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Connect Downtown JC seeks community support for dog park grant

Connect Downtown Johnson City in conjunction with the Johnson City Development Authority has applied to receive the Tennessee Dog Park Dash Grant to build a community dog park.

According to a press release from Connect Downtown, the Tennessee Dog Park Dash is funded by the Boyd Foundation and is dedicated to building or enhancing dog parks across Tennessee.

“Established in 2018, this program is helping make Tennessee the most pet-friendly state in America, and 2021 is the last year of opportunity,” the press release said. “We would be honored and extremely fortunate to have Downtown Johnson City selected to receive this grant for our community.”

To receive the grant, the organization needs to collect letters of support from the community. People can send those letters via email, mail or hand-delivery to the Johnson City Development Authority offices.

Officials ask that residents share why the district needs a dog park. Because this is a competitive grant, the press release said organizers need hundreds of letters of support.

Supporters can also attend one of three upcoming in-person events or tag Downtown Johnson City on social media. Organizers ask that people tag @downtownjctn, @dogparkdash and #Dogs4JCTN in all social media posts.

People can stop by University Edge Apartments May 3-9 to complete a letter of support and receive a free downtown frisbee.

Connect Downtown Johnson City will also be collecting support at the Atlantic Ale House from 6-8 p.m. May 13 during an event called WOOFstock. There will also be a costume contest for dogs, and organizers will be accepting donations for the Washington County Animal Shelter.

People can also attend YeeHAW 4 PAWS from 5-8 p.m. May 18 at Yee-Haw Brewing Co. There, attendees can support the dog park initiative and the Humane Society of Washington County.

Go to downtownjc.com/dogs to learn more about upcoming events and the application.

All letters of support must be mailed, emailed or hand delivered to the JCDA office by May 19.

That address is 207 N. Boone St., Suite 23, Johnson City, TN 37604.

The email is info@downtownjc.com.

Ballad Health opens COVID-19 vaccination site at Johnson City mall

Ballad Health’s community vaccination center located at The Mall at Johnson City opened its doors on Monday, with officials hoping the heavily trafficked area will encourage more people to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’re really entering that phase of easy access,” Ballad Health’s Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift said. “There’s multiple places that people can get vaccines, so we wanted one centrally located access (point).”

Swift said those who wanted the shot have likely already received it, so the goal of the new site is to attract people to get vaccinated as they’re going about their daily lives.

The center in the former Designer Shoe Warehouse storefront on the second floor of the mall is open weekdays from 2-7 p.m. The Johnson City site will take the place of the Elizabethton vaccination site, which closed last week.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines at the center are available free of charge to anyone 16 or older. Walk-ins are welcome, though appointments are still available for those who’d prefer to have a scheduled time. People can schedule appointments by calling 833-822-5523 or by visiting ballad health.org.

“We’re hoping for easy access,” Swift said. “A mall is somewhere a lot of people know how to get to, that the people are familiar with, and we hope that as they come, they’ll come by and see us and get that vaccine for sure.”

Gas prices hold steady; increases expected ahead of Memorial Day

NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s average gas price held steady again last week, but that trend may not last much longer.

The state average of $2.69 is the same as last week and last month, but $1.15 more than a year ago, according to AAA. The national gas price average is $2.90, which is 2 cents more than last week and 3 cents more than a month ago.

“While April saw minimal fluctuation, May is likely to see much larger increases alongside demand spikes, especially closer to Memorial Day weekend,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman for AAA — The Auto Club Group, in a press release. “Compared to May 2019, U.S. gasoline demand is down only 4% and gas prices are, on average, just two cents more.”

Quick facts

• 76% of Tennessee gas stations have prices below $2.75.

• The lowest 10% of pump prices are $2.49 for regular unleaded.

• The highest 10% of pump prices are $2.97 for regular unleaded.

• Tennessee remains the 10th least expensive market in the nation.

Most expensive gas prices in the state

• Memphis ($2.75)

• Johnson City ($2.73)

• Jackson ($2.72)

Least expensive gas prices in the state

• Cleveland ($2.61)

• Chattanooga ($2.64)

• Knoxville ($2.66)

Cheapest gas prices in the Tri-Cities

As of Monday afternoon on GasBuddy.com, the cheapest gas prices in each of the Tri-Cities can be found at the following places:

• In Kingsport — Gas ‘N Go (Clinchfield Street): $2.49 per gallon for regular gasoline.

• In Bristol — Valero (King College Road in Bristol, Tennessee): $2.60 per gallon for regular gasoline.

• In Johnson City — Sam’s Club (Franklin Terrace Drive): $2.46 per gallon for regular gasoline.

Across the nation

Pump prices in April saw minimal variability compared to March, which increased 15 cents from start to finish, AAA reported. Stable crude oil prices amid fluctuating demand helped keep the national average price jumps nominal last month.

Ten states saw averages increase between 5 and 8 cents, but the majority of states saw increases of 1 to 3 cents. The price changes came amid a flux in supply and demand.

For the week ending April 23, the Energy Information Administration reported gasoline stocks saw a small 100,000-barrel build to reach the 135-million-barrel mark. That is the highest supply rate since the end of February and an 8.3-million-barrel surplus compared to the same time two years ago. While supply increased, demand saw a decrease of 3% to 8.87 million barrels per day.

What about oil?

At the close of Friday’s formal trading session, West Texas Intermediate crude decreased by $1.43 to settle at $63.58, AAA reported.

Although prices ended the day with a decrease, supported by a strong dollar, the price of crude increased by nearly $1.50 per barrel on the week. Increased market optimism that crude demand will recover helped lift prices, despite surging coronavirus infection rates in Asia.

Additionally, prices increased last week after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+) and its allies, including Russia, recommended leaving in place a recent agreement to gradually increase crude production by at least 2.1 million barrels per day in May and June.

At the next OPEC+ meeting on June 1, the cartel will determine crude output levels for July and August. Prices could continue to climb this week if the market remains optimistic.

Calls for justice at N.C. funeral of Andrew Brown Jr.

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Johnson City Schools eases mask requirements

Although they will be required to continue wearing face coverings in common areas, Johnson City students in grades K-4 will now be allowed to remove their masks while at their desks.

The Johnson City Board of Education approved changes to the system’s COVID-19 protocols on Monday, which included laxer policies on masking but also continuations of existing guidelines.

Safety Supervisor Greg Wallace noted that it’s much easier to contact trace students in grades K-4 because students stay in a consistent classroom cohort throughout the day. As students move beyond elementary school, it gets harder to track potential contacts, he said.

Pending continued improvement in COVID-19 data in Washington County, the system will also lift mask requirements for students starting in the summer session. They will instead be optional.

Additionally, staff recommended that the school system coordinate with the Washington County Health Department to create a vaccination pod for students and families. Currently, vaccinations are available to students age 16 and above. This would not be a requirement.

Wallace also recommended that the school system maintain its contact tracing and quarantining protocols. The system will continue to allow students to remove masks while outside and when they eat in the cafeteria.

Before their vote, school board members heard comments from parents who expressed concern about the physical and mental health impact of requiring children to wear masks.

As a mom, board member Ginger Carter said she’s ready for masking to end.

“I’m ready for masks to be over for my daughter,” she said, “and I’ve said every time I speak about (this that) I’m concerned about the mental health issues.”

Carter, who is a physician, said she typically writes more prescriptions for birth control than anything else, but she’s been more frequently writing prescriptions for mental health medication over the last year.

“We’ve had in the ER adolescents waiting for in-patient therapy and mental health ... so that’s very near and dear to my heart,” she said.

Up to this point, board chair Kathy Hall said, the board has supported decisions made by staff without voting on each change in protocol. At Carter’s suggestion, the board stipulated that any enhancements to the masking policy come back in front of them for review.

The body did not approve any changes to the masking policy for the 2021-22 school year, but Superintendent Steve Barnett said he hopes COVID-19 numbers will improve to the point that the board won’t have to have another conversation about these protocols.

Barnett said staff wanted to bring the recommendations to the board sooner, but they anticipated there would be a spike in COVID-19 cases after spring break, which did occur.

“I do think with the vaccine and everything else that everybody’s doing, that we’re heading in a very positive direction,” Barnett said. “The only reason we would revisit this is if there’s a big change. I’m hopeful and really feel like we’re coming to the end.”

Other business

• The school board also heard a presentation from staff about zoning changes for certain neighborhoods in the school system, which will involve reassigning students to add space at a couple schools.

At max, the changes could add 42 students to Lake Ridge Elementary School and 126 to Woodland Elementary. The city is constructing additional classrooms at those schools, and the buildings will therefore have more capacity for students.

Cherokee and Towne Acres elementary schools would lose 125 and 43 students respectively, which will add space as the system prepares to move fifth grade back to the elementary level.

• The school board also ratified a vote made by staff last month to switch the system from its existing self-insured plan to the state health insurance plan. The switch would the allow the system, which has lost several million dollars over the last few years on its current plan, to stem a rise in costs.

Overall, 772 employees voted to switch, and 44 voted against the change.