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Purchase of ADA-compliant voting machines OK'd

The Lee County Board of Elections will be getting 14 new voting machines to assist disabled voters and updated election software after the county commissioners approved the measure.

One machine will be placed at each of the county’s 10 voting precincts with two at one-stop voting sites and another two to use as backups, according to Jeni Harris, director of the elections board.

In accordance with the law, the State Board of Elections has reviewed the request and given its OK, Harris told the commissioners at their Monday meeting.

The ExpressVote Universal Voting is compliant with the Americans with Disability Act, according to Harris. The machines are specially equipped for the handicapped and requires an upgrade to election software to properly count votes, she said.

Each of the devices has a touch screen for the selection of candidates and is equipped with headphones that allow each race on the ballot to be read aloud for those who are hearing or visually impaired, according to Harris.

The voting machine is operated with a device resembling a video game controller that’s attached with velcro. They have the use instructions written in Braille for blind voters.

The machines were tested March 24 in a mock election, Harris told the commissioners.

The machines correctly the 2,600 votes cast on the machines and a random hand-eye audit tabulated correctly, too, Harris said.

The cost for the 14 machines of the purchase is $54,455, Harris said. Each machine is priced at $3,325. Each machine has a carrying case that is priced at $175 each, Harris said.

There is no cost for the election software upgrade.

Negotiations are continuing with the vendor, Election Systems and Software, to lower the price, Harris said.

The purchase will be funded through grant money, Harris has said.

Finding reliable, current COVID-19 information

The recent news about COVID-19 has been promising.

Gov. Cooper announced earlier this week that he anticipates lifting most COVID-19 social distancing, capacity and mass gathering limitations by June 1. This assumes that the state continues on the current trajectory for increased vaccinations and decreased new cases and hospitalizations.

This is great news for North Carolina and a clear path to a return to normal.

At the same time, health care professionals continue to urge the public to exercise caution. Current data supports the easing of restrictions, but we still need more of the population to be vaccinated to help bring the pandemic to a close. The Lee County Health Department continues to provide COVID-19 vaccinations. To register for the vaccine, please call 919-842-5477 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

In spite of the positive information, there is also troubling news about emerging virus variants. Current vaccines appear to be effective against known variants, but there is some indication that this may not always be the case. This has raised questions about whether booster shots will be needed, how frequently they will occur and how effective they will be against new strains of the virus.

Health care professionals continue to gather data and learn more about the COVID-19 virus, which results in frequent updates to recommendations and guidance on topics ranging from symptoms and testing to treatments and vaccinations.

So how do you find accurate and timely information? Start with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control — cdc.gov/covid19 and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services — covid19/ncdhhs.gov. The federal and state agencies are leading the fight against COVID-19 and have access to the most up-to-date scientific research and data that help formulate recommendations and guidance to help keep our communities safe.

The Lee County Health Department also serves as the local resource for COVID-19 information, testing and vaccinations. The Health Department is on the front lines of this pandemic and has been working diligently to provide access to information and testing, encouraging healthy behaviors and vaccinating Lee County residents to help usher in a return to normal activities.

Like the CDC and DHHS, the Health Department is constantly reviewing new and/or revised COVID-19 data and guidance. The department works with community leaders and partner organizations to communicate and distribute new and updated information, but we recognize the amount and frequency of updates can be confusing and overwhelming.

The Health Department has relied heavily on county news releases and social media to share information. Copies of all county news releases may be found online at leecountync.gov. The public is also encouraged to follow the county on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@leecountync) as we post frequent reminders about upcoming COVID-19 clinics and events. The public may also post questions and comments that help inform decisions about future COVID-19 response plans.

The county has also established a COVID-19 resource page at leecountync.gov/covid19. The resource page includes information related to vaccination clinics and direct links to important state and federal agencies and resources.

As we learn more about COVID-19, the Health Department will continue to provide updates and share information to help keep the public informed. If you continue to have questions, please contact the Lee County Health Department by calling 919-718-4640 or by emailing health@leecountync.gov.

Sanford community garden growing

Delicate green sprouts began rising from the soil of the Peace and Unity Community Garden on Thursday, hinting at an abundant summer of Southern vegetables.

Alfreda Clegg, of Sanford, carefully inspected the plants this week, looking for signs of struggle. Clegg has been managing the garden since its inception in 2012. She and community activist Crystal McIver, who founded the garden, took the first steps toward a full harvest Saturday by filling raised wooden plant beds with new compost and planting seeds.

“It seemed like the weather didn’t bother them, look at that,” Clegg said, lifting the leaves of a healthy spinach seedling. “They look good.”

The okra, on the other hand, was looking a little wilted.

“I figured if we put the seeds in the ground before the bad weather, before it gets cold, they won’t come up that soon,” Clegg said. “But because it was so warm after me and Crystal (McIver) planted the okra, I’m sure that’s why they came up. The beans seemed like they tolerated the cold weather last night, but I’m gonna have to cover the okra up, because I don’t want them to die.”

Clegg’s task for the day was to put a protective wrap over the plant beds, she said.

“I’m gonna put some plastic on them because I think the temperature is going to drop again tonight,” she said. “The plastic holds in moisture and warmth.”

The garden is currently home to corn, spinach, green beans, purple beans, beets, yellow squash and zucchini squash, Clegg said. As the weather gets warmer, she also plans to plant tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and pumpkins.

Clegg and McIver were helped this weekend by volunteers from local nonprofit Project Point Five, which aims to help rehabilitate men in the community, including former criminal offenders. One of the goals of the garden is to help people complete court-mandated community service. Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down many indoor community service options, the garden was filled with people. This year, however, there are fewer.

As planting season continues, the garden is in need of more volunteers in the coming weeks, Clegg said. She’s always trying to spread the word, saying, “It’s nice to get people involved in the garden and knowing about the garden.”

City to reopen compost facility Monday

The City of Sanford Compost Facility will reopen to the public with standard operating hours on Monday, April 26.

The facility, which is located at 601 E. Fifth Street, will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The facility closes for lunch from noon to 1 p.m. each day.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Sanford has established a reduced contact policy for purchasing and picking up compost. It is preferred that the public pay for compost using Visa or Mastercard by phone. This contactless option allows safe, fast, and efficient service.

Staff will work with customers to schedule delivery or pickup. Those who need to pay with cash or check must first visit the Customer Service Department located at 225 E. Weatherspoon Street.

The city continues to offer contactless delivery for both wood chips and leaf compost within Lee County. The current rate for deliveries is $20 per trip within the city limits and $32.50 per trip outside of the city limits.

To place an order, schedule a delivery, or for more information, call the Public Works Service Center at 919-775-8247 or visit www.sanfordnc.net/compost.