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ACES afterschool program to end for Guilford County students — at least in the short term


GREENSBORO — Guilford County Schools has dismantled its afterschool program, making it yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Based on conversations at a Guilford County Board of Education meeting this week, the ACES program looks unlikely to return any time this year — even if in-person school starts. 

Instead, board members unanimously voted to revisit, by next May at the latest, the question of whether the program can be viable. 

The motion came up at the request of school board member T. Dianne Bellamy-Small, who said she sees the program's value and is interested in seeing ACES resurrected if possible.

She said ACES — which stands for After-School Care Enrichment Services — served about 4,000 students and employed roughly 410 people. While not at the core of the district's mission to educate students, it's still beneficial to them and their families, Bellamy-Small said. 

Bellamy-Small originally brought forward a more strongly worded motion, which included, among other things, prohibiting other providers to handle afterschool care and a freeze on whatever money, if any, might be remaining in the ACES fund, which is supported by parent fees.  

School board members voted in late July to hold classes remotely for at least the first nine weeks of school due to the pandemic, negating the need for afterschool care. 

At a school board meeting this week, Superintendent Sharon Contreras said that nearly 100 ACES workers have been moved into positions critical to operations during remote instruction. Close to 50 are helping students with special needs, she said.

And now that they are in other positions, Contreras said she's not willing to pull them out and put them back in their old jobs to restart ACES. 

Furthermore, Contreras raised concerns that the earlier version of Bellamy-Small's motion could preclude the district from partnering with an outside organization to provide afterschool care, a possibility that's being explored. 

Several school board members voiced compliments for the ACES program and an interest in bringing it back at some point, but were unwilling to go as far as Bellamy-Small's original motion.

When her motion was amended to simply calling for the district to revisit the issue by May, it passed unanimously. 

Board member Khem Irby, a former ACES staff member, said she thought the program needs major changes should it return.

"I think it’s an opportunity for us to rethink afterschool childcare," she said. 

Cone official: Plasma infusion for COVID-19 patients promising, but more study needed

GREENSBORO — As a nurse at Cone Health's Green Valley Campus, Terri Franklin has watched her patients struggle to breathe. She said she's seen doctors' notes at the hospital, which only treats COVID-19 patients, that read: "Patient would benefit from convalescent plasma."  

Convalescent plasma is the pale yellow liquid part of the blood and can be collected from people who have recovered from a disease. Their blood is presumed to have antibodies that helped them get better.

That plasma, in turn, can be administered to others with the same disease in the hopes they may recover as well.

Photos: Collecting convalescent plasma

So Franklin, who lives in Whitsett, decided to get her own blood tested. Although she had previously tested negative for COVID-19, the blood test found she was positive for antibodies to the coronavirus.

A few weeks ago, the 54-year-old began donating plasma at OneBlood in Greensboro, hoping it will help COVID-19 patients like those under her care.

"It’s no worse than donating blood," Franklin said. "If people think they may have had it, they should get tested. It could keep one person alive."

Dr. Brent McQuaid, medical director of Cone's Green Valley facility, said the hospital is using convalescent plasma in some cases to treat COVID-19 patients, but its effectiveness is unclear. 

That clarity, McQuaid said, would have to come from large, well-controlled trials that show the plasma is an effective therapy for COVID-19 patients.

"There are small, poorly powered, somewhat well-controlled studies that suggest a benefit, and in this we take a lot of hope," McQuaid said, "but we can't say with confidence that this is something that should be used routinely for every patient who has severe COVID and requires hospitalization."

The studies have not shown a high rate of adverse effects, he said, "and when we have used it locally, there are, anecdotally, patients that have done well."

McQuaid said some patients who received convalescent plasma have improved within a day or two, but the same is true of some patients who didn't get it.

"That's where the value of a large study ... would be really helpful for us," he said.

Understanding the science

The theory behind using convalescent plasma is that the immune system of a person who has been exposed to the coronavirus has developed defense mechanisms to fight off the disease. 

"There are other proteins that float around in our blood that are involved with the immune system," McQuaid said. "We can measure some antibodies that we know will react to SARS-coV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), but it's entirely possible that there's other antibodies that we're just not smart enough to detect that are in there."

When giving that plasma to someone struggling to fight off the disease, "you hope that whatever helped the donor will help the recipient," McQuaid said.

Convalescent plasma has been widely used to combat other diseases, such as Ebola, MERS, SARS and Spanish flu.

Still, he said, "there has been a huge gap in the science of high-quality data to tell us if (convalescent plasma) really works or not."

And the Food and Drug Administration's recent emergency use authorization, which allows using the therapy with or without participation in a clinical trial, makes getting that high-quality data more difficult, McQuaid said.

"The use does not have to be in the context of a trial anymore, so that makes it harder for investigators to easily answer the question," he said.

McQuaid said it's up to individual doctors and patients at Cone to decide if the therapy is appropriate. 

"If my own family member came to the hospital sick with COVID, I would probably want them to receive it," he said. "We know, at least, that it doesn't seem to hurt people."

Increasing demand

Despite the limited supply, McQuaid said the hospital hasn't had a problem getting convalescent plasma, although there may have been an instance where it was delayed for a day.

Pat Michaels, a spokesman for OneBlood in Greensboro, said the nonprofit began taking convalescent plasma on April 3.

"The demand has gone up 500% since April," he said, adding that the organization has centers in five states and supplies 250 hospitals. "We're catching up and we're meeting the demand."

The facility tests all its blood donors to see if they have the antibodies.

"If you come back positive, we will contact you and ask if you would consider donating plasma," Michaels  said.

Donors must be symptom-free for 14 days and plasma can be donated every 28 days at the facility, which is governed by FDA regulations for nonprofit blood banks. 

Convalescent plasma also may be useful in finding medicines to help fend off COVID-19. The CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, a consortium of plasma companies, is using it to develop potential new medicine for the disease. 

Looking ahead

Looking at the models and working with scientists involved in forecasting the spread of the coronavirus, McQuaid said he expects Cone Health will see higher numbers of COVID-19 patients this fall and winter.

With colder weather keeping people inside, more businesses being allowed to open and holiday gatherings, people are likely to come in contact with each other more often.

"We have seen ... that any time there is a holiday — whether it's Mother's Day, July 4th, Memorial Day — we get a spike about two to three weeks afterward. It's very consistent," McQuaid said.

He expects the same surge in the next few weeks because of the Labor Day holiday.

With her plasma donation, Franklin said she feels like she's helping fight the pandemic. 

"It literally could save somebody's life," she said. 

Walker Sanders, president of The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, left, greets Charles L. “Buddy” Weill Jr. of Greensboro, brother of the late Carolyn Weill LeBauer, shown in the photograph on display before the opening of downtown’s new $10 million Carolyn & Maurice LeBauer Park on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, in Greensboro, N.C.

N.C. Folk Festival: Time for a (virtual) weekend of music

GREENSBORO — Prepare your computer or television, get snacks and drinks ready, and settle in for three nights of free music. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual N.C. Folk Festival and Carolina Blues Festival will go virtual this weekend. 

That means no downtown streets filled with music, food, traditional crafts and spectators enjoying it all.

But there will be a mix of musical styles to enjoy from your home online and on Greensboro Television Network.

Look for mostly North Carolina acts playing blues, bluegrass, country, R&B, soul, pop, hip-hop, funk, rock and old-time tunes.

The performances were recorded live at iconic locations by 7 Cinematics, the Emmy Award-winning video music and streaming production company based in the city.

Thanks to the company's working relationship with streaming service, the talent will get more international exposure.

Following the folk festival segment Saturday night, the blues festival will present a virtual performance at 8 p.m. by Vanessa Ferguson, a local resident and finalist on the television competition, "The Voice."

She headlines a lineup titled "Women of the Blues."

Here are highlights of the lineup in order of appearance:


• Rissi Palmer: The Durham-based Palmer is a country, pop, R&B/soul musician. She debuted in 2007 with the single "Country Girl." It made her the first African American woman to chart a country song since Dona Mason in 1987. Her performance was filmed at the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum in Sedalia.

• Justin Harrington, aka Demeanor: The Greensboro-born rapper merges hip-hop and unorthodox folk elements. He and his mother, Lalenja Harrington, performed on the album "Freedom Highway," the second solo studio album by his aunt, Grammy Award-winner Rhiannon Giddens. His performance was filmed at the historic Magnolia House, a segregation-era motel for African Americans traveling the East Coast.

• Chatham County Line: Bluegrass group formed in Raleigh. Its performance was filmed at The Old Mill of Guilford in Oak Ridge.


• Charly Lowry & Friends: This Lumbee-Tuscarora musician from Robeson County was a contestant on Season 3 of competitive reality television show "American Idol." She filmed her performance at the Magnolia House.

• Veronika Jackson (34th annual Carolina Blues Festival): The Georgia-based acoustic folk/blues artist will pay tribute to the late Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten, an American blues and folk musician, singer and songwriter from Carrboro. The performance by the Florida native was filmed at the Underground Railroad tree at Guilford College. "We really thought it would highlight our context for our performance," said Atiba Berkley, president of the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society, which joined forces with this year's folk festival.

• The Hamiltones: The Charlotte and Greensboro-based R&B/soul trio started as backup vocalist for Grammy Award-winning soul singer Anthony Hamilton. Members are Corey "2E" Williams II from Greensboro, Tony Lelo from Morrisville and J. Vito, who grew up in Anson County. The group filmed its show in front of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in center city.

• The Piedmont Blues Preservation Society will present its 34th annual Carolina Blues Festival virtually at 8 p.m. on and Vanessa Ferguson will headline a lineup titled "Women of the Blues."

The blues society also will present the Mike Carr Junior Bluesman Award to Brendan Hinch and the Keeping the Blues Alive Lifetime Achievement Award to Irish Spencer. 


• Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba: This Pittsboro-based, kora-led dance band combines West African traditionals, funk, rock, blues and elements of jazz. Their performance was filmed at the Greensboro Rotary Carousel at the Greensboro Science Center.

• Charlie Hunter: This seven-string guitar virtuoso plays jazz, jazz fusion, acid jazz, jazz rock and funk. He now lives in Greensboro. His performance was filmed at Center City Park downtown.

• The Burnett Sisters Band: The family band from Boone plays old-time music. Its performance was filmed at Gateway Gardens.

• Mandolin Orange: Americana/folk-based duo from Chapel Hill. Their performance was filmed at First National Bank Field.

Photos: A sneak peek of the 2020 NC Folk Festival performances