Local News Stories from 92.3 WNPC
Monday, October 19, 2020

COVID surge
The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Tennessee jumped 30% since Oct. 1, bringing the state to a near-record-high number of coronavirus hospitalizations heading into flu season. Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said during a news conference on Friday that while new COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate for tests are going up, those increases are moderate in comparison to the spike in hospitalizations. Piercey said the patient surge is due to the "penetration of this virus in our rural communities," which typically skew older and experience higher rates of chronic disease factors that put residents at an increased risk for serious and fatal COVID-19 infection. Tennessee's worsening outbreak drew attention from the White House, which issued a report last week saying that "a statewide mask mandate must be implemented" to curb the spread of COVID-19. But Gov. Bill Lee on Friday said that he will continue to leave the decision on whether or not to require face coverings in public to county mayors, most of whom have not taken that step. Lee also said it's "hard to know" if his recent decision to lift restrictions on business and gathering sizes in the state was to blame for the increase in cases. Lee and his wife continue to quarantine after last week being exposed to a security officer who tested positive for the coronavirus. Tennessee has 2,605 new confirmed cases since Saturday. Looking at local cases. Cocke currently has 103 active cases with 12 deaths Jefferson, 173 active cases and 18 Greene 214 active cases and a total of 49 deaths Hamblen currently has 223 active cases and a total of 43 deaths Sevier County has 310 active cases and has recorded 20 deaths.

More children are uninsured
More than 80,000 Tennessee children were uninsured last year, and that drop is among the highest rates in the nation , according to a new report from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families. Employer-sponsored coverage is increasingly unaffordable for many families, but Kinika Young - senior director of health policy and advocacy of the Tennessee Justice Center - said most kids are eligible for the federal Children's Health Insurance Program or "CHIP." But Young said the federal government slashed budgets for outreach and enrollment assistance, leaving many parents either unaware of, or confused about, how to get kids covered. "This report looks at 2016 to 2019, when we had a healthy economy and the lowest unemployment rates in decades," said Young. "So the picture is likely much worse for 2020." The report said the Trump administration's hostile rhetoric toward immigrants is another factor that left those families too afraid to sign up. It said around 726,000 children have lost health coverage nationwide since 2016 - and predicts the pandemic will continue the trend. Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, said the number of uninsured children has increased every year of the Trump administration. The largest jump was between 2018 and 2019. "What's so troubling is that, you know, we've had years and years of progress as a country, in a bipartisan way, to reduce the number of uninsured children," said Alker. "And what we see now is, that trend has clearly turned around since President Trump took office. And we're going backwards at an accelerating rate." Studies have shown children who are insured are more likely to stay on track for immunizations and receive preventive care. Young noted that during the pandemic, routine doctor and dentist visits are even more critical for spotting potential cases of abuse or neglect. "Especially for kids who are not having interactions with teachers or other people outside the home at this time," said Young. "Their only sort of connection to the outside world may be their doctor." She notes all Tennessee families enrolled in CoverKids and Tenncare are protected from being dis-enrolled during the COVID-19 crisis, as part of an executive order issued early this year by Gov. Bill Lee.

Cocke County Early Voting
Cocke Countians are turning out in force for early voting, in the November 3 balloting. Cocke County Administrator of Elections, Josh Blanchard says 3,412 voted in person through Saturday, and adding in the returned absentee ballots, the number totals 4,017. Today the polls are open 9am till 5pm.

Don't feed the bears
Remember....don't feed the bears. Wildlife Officers have charged a woman from Virginia with a misdemeanor violation after she intentionally fed a black bear while on vacation in Gatlinburg. In a September 30 video that went viral on the social media platform TikTok, Kristin Hailee Farris, 21, Danville, VA , intentionally hand-fed what appears to be watermelon, chocolate, and other food to a black bear in Gatlinburg. The video is still live on the platform and has been viewed over 500,000 times. Farris has been served with a warrant charging her with Illegal Black Bear Feeding, a Class B Misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. She is required to return to Sevier Co. for booking. TWRA spokesperson Matthew Cameron says, "These types of actions spawned regulations in 2000 that prohibit anyone to feed a black bear or leave food or garbage in a manner that attracts bears. The regulations apply to a 6 sq. mi. area of Gatlinburg and are intended to create a buffer zone to deter bears from going further into the city if they aren't fed or can't get into garbage." "The overwhelming desire to have a close encounter with a black bear is strangely more powerful than common sense," says Sevier Co. Wildlife Sgt. David Sexton. "Many people intentionally feed bears with little regard for the dire consequences to the bears and humans they leave behind."

Webb indictment
A Sevierville doctor and two of his patients have been indicted on TennCare fraud by a Sevier County Grand Jury. In July 2019, state and federal agencies began investigating allegations that Michael C. Webb, a podiatrist, was using his position to fraudulently obtain controlled substances. Agents determined that Webb, 44, doing business as Webb Foot and Ankle Clinic, schemed with some of his patients, writing them fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and gabapentin in exchange for keeping a portion of the pills for himself. Carley Stiles Davis, 37, and Christy Anna Stiles, 47, were identified as two of the patients involved. Both women used their TennCare benefits to purchase the pills. In addition, to make the fraudulent prescriptions appear legitimate, Webb presented the Department of Health with false medical records. He also allegedly billed TennCare for services that were not provided. Webb is charged with two counts of TennCare Fraud, four counts of Prescription Drug Fraud, and one count of Tampering with or Fabricating Evidence. Christy Stiles is charged with nineteen counts of TennCare Fraud and one count of Theft of Services. Carley Davis is charged with eight counts of TennCare Fraud and one count of Theft of Services. The indictments stemmed from a joint investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Medicaid Fraud Control Division, the Tennessee Office of Inspector General, the Tennessee Department of Health Division of Health Related Boards, United States Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hall pursuit and arrest
A North Carolina man faces charges following a Thursday night pursuit by Newport detective Derrick Webb. The detective said he tried to stop a 2003 Saturn operated by Bryan Keith Hall, 39, Fayetteville, on the Cosby Highway. But Hall fled onto I-40 eastbound at speeds of 115 miles per hour, exited at the 440 exit, and traveled onto the Hartford Road. As he traveled, Hall lost control and his auto went into a private lawn. At that point, he exited his auto and ran into a wooded area. When Hall refused commands to surrender, Cocke County Deputy Blake Cupp brought his K9 Narco to the scene, and the suspect was bitten on the upper right thigh. After being treated at the Newport Medical Center, Hall was jailed on charges of felony fleeing to evade arrest, driving on a suspended license, and a seatbelt violation. In addition, Hall was wanted by North Carolina authorities for a parol;e violation following his conviction for possession of dangerous drugs. He is charged locally as a fugitive from justice and is awaiting extradition to North Carolina.

Monday, October 19, 2020

  • COVID surge
  • More children are uninsured
  • Cocke County Early Voting
  • Don't feed the bears
  • Webb indictment
  • Hall pursuit and arrest

    Sunday, October 18, 2020

  • Cocke Grand Jury action
  • September jobless
  • 911 phone surcharge is hiked

    Friday, October 16, 2020

  • Tre Hargett visits Newport
  • Cocke County Partnership
  • Tennessee abortion law blocked
  • September jobless

    Thursday, October 15, 2020

  • COVID pandemic Update
  • EBT cards available at schools
  • First District US House race
  • Early voting sets record

    Wednesday, October 14, 2020

  • Cocke County schools address indoor sports seating
  • Newport begins to address blighted properties
  • Crashes in Newport and Cocke County