Archive for the ‘News section’ Category

2-17-2022 – Grand Manor Receives Rural Economic Development Grant

Posted on: February 18th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 17, 2022

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February 17, 2022

 

 

Today, the North Carolina Department of Commerce announced Grand Manor Furniture a recipient of the Rural Economic Development Division Building Reuse grant award.  The $400,000 grant will assist the company with renovations to the vacant Thomasville Furniture plant in Lenoir.

 

 

“We appreciate the partnership and support from the NC Department of Commerce, Caldwell County Commission and EDC and the City of Lenoir. We can’t wait to get started. This will be a great project for everyone,” said Grand Manor President Mike Moore.

 

 

The company will be relocating their operation from its current 85,000-square-foot Harrisburg Drive facility to the former Thomasville Furniture site, where Grand Manor plans to occupy 200,000 square feet of the 800,000-square foot facility. Plans also call for adding 75 workers over the next two years.

 

 

“Grand Manor has done phenomenally well. They are very highly respected not just in our community, but across the country,” EDC Executive Director Deborah Murray told the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners at their January meeting, when the board approved the furniture manufacturer’s local incentive package.

 

 

“I’m thankful that local businesses like Grand Manor can expand and grow and that is what a commissioner loves to be a part of, helping local business grow. It is an honor to be a part of this success story as we continue to grow Caldwell County” said Caldwell County Board of Commissioners’ Chair Randy Church.

 

 

“The City of Lenoir is really excited that Grand Manor continues to grow and that they chose to put the former Thomasville Furniture plant back into operation. What a great story and what a great company,” said City of Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons.

 

 

In business in Lenoir for 59 years, Grand Manor manufactures commercial seating products and markets them to hotels, timeshares, and casinos.

 

 

“We are one of the last companies in this country that is vertically integrated. We do everything ourselves. We make our own frames, do our own finishes, do our own shop drawings, do our own upholstery… We import nothing to make our products. Being domestic and vertically integrated gives us an advantage in the hotel industry that no one else has,” explained Moore.

2-10-2022 – GREAT grant helps fund broadband access

Posted on: February 10th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 9, 2022

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By CADY DAVIS CDAVIS@NEWSTOPICNEWS.COM

Feb 9, 2022

 

LENOIR — Areas of Caldwell County without high-speed internet service will soon have increased access with the help of state and federal government funds.

 

The first Caldwell County homeowner has recently been connected to high-speed internet as part of the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant project led by Blue Ridge Energy and SkyBest Communications.

 

“[This project] made some serious needs come to light,” said Renee Whitener, director of public relations for Blue Ridge Energy.

 

Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brad Shields from Blue Ridge Energy explained that Caldwell County received $2.7 million from the state for the GREAT grant, but an additional $3.9 million match was provided from Blue Ridge, SkyBest Communications, and the county.

 

Work on the project began last March, and so far, more than 20 homes have been connected.

 

The GREAT grant, administered by the NC Department of Information Technology’s Division of Broadband and Digital Equity, is a competitive federal grant program that provides funding to private sector broadband providers to deploy last-mile broadband infrastructure to unserved areas of North Carolina. The original GREAT grant program was launched in 2019, and subsequently became a recurring state-funded grant program within the NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office.

 

So far, the program has invested $56 million in tax dollars and an additional $35 million in private investment to connect more than 40,000 households and businesses in NC to high-speed internet.

 

According to ncbroadband.gov, $350 million is appropriated from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the GREAT program. The current 2021-2022 funding round may award up to $350 million in federal ARPA funding. The application window opened Monday, Jan. 31st, and applications are due Monday, April 4th.

 

Awards can be made within eligible economically-distressed counties in areas unserved with broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps (megabits per second) download and three Mbps upload. Project deployments must provide minimum speeds of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, scalable to 100 Mbps symmetrical. To put this into perspective, the average cable internet speed is around 10 Mbps.

 

The program encourages partnerships with counties, nonprofits, or other internet service providers. Grants require matching investments from private broadband provider grantees, leveraging funding to deploy infrastructure to households, businesses, and farms in the most rural and remote areas of the state.

 

Gov. Roy Cooper’s office recently announced that qualified internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives can now apply for the recent round of GREAT grants. Up to $350 million will be provided to expand high-speed internet in the state this year, the largest amount yet thanks to the infusion of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan.

 

“High-speed internet is critical for North Carolinians to be able to work, learn, run a business, or access health care,” Cooper said. “We want all communities in our state to have these opportunities, and this round of grants is an important step toward closing the digital divide, especially in rural areas.”

 

The “digital divide” is defined as the gap between those who have access to technology, the internet, and digital literacy training, and those who do not. It affects all generations, both rural and urban communities, as well as a wide variety of industries and sectors.

 

For example, the “Homework Gap” impacts Caldwell County students who are unable to complete assigned homework that requires internet access.

 

Employers and their workforce are affected when workers are left behind who do not have digital skills and/or access to the internet and computing devices, which also impacts efficiency and competitiveness.

 

With the rise of telehealth services as viable options for contacting health care providers, people without access to broadband and computing devices will lack access to these additional tools.

 

Residents without access to broadband and computing devices cannot access government services online or participate in community activities that require access.

 

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and several of his Senate colleagues recently sent a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) expressing the importance of reliable broadband service for rural America. They requested that federally-funded broadband projects prioritize unserved areas instead of overbuilding existing broadband infrastructure in areas with reliable broadband service.

 

“NTIA has an opportunity to make substantial impact on connecting rural America,” the senators wrote. “However, doing so will require that [NTIA] outline rules that specifically prohibit overbuilding and that set clear criteria to ensure projects targeted at unserved areas are actually prioritized. The regulations and methodology for the distribution of these funds must prioritize projects that are connecting customers and communities to broadband for the first time and avoid projects in areas where reliable broadband is already being provided or where there is an enforceable commitment to build high-speed broadband using federal or state funds.”

 

The senators continued, “Further, [NTIA] must work in concert with other broadband programs to avoid duplication of state or federal government efforts, and [the] department should ensure that all technological options are on the table to bring broadband service to unserved areas. This will ensure that all customers, regardless of location, have the opportunity to benefit from this program.”

 

Blue Ridge Energy plans to continue working with SkyBest to pursue additional state or federal grants for other parts of northern Caldwell County and across Blue Ridge Energy’s service area.

 

To determine eligibility and to sign up, interested residents can visit www.SkyBest.com/CaldwellGrant21 or call SkyBest at 1-800-759-2226.

2-4-2022 – JBS provides jobs, community benefits

Posted on: February 4th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 4, 2022

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By CADY DAVIS CDAVIS@NEWSTOPICNEWS.COM

Feb 3, 2022

 

LENOIR — JBS USA Foods brings to the table not only safe, high-quality protein products, but also community investment programs for Caldwell County.

 

JBS is a leading global food company that employs more than 67,000 U.S. team members, producing more than 200 million servings of food for families around the world every day. According to their website (jbsfoodsgroup.com), JBS is the largest beef producer in the U.S., and the second largest pork and poultry producer in the U.S. The name comes from the founder’s initials, José Batista Sobrinho, a rancher in Anápolis, Brazil, who founded JBS S.A. in 1953.

 

JBS has owned and operated a facility in Lenoir at 1450 Homegrown Ct. SW since 2014 when it purchased the plant from Vantage Foods.

 

“They have been a great company since they came to Lenoir and Caldwell County,” said Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons. “[They] have always partnered with nonprofit and local groups to help the community in so many ways. We’re honored to have them, honored that they want to give back and be part of making Lenoir and Caldwell County a better place to live, work, and play.”

 

The JBS Lenoir plant specializes in preparing retail-ready foods, including beef and pork products, for leading grocery stores such as Food Lion, Amazon/Whole Foods, and Stop and Shop, among others. Right now, the plant has 274 employees with starting pay at $17 per hour. They are currently hiring for a variety of different positions, primarily in operational roles at the facility.

 

“JBS Lenoir produces more than 1 million pounds of food per week, and we are proud to provide great career opportunities to our team members and support the growth of our community,” said Shannan Lowman, general manager for JBS Lenoir.

 

The company also touts its community investments in Caldwell County through programs such as Better Futures, Hometown Strong, and the Helping Hands Clinic.

 

The Better Futures program offers JBS employees and their child dependents the opportunity to pursue higher education for associate degrees and trade certificates at community and technological colleges tuition free.

 

Tuition will be paid for by JBS USA and one of their many brands, Pilgrim’s Chicken. Students can expect to pay no more than $500 per year for general fees and/or books. The Better Futures program is tax-free for employees, but may not be tax-free for dependent children.

 

So far, two employees and two child dependents in Lenoir have taken advantage of the company’s Better Futures program for tuition-free community college.

 

North Carolina Hometown Strong projects invest in the educational, recreational, and social service infrastructures that a community needs.

 

For example, in 2020, JBS donated more than 1.9 million (4 oz.) servings of food across the state.

 

JBS also provides assistance to Caldwell County Schools. JBS investment provided 300 hotspots to families in need, which has had a tremendous impact on children in Caldwell County, especially during the pandemic and in the event of inclement weather. Government agencies were also able to assist in providing free internet service that is still being used today.

 

With the Helping Hands Clinic project, JBS invested $50,000 to help clinics overcome COVID-19 budgetary burdens by providing primary care services, chronic disease management, and education to uninsured patients.

 

Gibbons’s wife, Becky Gibbons, serves on the Helping Hands board.

 

“We certainly appreciate [JBS’s support] very much,” the mayor said.

 

The Helping Hands Clinic has partnered with Caldwell UNC Health, Caldwell Health Department, West Caldwell Health Council, and the NC Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to administer this program.

 

Moreover, JBS supports several local nonprofit organizations in Caldwell County, such as Yokefellow, as well as other food pantries, shelters, churches, and more.

 

To learn more, visit jbsfoodsgroup.com/our-purpose/bringing-more-to-the-table.

 

Despite the company’s contributions to the local community, JBS has been the target of poor publicity on both a national and global scale.

 

In recent days President Joe Biden has been critical of the country’s largest meat producers: JBS, Cargill, Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing. The president accused the four companies of scoring record profits during the pandemic while also contributing to the inflation by raising prices on consumers.

 

Biden recently announced plans for new rules and $1 billion in funding for independent meat processors and ranchers in an effort to combat what he calls a lack of “meaningful competition” in the meat sector.

 

Last summer, JBS became the victim of a cyberattack believed to have originated in Russia. Those attacks disrupted operations.

 

2-2-2022 – Unemployment rate drops in metro area

Posted on: February 2nd, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 2, 2022

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By DAWN FLEMING DFLEMING@NEWSTOPICNEWS.COM

Jan 31, 2022

 

The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton (HLM) metropolitan area non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the month of Nov., 2021 was 3.1%.

 

This is a drop in HLM’s previous unemployment rate of 3.4%, which was reported a month earlier.

 

HLM metro area’s November unemployment rate is lower than the state’s average rate of 3.9% rate for the same time period.

 

There are approximately 176,284 individuals that comprise the HLM metro area’s non-seasonally adjusted labor force; of those individuals, 170,815 were employed, and 5,469 were unemployed.

 

Data are fragments of a larger complex puzzle. Figures may not capture factors such as the number of individuals who may not actively be seeking employment, those whose qualifications and skills sets do not match with companies that are recruiting, or those who may or may not have returned to pre-existing positions post COVID mandated quarantine for what the government deemed as non-essential jobs.

 

Major industries in the HLM metro area that saw increases in the number of jobs between November and December (2021) were: manufacturing, 700 jobs; trade/transportation/and utilities, 700 jobs; leisure/hospitality services, 400 jobs; and professional and business services, 300 jobs.

 

Manufacturing businesses in the area are actively recruiting new employees by offering on-the-job training, sign-on packages, employee benefit programs, and opportunities for professional growth.

 

“We currently have over 70 job openings of all skill sets — in the corporate office, facilities and plants there is a wide range of jobs,” said William Howard, vice president, Bernhardt Furniture Company. “We are striving every day to do what we can to get people to come and work with us.”

 

 

Local business and industries also participate and host job fairs. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center located at 313 Greenhaven Dr. N.W is hosting a JBS, Lenoir, Inc. job fair on Feb. 15 from 1 p.m. — 4 p.m.

 

Technical experience may be desired, but is not always required. Some technical skills can be developed through on the job training.

 

Spokespersons with local manufacturing companies praised the efforts of Caldwell County Schools and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute for working to develop career and technical skills by offering relevant programs and training opportunities to their students.

 

Companies are looking to hire individuals with a willingness to work; a dedication to good work ethics such as being willing to come to work every day, on time and being ready to work, and a desire to do a good job. Another desirable trait is a willingness to learn and grow.

 

Local companies have expressed that they value their employees and have a desire to help them advance within the company.

 

“We are a great place to work, we value our employees and we have work available. The jobs are here. If someone wants to come in on an entry level, we have development programs,” said Krista Bridgwood, human resource manager, Bemis Manufacturing Company. “There is plenty of opportunity for growth and someone can carve out a career at our facility.”

 

Durable jobs that offer security are currently available in Lenoir, and surrounding areas.

 

“We have been in business for 133 years. It is one of the oldest furniture companies in the country and it is still owned and managed by the original family and we take a lot of pride in that,” Howard said of Bernhardt. “We have a lot of wonderful good employees; we need more. We are a good place to work.”

2-1-2022 FREE N-95 masks available in Caldwell County

Posted on: February 1st, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 1, 2022

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1-27-2022 – 1st Homeowners connected to high-speed internet in NE Caldwell County thanks to GREAT Grant

Posted on: January 27th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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January 27, 2022

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Caldwell Journal

By Blue Ridge Energy Last updated Jan 13, 2022

 

LENOIR, NC (January 13, 2022) — Recently, the first Caldwell County homeowner was connected to high-speed internet as part of the GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) grant project led by Blue Ridge Energy and SkyBest Communications.

 

To date, more than 20 homes are connected and residents in Phase I are eligible for service to be connected at their location. To determine eligibility and sign up, interested residents are encouraged to visit www.SkyBest.com/CaldwellGrant21 or call SkyBest Communications at 1-800-759-2226. Phase I includes Charlie Triplett Road, O’hennesy Lane, Yadkin Lane, Mariah Drive, Quinella Lane and Chetola Drive as well as parts of Steeltown and Indian Grave Roads in that area.

 

 

Fiber-optic infrastructure construction is well underway in Phases II and III, which includes the Buffalo Cove area and extends east to the Wilkes County line.  With no weather or supply chain delays, SkyBest High-Speed Internet is expected to become available in Phase II in fall 2022 and Phase III in early 2023.

 

The extensive project requires approximately 60 miles of above ground construction and eight miles of underground construction of fiber in the rocky, mountainous terrain of northern Caldwell County. Due to the size of the project and challenging topography, work will be completed in three phases over approximately two years. After Blue Ridge Energy completes construction to a community, SkyBest Communications will begin offering its high-speed internet there.

 

The grant-funded area includes more than 400 homes and businesses located off Hwy 268 from Indian Grave Road to the Wilkes County line where no internet service is currently available, other than satellite or cellular service.

 

As a member-owned cooperative serving some 78,000 members in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Wilkes and Alexander counties, Blue Ridge Energy has a long history of supporting economic development and other initiatives in communities served by the cooperative.

 

The grant is especially critical because of the expense to build infrastructure to serve rural communities: nationally based internet service providers have not extended high-speed internet service to areas like northern Caldwell County because it’s extremely expensive to build the infrastructure in sparsely populated rural areas, especially those with rocky, mountainous terrain. As a result, some local communities don’t have access to digital services that most people rely on for basic needs such as education and job opportunities.

 

Blue Ridge Energy plans to continue working with SkyBest Communications to pursue additional state or federal grants for other parts of northern Caldwell County and across Blue Ridge Energy’s service area that do not have high-speed internet access.

1-26-2022 – No cost COVID-19 testing

Posted on: January 26th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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January 26, 2022

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1-19-2022 – CCCTI Classes

Posted on: January 19th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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January 19, 2022

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By NEWS-TOPIC STAFF

Jan 17, 2022 Updated 12 hrs ago

 

Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute is now registering for several upcoming workforce training courses. For more information on these courses or to register, call 828-726-2242.

 

Free Training for Advanced Manufacturing Careers — Feb. 7 to Mar. 3, Monday through Thursday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. — IMPACT Institute prepares students for entry-level advanced manufacturing jobs and qualifies them for scholarships to continue their education in Industrial Maintenance, Machining, Mechatronics, Mechanical Engineering, and Welding. Students must be at least 18 years old and have earned a high school credential. Space for the free course is limited. Classes are free at the Caldwell Campus in Hudson.

 

Furniture Technology Institute: Intro to Upholstery — Jan. 24 to April 25, Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. — The course is designed to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to become an entry-level upholsterer. In addition, students will learn the soft skills needed for employment. The course includes core skills, training in upholstery manufacturing concepts, tools and safety, and training in employability skills, communication, problem solving, and critical thinking. Classes are in J-118 on the Caldwell Campus. The cost of the class is $182.

 

Massage Therapy Course — Feb. 2, 2022 to Feb. 22, 2023, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m and each third Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This course is designed to prepare students for the certification examination required for the North Carolina licensure application process. The course will include anatomy and physiology, multiple massage styles, multiple therapy styles, ethics, North Carolina laws and regulations, and wellness and self-care. Students who successfully complete this massage therapy training will receive three points toward competitive admission into the Physical Therapist Assistant program at CCC&TI. Classes are at the Caldwell Campus in Hudson. The cost of the class is $200.

 

Manicurist/Nail Technician — Jan. 18 to May 20, Monday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. — The class prepares students to become licensed nail technicians in North Carolina. Classes are at the Caldwell Campus in Hudson. The cost of the class is $182.

 

Electrical Lineworker I — Feb. 21 to May 5, Monday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. — The Electrical Lineworker Institute prepares students for a career as an apprentice for a Journeyman Lineworker. In this program, students will develop the knowledge and skills to install, operate, maintain, and repair outdoor residential, commercial, and industrial electrical systems and associated power transmission lines. Classes are at the Caldwell Campus.

 

General Contractor Exam Prep — Feb. 8 to Apr. 14, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. — This 54-hour course prepares students for the General Contractor’s licensing examination. Emphasis is placed on blueprints, laws and regulations, employment security laws, and workers’ compensation. Upon successful completion of the course, students are eligible to sit for the N.C. Contractor’s licensing examination. Cost for the course is $182

1-14-2022 – Significant Weather Event Expected for Caldwell County Saturday Through Sunday Night

Posted on: January 14th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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January 14, 2022

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1-13-2022 – Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses

Posted on: January 13th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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January 13, 2022

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By MARK SHERMAN and JESSICA GRESKO

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.

 

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.

 

The court’s orders Thursday during a spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans.

 

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected.

 

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

 

In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

 

When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges — and privately some harbored doubts that it could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success at already driving millions of people to get vaccinated and for private businesses to implement their own requirements that are unaffected by the legal challenge.

 

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees already is difficult.

 

The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide scraped by on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberals to form a majority. The mandate covers virtually all health care workers in the country, applying to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It potentially affects 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

 

The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion, saying the “latter principle governs” in the healthcare cases.

 

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent that the case was about whether the administration has the authority “to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.” He said the administration hadn’t shown convincingly that Congress gave it that authority.

 

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett signed onto Thomas’ opinion. Alito wrote a separate dissent that the other three conservatives also joined.

 

Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had blocked the mandate in about half the states. The administration already was taking steps to enforce it elsewhere.

 

More than 208 million Americans, 62.7% of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine justices have gotten booster shots.

 

The justices heard arguments on the challenges last week. Their questions then hinted at the split verdict that they issued Thursday.

 

A separate vaccine mandate for federal contractors, on hold after lower courts blocked it, has not been considered by the Supreme Court.

 

 

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Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

This story corrects that four justices noted dissents in the health care vaccine case, not just Alito and Thomas.

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