GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - It is flu season for birds and the current strain of High Path Avian Influenza, or Bird Flu, caused the euthanization of 32,100 turkeys in Johnston County.
WITN first spoke with North Carolina’s state veterinarian in February about the outbreak in wild waterfowl. Now that the disease spread into commercial and backyard flocks, we checked back in.
“If we can just at least get to the other side of the season then hopefully, we’ll be in a better place,” said state veterinarian Dr. Michael Martin.
Martin says the good news is, the illness is not a threat to people or food safety. He said, “We had been lucky so far. We knew that this virus was in our wild waterfowl. We have been on heightened alert in North Carolina since the middle of January.”
The state is now testing flocks within 6.2 miles of the infected farm, but backyard flock owners should be taking precautions as well.
“Birds having contact or association with wild waterfowl is always considered a high risk factor. Beyond that, there’s maybe more things that you can kind of speculate on or guess on,” said Martin. “One of the things that concerns me personally is are there other wild bird species that are carrying this disease?”
Dr. Martin is talking about songbirds. They were previously written off to be safe from the flu, but now researchers aren’t so sure.
The best practice, he says, is to strictly follow biosecurity measures even in your own backyard.
“To the backyard, independent flock owners, if you can keep your birds enclosed in a coop or at least pent up in and it’s not going to create a welfare problem with those birds, we still highly encourage you to do that,” advised Martin. “We know this virus existed in our wild bird populations and so if you can protect them without creating a welfare problem, you definitely should do that. And then again, that biosecurity: clean clothes, clean shoes, clean hands, is really going to be critical.”
Treat the flu like wet paint, he explains, If you’ve come in contact with other birds, don’t touch anything until you’ve washed up.
The Johnston County farm now joins 48 other commercial farms in 12 states where the virus has been found. Also, 32 backyard flocks in 13 states have tested positive, all this year.
Although the low risk to people can ease some minds, the high mortality and transmissibility of this virus should always be treated with caution.
Some of the early warning signs of the flu in flocks include reduced energy, irregular egg production, and swelling or purple discoloration.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The country’s first female secretary of state died Wednesday afternoon at age 84 from cancer.
While most politicians and civilians were fans of Madeleine Albright, North Carolina political science experts say if there was something she would be criticized for, it was her relentlessness to attack issues from the start.
“She helped create organizations that advanced women in international politics, both people that wanted to work in government and international policy, as well as people who wanted to work in academia,” said NC State political science professor Robert Reardon.
A major role of the secretary of state is to be an advocate for American policy abroad.
“She was somebody who, as secretary of state, was widely known, admired, and respected within the United States,” said Steven Greene, a colleague of Reardon’s at NC State.
In the 1990s, Albright watched over developing nations like a hawk and pushed her peers to make the United States a guide for new nations. While secretary of state, Albright was an advocate for NATO and American involvement in developing democracies.
“She saw the cold war as opening up an opportunity for the United States to bring a lot of these countries that were formerly within the Soviet’s sphere of influence into the community of democratic states,” said Reardon.
Albright addressed issues of unrest, all while breaking the proverbial glass ceiling.
“The secretary of state, after the president, is the representation of America to every other country,” said Greene. “You know it’s hard to say what’s good at being secretary of state, but insofar as there is a good at being secretary of state, I think there is largely a consensus that she really was.”
Albright was appointed to the top diplomatic position for Clinton’s second presidential term. She was confirmed by a Senate vote of 99-0.
Before taking that position, Albright was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She was a professor, an author, and an advocate for women taking on leadership roles in the workplace.
A child refugee from Nazi- and then Soviet- dominated Eastern Europe, Albright was described by President Biden as a “champion of democracy and human rights.”
She was awarded the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by former president Barack Obama in 2012; Reardon saying that honor was inevitable.
President Biden has ordered flags at the White House and other federal buildings and grounds to be flown at half-staff until Sunday, March 27.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - As the Russian government isolates the country from the rest of the Western world, its control of public thought through media censorship can cost people who violate a new law.
Many people’s first thought of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is to label it as a “war” or an “invasion,” but under Russian law, using those words could land you in jail for up to 15 years.
East Carolina University professor Brian Massey says media censorship and nationwide propaganda are not new tactics for Russian rulers. However, the way to break through for many citizens comes through a different style of speech: emojis.
“They are embedded with a great many meanings and they all depend on the users of them to sort of get it, right?” Massey said.
In Russia, referring to the invasion of Ukraine as anything but a “special military operation” could land a person in jail for up to 15 years. Emojis are used in place of forbidden terms to evade government persecution.
“They’re the ones who control access to the mass media channels and the alternative narrative,” Massey said. “So it’s exceptionally in their favor to spin this alternative narrative and to crack down on, censor access to alternative, factual sources.”
ECU has a partner university in Russia. Since the start of the conflict, the global affairs office has not been in contact with them.
“How this conflict is presented to them is quite different than how it’s presented here, and that’s probably a little different from what we see on the ground,” Jon Rezek, ECU Global Affairs assistant vice-chancellor said.
In the modern era, war is not as simple as it is portrayed in films.
“War isn’t just bombs and bullets and missiles and people out to end each other’s lives,” said Massey. “There’s also an information space where war is conducted.”
The blurred lines of mass and social media make it harder for governments to completely censor information without a filtered firewall. Russia does not yet appear to have that capability.
“Back in the old days, we didn’t have social media and the technology that we have today, so it was easier to maintain the alternative reality,” said Massey.
While these educators condemn the practices of Russian leaders, they remain sensitive to their international students and colleagues.
“We don’t want to hold them necessarily responsible for what’s going on in their country since there, from all appearances, seems to be a great deal of misinformation,” said Rezek.
In response to this censor-driven law in Russia, CNN halted live broadcasting in the country, the BBC suspended its work there, and Tik Tok has barred livestreaming and new content produced by Russian creators.
Nonetheless, citizens show resiliency through emojis using a symbol of a walking man or woman to symbolize protesting or a sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower, to show solidarity and support.
U.S. leaders have also adopted these symbols. First lady Jill Biden was seen wearing a sunflower embroidered mask earlier this month.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - District maps previously approved by a North Carolina state court will stand during this election season as the U.S. Supreme Court shoots down Republican lawmaker efforts to toss the maps out.
The ruling was 6 to 3 from the Supreme Court which ultimately allows the state to move forward with the May 17 primary election date.
Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch voted to take the case, but Justice Kavanaugh said the appeal was too close to the election for federal courts to change the lines.
Under the approved voting lines, Republicans are expected to win seven congressional seats and Democrats are expected to win six. One seat in the Raleigh area is likely to be a tossup, making the state nearly evenly split along party lines.
Senate Leader Phil Berger has spoken against the decision hinting that while Republicans will now turn their focus on the 2022 elections, they aren’t ready to put this ruling and this case to bed.
ECU political science expert Peter Francia says he wouldn’t be surprised to see this case approach the Supreme Court again.
“There has to be some consideration to timing when we’re talking about elections. There’s only so much time that maps can be drawn and these considerations can be made,” said Francia. “So, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for Justice Kavanaugh to say that more time needs to be taken and that it’s appropriate to settle this matter after the 2022 election.”
Under a conservative leaning court, Republicans would count on Justices Kavanaugh and Coney-Barrett to shift their opinions.
“Obviously not everyone is going to agree with Justice Kavanaugh on that, but I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable about that at all,” said Francia.
The map in use for this upcoming election period will only be in effect for this year.
While it will likely pull the state closer to the middle of the party spectrum, these lines are more favorable to Democrats than the previously Republican passed lines of last year.
Francia says this is typical of the leading political party of each election season and while the majority party is going to want to have the lines fall in their favor, they will always have to abide by the state and U.S. Constitutions at the end of the day.
Is it time to put the back and forth of these redistricting maps in the past? Francia says just for a while.
By deciding not to see this case today, the Supreme Court can be expected to revisit it in the future, it just won’t be before North Carolinians hit the polls this year.
Justice Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion reaffirms the stance he took in the Alabama redistricting case last month: Federal courts cannot rearrange state election laws in the period of time close to an election.
NEW BERN, N.C. (WITN) - New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw will not seek a third term, instead he’s running for county commission.
Filing for offices ended at noon today and he filed for the county seat at 10:30 a.m.
Outlaw was first elected mayor in 2013 and re-elected four years later when he defeated former mayor Lee Bettis.
“I had two terms as mayor. It’s time for somebody else to get that leadership opportunity,” said Outlaw. “I want to help bridge the gap between the city and the county.”
He made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Congress in 2019 and prior to becoming mayor had served as an alderman in New Bern.
Outlaw filed for the District 4 seat on the Craven County Commission, joining Edwin Vargas and incumbent E.T. Mitchell on the ballot.
“I want to build on our county’s success and confront our challenges head on,” Outlaw said. “I believe our community works best when every voice is at the table. That’s why I want to continue conversations with local civic groups, neighborhood associations, parents of school children, our churches, and faith-based organizations.”
There are four candidates seeking the top spot in New Bern. Those are Tim Harris, current alderman Jeffrey Odham, Maxwell Oglesby, and retired police chief Toussaint Summers.
Last year’s municipal election was delayed due to COVID-19-related delays in the gathering of data for the U.S. Census.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Governor Roy Cooper stopped the sale of Russian liquor in its tracks with an executive order Monday afternoon in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As North Carolina falls in line to impose sanctions, Greenville shoppers shared their opinions of the state leader’s move.
Of those shopping for liquor, some had vodka on their list.
“Specifically, I came looking for Ukrainian vodka,” said shopper Daniel Ergle.
Stocking up for his birthday party, he wanted to find that spirit to echo his support of Executive Order 251.
He settled for a Polish brand when he couldn’t find a Ukrainian-made bottle.
What wasn’t for purchase were Russian-made bottles under the brands Hammer and Sickle, Beluga, and Russian Standard.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, I get that,” said Ergle, “but as soon as they can pull it, I 100-percent support it.”
Governor Cooper said that North Carolina is with Ukraine in the fight against Russian warfare.
“Our state stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they fight courageously against a tyrant to defend their country, their democracy and their freedom," saying Gov. Cooper.
Others see Cooper’s move as a blow to the free market.
“People, what they like to buy, you need to let it stay on the shelf,” said Minnie Ward. “I think he’s doing wrong. I think he should not do that.”
The ABC Commission confirmed their cooperation with Cooper’s executive order saying Russian produced spirits are suspended and a deeper review of the state’s available products will determine if more suspensions need to be made.
Ward doesn’t agree with control over what she can enjoy saying, “If you love the drink, you love the drink.”
Others, like Ergle, are critical of Cooper for not making the move sooner.
“I was actually hoping they would have already pulled it by now,” explained Ergle. “I know they’ve pulled it out of some bars already.”
Now, the state has made it clear that no public dollars or operations from North Carolina will benefit Russia.
Some analysts say this move is mostly symbolic as the Distilled Spirits Council says a very small percentage of the nearly $7 billion in annual vodka sales comes from Russian-made vodka.
They say this specific import of spirit has been on the decline for several years and is down 79-percent in the past 10 years.
One global firm that tracks alcohol sales, the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, estimates less than 1-percent of vodka consumed in the United States is produced in Russia.
More than half of the vodka sold in the U.S. is made here in the U.S.
PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - More North Carolinians died from car accidents in 2021 than any other year.
This preliminary data comes from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, which says 1,755 people died in traffic accidents last year. The previous record stood at 1,704 deaths in 2007.
These numbers follow a nationwide trend of distracted driving causing an uptick in deaths.
During the pandemic, travel took on a different definition. More people utilized cars as their primary mode of transportation to avoid highly trafficked public spaces like airplanes.
However, more folks behind the wheels and on the roads brought more fatal accidents.
“Nobody is really ever happy to see you, but it’s just part of the business,” tow truck driver Noah Harrison said.
Getting behind the wheel comes with major responsibilities.
“You are essentially the pilot of a, sometimes two-ton guided-missile down the roadway where you have other two-ton guided missiles beside you,” Highway Safety Program Director Mark Ezzell said.
In the past year, Harrison says he’s been called out to scenes ranging from fender benders to tragic accidents one to three times a week.
Through grants and programs like the Booze It and Lose It campaign, the state is looking to increase highway surveillance, looking to the pandemic as a blueprint.
“Much like we’re dealing with COVID, we can look to some of those public health solutions to help address the issue,” Ezzell said, adding “We need layers of protection.”
For the safety program, that means starting with public education on road safety and design.
“Those are simple steps we can take to save a life,” Ezzell said.
While the overall trend moved upward for fatal accidents, the data decreased year to year in some specific types of crashes. Fewer traffic deaths related to pedestrians and cyclists were reported in 2021 than in 2020.
However, this Super Bowl weekend, the roadways have a chance to turn even deadlier.
“Anything after about midnight, you can guarantee there’s going to be alcohol involved somewhere along the line,” Harrison said. “Those are usually your worst wreck... late at night, somebody drinking or leaving the bar.”
People are encouraged to utilize resources like ridesharing programs or designated drivers.
If you are hosting, Ezzell suggests cutting off alcohol for your guests after halftime and taking some responsibility in making sure everyone has a safe way home.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - With cases of COVID-19 trending downward across the state, many wonder where we stand in the fight against the virus.
For some, this news is a breath of fresh air, but as health professionals explain, we aren’t to the end of the battle just yet.
“There is good news with these decreasing test numbers,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Paul Cook, “but we’re not at the end of the line yet. In fact, I think we have a long way to go.”
While it may seem like COVID has been around forever, Pitt County Public Health Director Dr. John Silvernail reminds us that COVID is a brand new disease.
“We’ve only had two years to study and understand things,” said Silvernail. “I’m sure many of the early studies with time will prove to be partially true, but not completely true.”
Cook understands that some may be confused by the daily changes in guidelines for dealing with the virus. However, “If people have this idea that medical knowledge is static, that’s wrong,” he said.
It’s helpful to zoom out and look at the way COVID has infected Pitt County since the very start.
“You can see the biggest week in Omicron we were almost 5,000 cases for that week,” said Silvernail. “So, we’ve dropped off in case numbers, but we’re still above the height of the Delta wave and really the height of last January.”
While staying realistic, Silvernail still celebrates the victories that come along the way.
“We have not had a death in Pitt County below the age of 25, so that case fatality rate in the 0-17-year-old and 18-24 year old age group is zero percent,” he said.
That isn’t the case for all age ranges in the county.
146 Pitt County residents have died since the beginning of the pandemic.
Moving forward, medical professionals say vaccination, mask-wearing, and testing to slow the spread are essential to making it out of this pandemic.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Eyes are turned toward Democrats after President Biden called for changes to filibuster rules Tuesday.
Biden’s support for reform comes from two pieces of legislation regarding voting rights: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The president’s opposition to the longstanding Senate practice has many wondering: what is a filibuster?
The way NC State political science professor Irwin Morris sees it, a filibuster is “basically talking a bill to death.”
Minority parties have used filibusters for centuries to stall the voting on particular bills.
“If you can get 41 Senators including yourself to say, ‘no,’ then there will not be a debate or vote,” Brad Lockerbie, East Carolina University political science professor explains.
Lawmakers have supported and opposed the filibuster rule, depending on which piece of legislation it is in regard to.
“These traditions, these norms, that develop in the Senate, they’ve been there for a long time. And a lot of senators feel a lot of attachment to them even if it’s not in the best interest of their party at that time,” Steven Greene with NC State’s political science department says.
“That is clearly the case with Joe Manchin," said Steven Greene, NC State political science professor.
Sen. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema both oppose the filibuster reform proposed by the president.
When legislation comes down to the 50th majority vote, the senators benefit from the protection of killing the bill.
“It helps provide them some political cover,” Greene said.
“That’s a reason why the filibuster persists despite the fact that you think, ‘Well the majority party? Why don’t they just get rid of it if they can?’” asked Greene.
“Do you want to change the filibuster now in a way that would help you tomorrow and in doing so, is that going to make your life more, or less, difficult in the future?” UNC professor Jason Robert ponders. “When you’re no longer the majority, these changes may get used against you.”
Lockerbie predicts that if any filibuster reform were to come of Biden’s remarks, it wouldn’t be a carve-out of voting rights from the filibuster umbrella, but rather, a wide-open end to the filibuster.
Senators would be forced to make historic, sometimes dividing, votes on bills they may not completely support or oppose.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - It has been one year since a mob swarmed the U.S. Capitol due to claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Looking back in reflection, East Carolina University history professors say the event is unlike anything else written in their textbooks.
“For a domestic enemy, an enemy of the country, to actually occupy the halls of Congress really is unprecedented,” Dr. Gerald Prokopowicz, who specializes in public history and the Civil War era at ECU said.
On one hand, Prokopowicz explains, looking at the Jan. 6 insurrection could bring about connections to 1814, when the British attacked Washington D.C. and burned down the White House.
However, on the other, an attack by our country’s own citizens within the halls of the Capitol has never occurred before in American history. That makes Jan. 6, 2021 entirely unique.
“This was an attempted coup,” Dr. Karin Zipf declared.
Zipf, who specializes in gender, race, women, apprenticeship, and Reconstruction, says the insurrection was charged by more complex, inner voices in the federal government.
It is the job of both Zipf and Prokopowicz to analyze historical events and place them in the present context for their students.
Living through this era of uncharacteristic political action brings about a new understanding of past insurgencies.
Still, Prokopowicz says, “It’s very hard on a day-to-day basis to see it around you, [and] know what to do next.”
As for the professors’ lectures on the fateful Jan. 6 day, they remain to be written.
If Zipf could make an educated guess on where to start, she says, “I would begin with what is a coup and I would try to talk about examples in our fairly recent history that Americans might be able to connect to, including, especially here in North Carolina, 1898.”
That moment in North Carolina history Zipf references is the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, when white supremacists overthrew a biracial government and massacred at least 60 black residents.
Thursday morning, President Biden and Vice President Harris addressed the nation, reassuring Americans that in this case, democracy won.