk of recurring outbreaks,” said Matthew Dolge, the executive director of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, which is over the workforce development board. “By following best practices, local businesses will play a central role in boosting the confidence of our citizens.”

Mark Owens, the president and chief executive of Greater Winston-Salem Inc., said the program is a great way for a business owner to get free masks by completing a simple employer-training video.

Owens said Workplace Restart is ideally suited for companies with 250 employers or fewer, although it also offers training resources for companies of all sizes.

Employers who sign up for the program with be contacted and provided with more details.

After an employer completes the program’s first module of training, the masks will be distributed to the organization free of charge, based on product availability.